One of the first functions attended by France’s president-elect Emmanuel Macron was an event to mark the end of the Second World War.
Yesterday, a national holiday in France marked the anniversary of the formal date of Germany’s defeat.
The ceremony might encourage those who still believe in the objectives and values of social democracy — and the European Union — to recall Churchill’s line from 1942: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,” and apply it to the defeat of Marine Le Pen.
They might hope that Mr Macron’s victory represents, like recent Austrian and Dutch elections, a strengthening tide.
They might hope that his comprehensive two-to-one victory is another moment when the resurgence of old-style, right-wing nationalism was rejected.
Maybe not, not yet anyway.
That hope is challenged by the vehemence of some of the commentary on Mr Macron’s election from Brexit supporters who sneered that France “rolled over” just as in 1940 — except this time they saved Germany “the bullets and the fuel”.
The heady mix of the euphoria of those who supported Mr Macron, the relief of those who loathed Ms Le Pen, and the dismissive, bristling response of those who oppose the EU — and accuse it of adopting a vengeful, obstructionist approach to Brexit — is a pretty accurate picture of today’s divided Europe.
It is as if confrontation has replaced compromise. It is as if something small, something insular and petty, has replaced optimism and possibility.
Those who wish to see the EU reformed rather than destroyed might be discouraged, too, by opinion polls that show that Donald Trump would, if America’s presidential election was run again, win by a greater margin than he did.
This can only encourage those who say that the EU seems ever more remote and magisterial and that an outsider is needed to “drain the swamp”.
The publication of former Greek minister Yanis Varoufakis’s memoir Adults in the Room, which shares his extremely critical interpretation of EU power structures, his belief that democracies are powerless shams, and that the EU is a malign force, will fuel the flames of the argument too.
Right and left are united in an informal alliance determined to destroy the centre.
Despite that, Mr Macron’s victory shows the centre can hold in the midst of populist revolt — even if there are very real doubts about how a non-party candidate, a former hedge fund manager and suave career technocrat from a privileged background, might empathise with those whose world is changing for the worse for myriad reasons — the very people who supported Mr Trump, Ms Le Pen and, partially at least, Brexit.
Macron takes charge of a deeply divided country.
In the first round of the election, about 45% of voters rejected the current economic order and France’s place in the EU.
Ms Le Pen may not have come close to victory, but the FN won almost 11m votes, nearly doubling its 2002 tally. It is a force to be reckoned with. European populism showed a renewed strength but the centre held.
Mr Macron’s presidency will be pivotal in deciding which philosophy prevails. The lessons for the EU — and for Ireland — are all too obvious.
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