French President-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrates in Paris.

Christian Hartmann/REUTERS

French scientists cheer Macron’s victory

PARIS—The French scientific community is breathing a deep sigh of relief today after Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the national presidential election over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. But although most scientists felt that Le Pen’s National Front party represented a threat to tolerance, openness, and evidence, many remain unconvinced that Macron’s policies will benefit research.

“We’ve escaped the black plague [and] … the danger was so dreadful that it is a relief,” says theoretical physicist Édouard Brézin, a former president of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris. He believes that many people who supported Macron simply as a rejection of Le Pen are now hoping that “he may also be a president of quality.”

Macron’s massive margin of victory in yesterday’s runoff—66% to 34% for Le Pen—also reflects disenchantment for the traditional left and right parties, which weren’t on the ballot. Neither Macron nor Le Pen offered detailed plans on science, but scientists were appalled by Le Pen’s proposals to curb immigration and take France out of the European Union.

Thirty-nine-year-old Macron, a former financial banker who created his own centrist movement just a year ago, largely remains an unknown quantity. Brézin praises what he sees as Macron’s determination and honesty in promoting Europe and welcomes Macron’s support for having national spending on research reach 3% of the country’s gross domestic product. The nature of Macron’s political program will only become fully clear after parliamentary elections in June, says Brézin, who this winter conducted an online questionnaire of the candidates’ views on science-related issues.

Some scientists are wary of Macron’s liberal views and his apparent willingness to continue controversial reforms initiated by his predecessors. In an online petition issued in late April, more than 1500 researchers said they would “fight” his plans to give yet more autonomy to universities and exacerbate competition after voting for him on Sunday. The researchers also criticized Macron’s invitation to U.S. climate researchers to come work in France if their research programs are eliminated by President Donald Trump's administration, citing the underfunding of French universities and the scarcity of permanent positions.

Patrick Monfort, secretary general of SNCS-FSU, a trade union for researchers based near Paris, says that creating a separate ministry for research and higher education would be “a strong sign” that science will be a priority in Macron’s government. Monfort also hopes Macron will pay closer attention to the views of trade unions as part of his promise to overcome the country’s political divide. “I would like a true social dialogue to be put in place,” Monfort says.