MAGGIE PAGANO: Emmanuel Macron’s British dilemma

If the polls are right, Emmanuel Macron will be the first head of state returned as president of the Fifth Republic for two decades after the French vote in the second round of the election tomorrow. 

After a nail-biting first round, the latest Ipsos survey suggests that clear blue sky has opened up between Macron and his rival, Marine Le Pen, at the end of their campaigning at midnight yesterday. Ipsos has him winning 57.5 per cent of the vote, while Le Pen has 42.5 per cent.

Even so, victory for Macron will not be so sweet. Last time he won by a thumping 64 per cent against Le Pen’s 34 per cent. 

Looking ahead: If Emmanuel Macron wins he will have to tread more carefully in the future – both at home and abroad

That’s not surprising. He has become like Marmite. Either you love him or hate him, and his five years in power have turned many voters off the sharp taste of his policies. 

The president has made many faux pas. His green policies aggravated the rural poor because of the soaring cost of diesel, and now the cost of living, opening the door to far-right supporters of Le Pen and the far-left of Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came third in the first round. 

Although the French economy has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with unemployment at its lowest for a decade, it has come at a cost. Debt has soared to 360 per cent of GDP. Much of that – €600billion or so – was raised during the pandemic through various support programmes, as well as the vaccine roll-out. 

On the flip side, the president may have cost the health of many with his careless talk about the AstraZeneca vaccine, one which he described as ‘quasi-useless’. 

It was the most bizarre of interventions, yet the French have a complex history of vaccine mistrust. 

As Lucy Ward points out in her marvellous new book, The Empress And The English Doctor: How Catherine The Great Defied A Deadly Virus, the story of how Dr Thomas Dimsdale pioneered smallpox inoculation across Europe, the French establishment has always been wary of vaccines, a scepticism which led to the death of Louis XV from smallpox. 

If he does win tomorrow, Macron will have to tread more carefully in the future – both at home and abroad. 

Known as the president of the rich, he will have to do more to smooth over inequalities between the cities and the countryside, and the gap between the young and the old. 

One of his first tests will be if he dares to go ahead with his controversial policy to raise the official retirement age – a measure which has already provoked strikes and will lead to more fights with the unions over public sector reform. 

What would a Macron victory mean for the UK? Ever since Brexit, he has behaved towards Britain like a spoiled teenager. 

He has threatened to cut off the UK’s electricity interconnectors, whipped up French fishermen to blockade Jersey, is one of the main EU cheerleaders to hijack clearing operations from the City, lured foreign investors to Paris with juicy tax incentives and been unhelpful about migrants on the Channel border. 

Yet having Jupiter – as he is nicknamed by his detractors – stay on at the Elysee Palace is preferable to Le Pen moving in. 

Winning a second innings may even give Macron the confidence to be a little nicer to his neighbours across the water. But hopefully not more belligerent.

Life on Mars 

Now that Elon Musk has the funding in place, it’s clear he is deadly serious about his $47billion bid for Twitter. Why, then, are investors still not taking him seriously?

If they were, then the social media giant’s share price would be higher, certainly closer to his offer of $54.20 a share. 

Yet Twitter’s shares are only up to $49. Don’t investors believe he will pull if off? Or do they reckon that if Twitter goes ahead with a poison pill to dilute Musk – and any other shareholders – this would put him off? 

Twitter could also do some corporate gymnastics of its own, like find another bidder. But there’s a problem. Twitter doesn’t make money – in fact, it loses bucketloads. 

Who but the world’s richest man would want to risk so much to lose so much? Only someone like Musk. Remember the reason that Musk set up his Space X mission to colonise Mars is so that humans can be conserved in the event of a third world war or being taken over by AI. 

Musk has defied the doubters many times before, and could do so again, especially if he makes a tender offer directly to shareholders. Watching what may turn out to be the biggest hostile takeover bid ever play out will surely beat life on Mars.