Sunday’s French presidential election, a contest between incumbent center-right Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, ended with a clear victory for Macron — but not the overwhelming win he had in their 2017 matchup.
In the first round of the election on April 10, Macron and Le Pen came out on top after a tumultuous campaign, with polls soaring in the weeks leading up to the election. Macron defeated Le Pen with less than 5 percentage points in the first round this time; in their first match-up in 2017 that gap was even smaller, but Le Pen also got a smaller percentage of the total. Macron eventually won the final vote in 2017, with about 66.1 percent to 33.9 percent of Le Pen† Voters who elected the socialist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of the 2017 elections mostly gathered around Macron, although they may not have followed this round despite Mélenchon’s pleas after the first round that his supporters “not cast any votes for Madame Le Pen.†
While the French public has generally adhered to the unspoken rule of the cordon sanitaire † essentially, the idea that voters will prevent a far-right politician from chairing the Fifth Republic – a combination of low turnout, voter apathy and a lack of viable alternatives to Macron on the left threatened to put Le Pen in power, or at least very close.
Indeed, Le Pen came even closer than last time, perhaps showing that despite her damaging ideas, her economic messages are resonating with voters grappling with rising prices due to global inflation and the war in Ukraine. The French left failed in this round to draft a candidate who could address citizens’ economic concerns without Le Pen’s hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant and isolationist worldview – and probably suffered for it. Le Pen may have won a higher proportion of voters who previously chose left-wing candidates, or who previously voted for Macron himself, due to an overall apathy towards the incumbent.
A Le Pen victory would have changed France and Europe
Le Pen softened her far-right rhetoric during this election cycle to focus on economic issues, presenting herself as the candidate for people struggling to pay their bills as inflation and fuel costs creep up. However, her shifting focus doesn’t negate the fact that she’s long embraced views that, if not fascistically, are alarmingly close.
In a televised debate on April 20, Macron barged Le Pen over her proposal to… forbid the hijab, a headpiece some Muslim women in France wear in public, saying the proposed ban would lead to a “civil war”. France’s Muslim population is the largest in Western Europe and has already faced severe government discrimination: former President Nicholas Sarkozy suggested an account in 2010 that would ban all face coverings — especially burqas and similar coverings — in public.
France cherishes its special vision of itself as a secular state; the Constitution of 1958 states that “France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic, which guarantees that all citizens, regardless of origin, race or religion, are treated as equals before the law and respect all religious beliefs.” However, building on the 2004 ban on religious clothing in schoolsSarkozy twisted the concept of secularism to fit his own right-wing worldview and advocate for prohibition. But secularism does not mean that people are not allowed to practice or adhere to their religion in a public way, but secularism, as defined in the French Constitution, indicates that the state does not support or identify with it. each religion and people are free to follow their traditions and beliefs as they please.
With Le Pen, the proposed hijab ban would be in line with other discriminatory and anti-immigrant policy ideassuch as granting benefits only to French citizens and giving them preferential treatment in social housing and job programs; deporting undocumented immigrants; stopping immigrant family reunification programs; and withdrawing residence permits for immigrants if they are out of work for more than a year.
Would have had a Le Pen win have drastically changed the balance of power between Europe and NATO, which would be especially precarious as NATO’s support and European solidarity have proved crucial to Ukraine as the country’s military tries to prevent Russia from essentially taking power. Le Pen promised to withdraw French troops from NATO’s integrated military command if she won the presidency, which would at the very least symbolically weaken the NATO alliance – especially after five years of Macron’s efforts to strengthen France’s position in Europe. and secure international alliances. While she did not call for a full withdrawal as far-left candidate Mélenchon did, her positions on NATO and the EU would certainly destabilize both alliances.
As for the EU, Le Pen called for greater French independence from the bloc, including recognition of the primacy of French law over EU law — a move that, when Poland attempted last year, led to legal action by the European Commission†
Also, Le Pen’s call for NATO rapprochement with Russia An end to the war in Ukraine at a press conference on Wednesday was ill-timed at best, and at worst could be seen as continuing its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although she has condemned the invasion, she supported the first Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, and her party, the National Rally, borrowed millions from the First Czech-Russian Bank† The bank finally collapsed in 2016 and was acquired by Aviazapchast, a private Russian company with historical ties to the Russian government. Her party has yet to repay the loan, leaving her indebted to Russia, leaving Le Pen uncomfortably close to the Kremlin.
What comes next?
Macron’s win, while clear, isn’t quite the thumping his supporters produced in 2017 about 66 percent of the public that will vote – a low figure in the French elections – Macron’s political apathy and disgust is still evident. And again, Le Pen came much closer to the French presidency than last time, indicating that while France’s political pledge to keep a far-right nationalist from top office has held up, Macron’s victory is far from a sweeping one. rebuke of the extreme right. in Europe.
It is also a clear indication of the inability of the traditional political parties, the Parti Socialiste and Les Républicains, to play a clear role for themselves in the current political landscape and question their future.
The low turnout in particular reflects the feeling among French voters that “their national political system is not working,” as Susi Dennison, the director of the European power program at the European Council for Foreign Relations, told cafemadrid in an interview before the first round of elections.
“You can kind of see there’s this idea that voting literally makes no sense, it doesn’t change anything,” Dennison told cafemadrid. “The agreement that you pay taxes, go out and vote, you play the game, no longer applies in France.” Macron’s victory, while a relief to many watching from outside France, was probably carried by people who felt they had no other option and that there was no one to speak to their needs, but also that in the end they didn’t find themselves there. to vote for Le. Pen.
“There is a lot of concern about the perceived rise in inequality under Macron, under Macron’s mandate, a sort of feeling that some of the major, major public services in health and education are increasingly being pushed in a privatized direction,” said Dennison. “So I think it’s these domestic political issues that are preoccupied with the debate — almost more than the security context and so on.”
“Normally, with the National Assembly elections coming up shortly after the presidential election, you tend to find that things are going the same way,” Dennison continued. “But I wonder if this sense of frustration is different this time, that if Macron, as expected, wins the election, but people feel that they haven’t had a chance to express their real opinion in the current context, that she’s forced to vote for Macron for lack of an alternative, then I wonder if she’s the [National Assembly] elections as an opportunity to vote more with their beliefs,” she said.
“That could make for a more interesting situation regarding the National Assembly, but with the way the Fifth Republic works, it could make it harder for him to push through a clear agenda in his second term as president, as he not the kind of support he had in the first term.” The shape of Macron’s second mandate could become clearer in the National Assembly elections scheduled for June 12 and June 19†