By Bryn Jones
On the 24th of April the French electorate headed to the polls for the second time in two weeks, in an election described as ‘progressive vs populists’ rather than the traditional ‘right vs left’. The two front runners emerged victorious after the first round, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen won 27.8% and 23.1% of the votes respectively. They advanced to the second round, a re-run of 2017. President Macron regained the keys to Élysée Palace for the next 5 years, with 58.5% of the vote.
In 2016, former banker-turned-politician Macron abandoned the historical French socialist party to create his own political party, now called La République En Marche!, leaving France’s ruling parties in tatters and reconstructing the French political status quo on his route to the Presidency in 2017. However, he found re-election much more challenging this time as he seems to have lost his energy and charisma of 2017 and has been dubbed by his opponents as elitist. As well as this, no French President has been re-elected since 2002. It was an uphill task; he has spent the last few months focusing on the war in Ukraine rather than the campaign.
Macron’s policies have been controversial as he hoped to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65. He has also been blamed for the crisis of inflation and the rising cost of living in France. Le Pen sympathised with voters around these issues and promised to lower taxation, focusing more on the moderate issues rather than her radical policies, such as prioritising French citizens in housing and work and banning the Islamic hijab in public spaces.
Voter turnout was very similar for both the first and second rounds; winning over the sections of society that didn’t initially vote for the final two candidates was crucial. Le Pen was bound to gain Éric Zemmour’s 7% of votes, and he finished fourth in the first round. Zemmour is an extremist on the right of French politics and his policies portray Le Pen as somewhat moderate. However, it was the voters who supported the third-place man Jean-Luc Mélenchon who ultimately decided the outcome of the election.
Mélenchon swept through Metropolitan France, the ‘French Corbyn’, won 21.9% of first round votes dominating in Montpellier, Marseilles and narrowly taking Paris. The capital was previously a stronghold for Macron. Losing many young well-educated Parisians was a warning, especially after Mélenchon did not endorse his voters to support Macron. However, ultimately Macron prevailed.
It is said in French politics you vote with your heart in the first round of the Presidential elections and your head in the second. It seemed that much of the French public believed Macron was the better of two evils. Neither candidate satisfied much of the electorate in the second round, many voted against a candidate rather than for one. This was seen especially from the left, Mélenchon supporters, whose votes for Macron won him a second term as President.
As Europe enters its third month of conflict on the continent, maintaining the status quo with Macron is the safest option for the world. Whoever won the election would play a key role in shaping the future of Europe and the West. Macron’s re-election maintains certainty surrounding the EU and NATO as well as maintaining the liberal, moderate political standard in Europe for the next 5 years.
France’s growing support for radical left and right candidates highlights the fact that the political elite of the West continue to ignore the true issues of the everyday voter. We have had warnings with Brexit and Trump, but if Le Pen took the Presidency, it could have caused irreversible damage to liberalism in the West. Le Pen would start to dismantle some of the key organisations of the modern liberal world, in the EU and NATO. Could this be the reality after the 2027 Presidential election? Macron would be unable to run for a third term, and the centre must unite if they don’t want Le Pen to be the next President as her popularity only grows each election.
What can be certain is that French politics will always surprise. Macron had his revolution five years ago and was able to hold onto the Presidency, but Le Pen’s party and the political extremes remain undefeated.
Image credit: Jeso Carneiro via Flickr