Macron's election win could open the door for consolidation

James Pearce
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Emmanuel Macron is France's new president, but the 39 year old's position on the country's telecoms market remains unclear

Emmanuel Macron has become the youngest president in the history of France, and his election could open up a number of opportunities for French operators.

Macron beat Front National leader Marine Le Pen with around 66.1% of the vote, which took place on 7 May, to become the new head of state in the fifth biggest economy in the world.

At 39, the leader of the En Marche movement is the youngest person to ever hold the role, but despite his victory, much of his ambitions, especially in the telecoms and technology sectors, remain unclear.

During his run as minister of economy, industry and digital affairs, a position he held on previous president François Hollande from 2014 until August of last year, Macron said he was not opposed to consolidation within the French telco market.

France has been engaged in a price war since the launch of mobile operator Iliad in 2015. Though it has seemingly reached the other side of lowering prices, according to Orange CEO Stephane Richard, prices fell as much as 45%. In Richard’s words in 2015, “saying that prices will continue to decline in the coming years, it’s insane.”

Off the back of that, incumbent Orange bid to buy rival operator Bouygues Telecom, but ultimately talks collapsed after both parties failed to agree on the value of the latter’s telecoms unit.

The issue, according to reports last year, was also in part over what stake Bouygues would take in Orange. The French government is the biggest shareholder in Orange, holding around a 23% share, but Bouygues wanted to take a 15% stake in the company.

Given his previous stance on M&As, Macron’s election as president could see talk around consolidation return to the French market.

Macron’s biggest difference from rival Le Pen was his open support of globalisation and the European Union. With his election, it seems almost certain that France will remain in the EU, while Le Pen would have called an in/out referendum on the issue.

That means French telcos will continue to fall under EU regulations, most notably the two that are set to come in over the next 18 months: the EU roaming initiative, and the General Data Protection Rule.

EU Roaming is set to cost major operators in wealthy markets, as they will be forced to cut wholesale roaming costs from less expensive markets. Though the likes of Orange does hold operations in a number of smaller European countries, such as Romania, it could still see revenues from roaming fall in its home market.

Had Le Pen won, and France then voted to leave the EU, this would have been less certain, much as the future of EU roaming regulations remains unclear in the UK following Brexit.

GDPR is a much more contentious issue for operators, however. The rule, which will govern how companies who operate within the EU manage and maintain data, will have a major impact on telcos. It is due to come into force next year.

One other notable point about Macron is the future of Bouygues Telecom’s deputy general manager Didier Casas, who took a leave of absence to join him as an advisor during his campaign.

Macron recruited Casas to help guide his policies on subjects such as defence, security, immigration and secularism. He is tasked with overseeing public affairs and HR at the operator, but it remains to be seen if he will return to this role, or stay with Macron, following the new president’s election victory.