On 24th April 2022, the French re-elected their incumbent President Emmanuel Macron for another five-year term. It is a historical event as he became the first president of the Fifth Republic to win re-election, excluding the cohabitation period. Nonetheless, both President Macron and his far-right-wing opponent, Marine Le Pen, can consider their result as a victory and, at the same time, a defeat.
Macron vs Le Pen
On the one hand, the victorious liberal pro-European candidate lost around 2 million votes compared to 2017 (18.8 million in 2022 versus 20.7 million in 2017). Also, Macron greatly benefited from voters who cast ballots for him to block far-right ideas. He, as well as his party, The Republic on the Move (LREM, La République En Marche), understood the humble character of the victory. Unlike the previous elections, they celebrated in a sober way.
On the other hand, the defeated national populist candidate called her result a “shining victory”. Her party, the National Rally (RN, Le Rassemblement National), has never reached such a score. Indeed, Le Pen obtained 41.4% of the votes while Emmanuel Macron got 58.6%. In the 2017 Presidential election, they respectively obtained 33.9% and 66.1%.
The electoral campaign has focused on three main subjects – purchasing power, international order with Europe and Ukraine, as well as identity and security. Even though many called him “the president of the rich” since the yellow vests movement (Les gilets jaunes), President Macron succeeded in providing a reassuring image in crisis management during the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It is a key explanation of his victory.
The French Politics
The 2022 Presidential election put forward many lessons that we should learn regarding French politics.
1. The score of Marine Le Pen demonstrates a significant rise of the far-right in France.
Two main reasons for this are a ‘normalization’ strategy adopted by the RN and a trivialization of the far-right ideas. Actually, a part of the RN has been thinking for a long time that a discursive transformation with a softening of the speech and the use of a consensual republican vocabulary could be helpful to come to power. That is what Marine Le Pen tried to do without changing her programme’s content. However, she still wants to ban Islamic headscarves in public spaces and adopt a very radical policy towards immigration. During the traditional debate between the two rounds and unlike the previous one in 2017, she seemed to have embodied a presidential posture, trying not to take an aggressive stance.
Moreover, she took advantage of the far-right Eric Zemmour’s candidacy (Reconquest, Reconquête) as her ideas look less radical in comparison.
Zemmour’s campaign has trivialized and made acceptable far-right ideas following the Overton Window. For instance, he advocates the ‘great replacement’ theory, which is the fear that non-white ones will replace white Christian people. In addition, the far-right parties’ voters considered themselves despised and disregarded. Nationalism thus appears as an answer to liberalism in which they are not integrated.
2. The first-round results show a deep reconstruction of the political landscape around three main blocks.
It reinforces the new electoral order already perceived during the 2017 election. The former division between right and left based on the two main old parties – The Republicans (LR, Les Républicains) and the Socialist Party (PS, le Parti Socialiste) no longer exists. Even though every single president of the Fifth Republic before Emmanuel Macron came from one of these two parties, they both obtained less than 5% in the last election (LR got 4.78% and PS 1.75%).
Three poles have emerged since 2017 – one identitarian conservative, another liberal globalist and the last one ecologist socialist democrat. They each obtained around one-third of the vote during the first round of the 2022 election. They respectively got 32.28% with M. Le Pen, E. Zemmour and N. Dupont-Aignan, 32.63% with E. Macron and V. Pécresse and 31.94% with J.-L. Mélenchon, Y. Jadot, F. Roussel, A. Hidalgo, P. Poutou and N. Arthaud.
Read more about the first term of Macron and the major candidates of the 2022 election here!
If those three poles are highly fragmented between several candidates, they nearly represent an equal number of votes. As negotiations are taking place in sight of the legislative elections to make alliances around these three forces, this analysis seems very much relevant. The system is likely to be in crisis regarding this reconstruction and the second round of the presidential election, which only qualify two candidates.
