(Photo: The Times)
By Jude Powell – Contributor
After a turbulent term, Emmanuel Macron has been re-elected as the President of France.
The world had feared due to growing discontent among the electorate and the increase in popularity of right-wing ideologue Marine Le Pen that Macron would meet the same fate as his predecessors. Despite this, Macron has maintained his position as the President of France in the first re-election of the head of state since that of Jacques Chirac – a staggering 20 years ago. His return means calls for overt racism and Euroscepticism have been muted, yet what does another ‘En Marche’ mandate mean for the future of France?
It is not uncommon knowledge that Macron’s recent victory was not beckoned – but borrowed. A majority of the populace did not want a Le Pen government. With a record-high abstention rate and meagre polling, Macron has not been inspiring reasonable support. In the first round of the election, he earned 27.8% of the vote: just over 4% more than Le Pen herself and around 5% more than the third-place left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Although it must be noted outright majorities are seldom featured in the first round.
It was the second round however, that proved him to be a candidate of compromise and not principle. With Mélenchon’s elimination in the first round, the second round of voting saw Macron assimilate a majority of Mélenchon’s voters as a ‘lesser evil’ in place of Le Pen by gaining 58.5% to her 41.5%. One word was repeated across news outlets in the middle of April – ‘kingmaker’. Speaking during his concession speech, Mélenchon repeated three times: “You should not give any vote to Madame Le Pen”. Notably stopping short of an endorsement of Macron, the third-way view of the ‘La France Insoumise’ candidate and his supporters presents to us why the non-voter rate was at its highest in over 50 years at 13 million. Following this, Ipsos polling between rounds saw a half of Mélenchon voters intending to abstain with the rest divided into 31% and 18% for Macron and Le Pen respectively. The French people are disillusioned with the political and economic establishment – Macron included.
What does this mean for Macron’s government for the next five years? Put simply, it will not be as easy as the last term. Macron’s selling point in 2017 was that he presented himself as a pseudo-saviour who broke from the establishment Socialist and Republican parties of Hollande and Sarkozy to develop an independent, new ‘Republic on the move’. All while maintaining a stable centrist persona. They sold their vision for France as a liberal and progressive state free of the corruption of the political class that had plagued them before. Five years on, however, many people still do not see change.
The President’s first term was dominated by events such as the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protests in 2018, which featured around 3 million people demonstrating for cheaper fuel, minimum wage increases and greater taxes on the wealthy. Catalysed by the government’s increase in fuel tax, the protests of already pressured working people presented Macron as an out of touch establishment figure – just like his predecessors before him. This, no doubt, is what fed increasing support for both Le Pen and Mélenchon as champions for the people in contrasting ways. Both gained in 2022 with Le Pen even cutting Macron’s 2017 margin in half. It is clear, therefore, that economic disparity played a key role in the 2022 election. France’s poorest regions like Haut-de-France and Corsica (areas inhabited primarily by working income voters) tended to vote more for Le Pen. The same economic theme somewhat goes for Mélenchon in urban areas too.
Beyond the arguments against racism and Euroscepticism dictating the televised debate – economic insecurity took precedence for opposition voters. The French overseas territories show this plainly. In the first round, Mélenchon saw comfortable victory in the likes of Guadeloupe and Martinique. However, these predominantly Creole and Caribbean communities voted overwhelmingly for the right-wing, racist Le Pen in the second round. There is no coincidence, that French overseas territories are by far the most socially deprived areas within the French Republic. It was not a vote for Le Pen, but a vote against Macron. With the rise in the cost of living and an economic projection of increasingly stagnant growth beyond the post-covid rebound, Macron’s party will find it hard to preserve popular support. Ipsos polling suggests 77% of people project further riots akin to that of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’. Already the streets of Paris see protesters of Macron’s re-election donning banners that say, “Down with Macron, the Robin Hood of the Rich”.
France’s future will not necessarily be all doom and gloom. Any forecasting will depend highly upon how proactive Macron seeks to be in his final term. No doubt with the assumption Macron’s ‘Groupe Libertés et Territoires’ centrist block will secure another majority in the National Assembly once again in June as predicted however weakened – he will expectedly oversee the continuation of his vision. Beginning with the election of a Prime Minister, whom Macron has previously stated will be directing “ecological planning”. This may see policies such as tariffs on environmentally damaging imports alongside possible subsidisation for energy alternative technologies.
Beyond France, Emmanuel Macron’s re-election will mean a greater unifying presence for the European Union as he currently holds the Presidency of the EU until the end of June. His prime concerns involve a continuation of support for Ukraine in Europe alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz leading to the strengthening of European military cooperation. The themes of Macron’s election campaign have also hinted toward greater controls over EU immigration. To ‘La Voix du Nord’, he expressed that the “passport-free area is being threatened” and we must “guard our external borders”. Non-European migrants account for a smaller percentage of France’s community compared to other EU members and there are no signs that any new vision or rhetoric will reform pre-existing regressive immigration policies. On the surface attitude to Ukrainian refugees is more positive. Macron has consistently pointed to reintroducing EU protection directives for Ukrainian asylum seekers: securing them up to three years of asylum and housing. It goes further with assistance for Ukrainian children with schooling so integration with the French community is made easier.
On the other hand, the cost-of-living crisis will underline most of Macron’s tenure with pledges to sustain electricity and gas price caps as well as adjustment plans like tripling annual bonuses for employees to keep wages up with the rate of inflation as much as possible. In truth, this will struggle to trickle down to lower incomes as smaller employers are less willing to increase bonuses. These benefits hit the middle and higher-income brackets first. Therefore, lacking any transformative plan to aid the French people in the years to come, Macron will struggle more to quell more discontent.
It is hard to gauge how many policies will be achieved within the next term as a likely weakened majority and various inevitable post-election U-turns will weaken Macron’s vision for France. His re-election is a boon for the security of the European Union’s character. As a leading force in support of Ukraine against Putin while guiding the global climate agenda. Domestically, the President will struggle to hold any meaningful popular support with the economic challenges that the nation will face over the next five years. Protests may continue to plague his presidency unless he can balance the need for affordable energy while, at the same time, progressing environmental policies. Beyond, France will continue its reputation as an ideological leader of Europe.