After five years in power, Emmanuel Macron has again won the French Presidential elections against his biggest rival, Marine Le Pen.
Macron’s party, Le Republique en Marche (Le Republique), described as a centrist to centrist-right party won 58.55% of the votes whilst Le Pen’s nationalist and farright party, National Rally, garnered 41.45% of votes. However despite the loss, Le Pen’s party increased in popularity since the last presidential election where she had only won 33.9% of the votes.
Prior to the election, it was unclear who would be the next president. It is the first time in France in twenty years that a presidential candidate has been able to keep their seat after their first term.
The biggest issue of contention during the election was addressing the increased cost of living in France. Le Republique’s centrist policies resulted in criticism from both the left and the far-right in France. Macron in his term had managed to reduce unemployment, capped energy prices, and created more industrial jobs. However, this has not eliminated the issue of inflation, particularly for people living in smaller towns and rural areas who have continued to struggle to be able to purchase basic necessities. He has been termed by some as the “President of the Rich” because of the lack of reforms to support those from poor economic communities. Despite this, the right has also criticized Macron for his lack of tax reforms. He has attempted to pivot towards more right-wing social policies in response including inciting Islamophobic rhetoric but this was not enough for many right-wing voters who desired a stronger approach also to immigration.
Le Pen’s appeal since the last election has been through greater strategic and marketing policies. Le Pen, whose father Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the National Rally (previously known as the National Front) distanced herself from some of her father’s policies. Le Pen’s father promoted anti-semitism in his policies, denied the Holocaust, was a supporter of the death penalty and was accused of war crimes during the Algerian War. Le Pen did not use her last name on presidential flyers using ‘M’ or using only her first name Marine to distance herself from her father’s policies. Le Pen has a hardline approach to immigration and has advocated for the ban of the hijab conflating it to an “occupation”. Le Pen centered on this during her 2017 presidential campaign, but in this election focused more on economic reforms for the French people in light of the concerns about the cost of living. Le Pen promised greater protectionist policies for French goods, the abolishment of income tax for people under 30, reduction of the retirement age to 60, and increased salary wages for nurses and teachers.
However, Le Pen’s criticism has been on the vagueness of her policies and the concern that her social policies will cause greater division in France where anti-semitic and Islamophobic attacks have been on the rise. Further Le Pen’s protectionist policies have also caused tensions with the EU, where her ‘France first’ ideology has come at the cost of tensions in economic investment and immigration policies with the EU. This has led to potential concerns of a “Frexit”. Le Pen has also wanted to pull out of NATO in a challenge to the West’s post-Cold War security architecture. With the invasion of Russia in Ukraine and Finland and Sweden’s increased interest in joining NATO, the current climate in Europe made the withdrawal from such a treaty unfavorable. Critics of Le Pen also linked her desire to withdraw with her links to Russia. In 2014, her party received a loan from a Russian bank and was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin before the 2017 French elections. Le Pen has also favored reconciling the relationship with Russia after the war.
The rise of the right-wing is still ever present in France. Some right-wing supporters have found Le Pen’s 2022 policies too weak and have supported Eric Zemmour, leader of the Reconquete Party, who has built on some of Le Pen’s 2017 policies. Zemmour has revived “The Great Replacement” trope that white Europeans are being replaced by Muslims from Africa and the Middle East. On CNews, a conservative news channel in France, Zemmour said that child migrant were “thieves, killers, they’re rapists. That’s all they are”. Many young people in France have been convinced of his policies and his policies for deportation to ensure France remains for Anglo-French people despite being of Algerian and Jewish descent.
Despite Macron’s win, there is a growing systemic concern about abstaining from voting. Many people from both the left and right abstained from voting due to their dislike of both major parties with only 59% of 18-24-yearolds voting in the election.
For Macron to remain in power, he must also win the elections of the French National Assembly from electorates. Many from smaller parties on the left including the Republicans, Greens, and Socialists all backed Macron against Le Pen but during electorate votes, he may now not have the majority. This will require Macron to join forces, similar to a coalition, known as “cohabitation” with another party to retain the majority.
The National Assembly vote will be in June 2022.