Why Macron's French election win matters to the U.S.

Last Updated May 8, 2017 5:10 AM EDT

PARIS -- Despite its predictability, the election victory of Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old liberal (in American parlance, anyway) has drawn a sigh of collective relief from all corners but the far-right. Even American centrists and more conservative Washington Republicans may take comfort that the Old World has not lost all perspective.

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Leader of 'En Marche!' Emmanuel Macron addresses supporters after winning the French Presidential Election, at The Louvre, May 7, 2017 in Paris, France. 

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Many feared the anti-immigration, protectionist and isolationist tide that recently swept over the U.S. presidential and British European referendum votes could spread to mainland Europe, but in this era of polarization -- for now, at least -- the political center has held.

As a result, from a defense and economic perspective, the U.S. can still rely on its European Union (EU) ally. 

Trade

Macron supports staying in the EU, while his defeated opponent, Marine Le Pen, was adamantly against it. With some 500 million consumers, the EU is a massive market for U.S. goods, and the bloc remains the biggest single U.S. trading partner.

President Trump's Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross has prioritized opening trade talks with the EU.

For now, stanching the risk that France might have followed in the U.K.'s path and headed for the "Frexit" should negate any serious impact on global trade.  

Defense

NATO and the common defense structure of the West also benefit from the Macron victory. "The European Union will die," Le Pen predicted, and she made a platform of pulling out of NATO, as well.

Macron, on the other hand, warned that Balkanizing Europe would have disrupted the global fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and he emphasized sharing intelligence with the U.S.

The recent terror attacks in France have put counterterrorism high on the U.S.-French agenda.

New York Police Department Counterterror and Intelligence Deputy Commissioner John Miller has described those attacks as the "new normal," and he says they demand cross-border cooperation. Speaking two weeks ago at New York Law School, Miller called Paris' counterterrorism command center essential to fighting the terror threat in "real time."

On Syria, the U.S. and Russia continue to disagree over how to resolve the conflict and support for Syria's President Bashar Assad. 

Macron will likely maintain the outgoing French government's firm stance against Assad, strengthening Mr. Trump's own position. He praised President Trump's decision to launch a strike directly targeting Assad's forces in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack earlier this year. Le Pen criticized that strike.

Climate

Macron's election ensures France will stick to the Paris Agreement on climate change, agreed just last year in the French capital by 195 countries, including the U.S.

Macron will likely try to convince Mr. Trump to stay the course on the agreement; in Oslo this week, investors with $15 trillion of assets urged governments to stick with the agreement, and even members of Mr. Trump's family are on the case.

Catastrophe averted, for now

French essayist and documentary filmmaker, Romuald Sciora, who runs Le Monde diplomatique Debates and is now living in the U.S., has written on U.S.-French relations for years, and he told CBS News that a Le Pen victory would have been a disaster for Europe, and the rest of the world by extension.

Still, Sciora laments that "the victory of Macron won't change anything about the nationalist wave across the Western world; only a veritable civilizational revolution would be able to stop this wave."

"Those Americans ready to write off Europe as a dream gone sour may be disappointed that the nationalist and populist wave has been halted," notes Alan Riding, an author and former New York Times Paris bureau chief. He also has a word of caution, however: "Macron's victory brings enormous relief to those who want the European Union to survive, but it does not resolve Europe's problems: it merely averts a catastrophe."

Riding says Macron still faces the immense challenge of unifying a country increasingly divided economically, politically and socially, "and many French still harbor doubts he can do this."

As CBS News' Mark Phillips reports, Macron appeared recently at an event with the out-going President Francois Hollande, and he now inherits all the problems that undermined his predecessor; France's stagnant economy, a 10 percent unemployment rate, and, of course, its terrorism. They are all Macron's problems now.

For now though, as the raucous Macron victory rally in front of the iconic Louvre Museum demonstrated, the mood is beyond jubilant; it is both energized, and relieved -- that France has stemmed the flow of international isolationism and division.

Pamela Falk is the CBS News foreign affairs analyst, based at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.