PARIS (AP) — Newly inaugurated, France’s youngest president faces the daunting task of reuniting a divided nation riven by anxieties about terrorism, chronic unemployment, immigration and France’s relationship with the rest of Europe. Here are a few challenges facing Emmanuel Macron after his swearing-in Sunday:
Unions have already held protests against Macron, a pro-business centrist and former Socialist economy minister whom they consider a traitor for removing some labor protections when he was in government. Macron plans deeper reforms as president — to cut taxes on companies and labor, and invest more in technology and promote freer trade.
Posters around France already denounce Macron as the “heir” of unpopular outgoing President Francois Hollande or a stooge of big business.
He pledged Sunday to “reconcile and rally together” all the French, and to restore confidence in a once-great country beset by a sense of decline and being overtaken by globalization.
The French are worried about the cultural, economic and religious impact of immigration and fear France’s ability to compete against giants like China and Google.
Violent protests, egg-throwing and heckling disrupted the campaigns of both Macron and his defeated far-right rival Marine Le Pen. The campaign’s nastiness turned some voters off both the candidates and their proposed remedies. The May 7 runoff saw a sharp spike in voters who abstained or handed in blank or spoiled ballots — representing a third of the electorate.
In order to govern properly, Macron’s fledgling political movement Republic on the Move must now scramble together a majority of lawmakers in next month’s parliamentary elections.
That won’t be easy. Macron is the first president of modern France elected as an independent.
Rivals who backed Macron to counter Le Pen in the presidential runoff are now mobilizing to defeat him in the two-round June 11 and 18 parliamentary vote, aiming to elect their own party members to the National Assembly. All 577 seats in the Assembly are up for grabs.
If another party wins a majority, Macron could be pressured to choose a prime minister from that party, a situation the French call “cohabitation.”
The last time France had “cohabitation” was under President Jacques Chirac in 1997-2002, who described the setup as a state of “paralysis.”
If Macron’s party performs poorly, he could also be forced to form a coalition, a common occurrence in many European countries but something unusual in France.
The choice of the pro-EU Macron as president of the eurozone’s second-largest economy has prompted relief across the European Union.
The French president’s position in Europe will also become more powerful when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, as France will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
In his victory speech, Macron vowed to “rebuild the relationship between Europe and the peoples that make it.” Symbolically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be the first foreign leader he will meet as president, in Berlin on Monday.
But the future stability of the bloc is far from certain. EU divorce negotiations with Britain could turn ugly or a populist vote in neighboring Italy might reject the EU.
Le Pen’s “France first,” anti-Europe message struck a chord with great swathes of the country. She had campaigned to ditch the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership.
Macron’s task will be to show Le Pen’s voters that he will follow through on promises to fundamentally reform the 28-nation bloc.
With more than 230 people killed in extremist attacks since 2015, Macron needs to prove he has a robust plan to protect the French from terrorism.
The former banker launched his presidential campaign with a plan to tackle extremist attacks by obliging internet companies to release encrypted messages.
But Le Pen tried to paint him as weak and inexperienced on security issues while she promoted her plans to expel individuals on the security-threat list and stamp out Islamic extremism.
On his first day in office, Macron visited a military hospital and pledged to do anything necessary to fight extremism and authoritarianism, and “to correct the excesses of the course of the world and keep a watch on liberty.”
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