Emmanuel Macron – France’s new dawn or last bastion?

“We want to vote for Fillon, but how can we? He took from us, he took our money to pay his family for jobs they did not do,” Philippe says of the republican candidate for the French presidency. Marie, his wife, adds that the far-left Mélenchon is living on a different planet, so he’s definitely not an option. I ask about Le Pen, their response isn’t appropriate to repeat. There’s no mention of Hamon, the Socialist candidate, who’s standing in lieu of Hollande, France’s current President.

“In France, we don’t pick the president we want, we pick who we are least unhappy with,” Philippe adds. I was having dinner with the French couple three days before the first round of presidential voting. If no candidate achieved 50% of the overall vote, the top two candidates would face a run off. None did. So on Sunday Macron, a former finance minister in Hollande’s government who has started his own party of ‘neither the left or the right’, will face off against Le Pen of the far-right Front National, in the second round.

Philippe and Marie were reluctant to say it, but it felt as though Macron would probably be the candidate they were least unhappy with. They lived in Calais, so unsurprisingly the refugee crisis was their major concern. Most of their friends, like them, would have liked to vote for the center right Fillon but wouldn’t following the corruption allegations. Calais registered a large swing toward Le Pen, who received most votes in the district. Macron, an ex-investment banker, is hard to disassociate from globalisation and free movement for many voters.

Although as the second round of voting grows closer, he has toughened his stance on the EU and made threats of a Frexit. As fears of a Le Pen victory intensify, it’s a clear pitch at Fillon’s first round voters ahead of Sunday’s run-off against Le Pen. But Macron’s view of EU reform is further integration, an approach which may be unpopular domestically as well as across the continent. The economic riddle of France now seems politically intertwined with her relationship to the EU and the liberal globalisation Macron embodies.

I had met Philippe and Marie in Loire, an industrial valley in north-east France. The Lorie region has an unemployment rate of 20% and has been a focus of recent presidential elections. Both Sarkozy and Hollande previously pledged while campaigning to prevent factory closures in the region. Both won their respective elections but failed to prevent the closures and jobs loses. In 2009, when American firm Dow Chemical announced closure of a plant in Loire, workers held the Directors hostage overnight in protest.

The day after meeting Philippe and Marie I started counting how many cars in each town were French manufactured. Predictably the vast majority were aging homemade models. Every high-street bank, though, was foreign. Despite their woes, in the first round the Loire districts supported Macron.

Many in Europe are hoping Macron can survive Le Pen’s final push this week and become the next French president. Many in France will be hoping that if he does, he gives them more reasons to trust politicians’ promises than his predecessors. After all, defeat for Le Pen is by no means the end of her political career. And by 2022 France, and Europe, could look very different if he fails.

Fraser Burt, Research Executive