3. Sunday’s (24th April) vote is a sign of a crisis in the French institutions.
According to J.-L. Mélenchon, Emmanuel Macron is the “least well-elected president” of the Fifth Republic. Regarding the final score, it cannot be considered true. However, taking into consideration the abstention and blank and invalid votes, only 37.9% of the electorate voted for him. Only Georges Pompidou did worst with 37.5% in 1969, more than fifty years ago.
People had little interest in this election. Many preferred to put a ‘useful vote’ in the ballot box rather than voting according to their opinions. 7 out of 10 voters were frustrated with the elections, and 4 out of 10 Macron and Le Pen voters did so to block the other candidate. It is the whole representation system that is in crisis. A solution to address this problem can be through a dose of proportionality at the Assembly or more referendums.
Macron’s Next Immediate Steps
For now, two main political events will happen – the nomination of the Prime Minister and the legislative elections.
Prime Minister nomination
First of all, President Macron must appoint a new Prime minister since Jean Castex (the current one) is going to submit his resignation. The re-elected president wants to create a new dynamic for his presidency by forming a new government. Answering questions from the press, he ensured the new tenant of Matignon (the Prime Minister’s residence) would be committed to “social, environmental and productive issues”. He needs someone who would be able to rally broadly behind him to obtain the required majority during the legislative elections. It is a necessity to govern.
The re-election of President Macron came as no surprise, though with the retarded nomination of the Prime Minister, the latter keeps the suspense alive. Among the many rumours circulating, Elisabeth Borne (the current Minister of Labour, Employment and Integration) and Christine Lagarde (President of the European Central Bank) are two major candidates.
Actually, choosing a woman would mean much as only one has reached this position (Edith Cresson, François Mitterrand’s Prime minister from 1991 to 1992). Nonetheless, despite his declared intention to overcome traditional divisions and engage in an environmental policy, one can doubt their real application. Indeed, he seemed to have forgotten the environmental issue during his first term. Moreover, his will to cross the divisions between right and left is questionable because his government is deeply rooted in centre-right ideas.
Upcoming legislative elections
The legislative elections are another decisive issue. They are going to take place on June 12th and 19th. Called by J.-L. Mélenchon (candidate of a democrat, socialist and populist party, the France Unbowed, LFI, La France Insoumise) as the “third round” of the elections may severely impact political life. Indeed, the party that will obtain the majority of the seats is the only one able to govern the country. Thus, J.-L. Mélenchon asked anyone who wanted him to become Prime Minister to vote for a candidate of the Popular Union (L’Union Populaire). Socialists, communists, and ecologists are negotiating the conditions by which they could enter this union.
However, there are still many points of contention, like Europe or retirement age. That led to profound divisions inside the parties, with one side willing to rally LFI and the other does not accept this idea at all.
The same process is occurring among the several far-right parties. After the defeat of Le Pen, Zemmour asked for a ‘national union’. However, not everyone is convinced by his leadership. Finally, LREM needs to get a majority in the Assembly for President Macron to lead the country the way he wants to. Because of the significant amount of ‘barricade votes’, his high score during the presidential election does not mean he will get a majority for sure. It will depend not only on the opposition’s capacity to structure itself but also on the ability of President Macron to convince everyone that his policies will bring the country into a ‘new era’.
President Macron perfectly knows his victory does not mean the end of the struggle. Many frustrated people are going to express their opinions either during the legislative elections or in the streets. He has no choice but to consider them to prevent another social crisis like 2017.
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About the Author
Julien Guillot is a French political science student with particular knowledge of the African continent and development studies. He wrote a bachelor’s dissertation on the unity and diversity in India, and country analysis of Comoros, two countries that are interesting to him a lot.
Studying in an institute of political studies, he started this year with a master’s in “Risks and Development in the Global South” with a specialization in “Government and Public Action” at Sciences Po Bordeaux in France. He also went, as part of an exchange program, to the Department of International Relations at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala, India.