French elections end with a victory for Macron, but the country’s politics are still broken

Sunday’s second-round French presidential election, a contest between centre-right incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, ended with a clear victory for Macron – but not the landslide victory that he won in their 2017 match.

In the first round of the April 10 election, Macron and Le Pen emerged as favorites after a tumultuous campaign, which saw poll numbers soar in the weeks leading up to the election. Macron beat Le Pen by less than five percentage points in the first round this time; in their first game in 2017, that gap was even smaller, but Le Pen also received a smaller percentage of the total. Macron ultimately won the final vote in 2017, with around 66.1% to Le Pen’s 33.9%. Voters who selected Socialist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of the 2017 election mostly rallied around Macron, though they may not have followed suit despite Mélenchon’s pleas after the first round so that his supporters “do not give a single vote”. to Madame Le Pen.

While the French public generally respected the unspoken rule of the cordon sanitaireessentially, the idea that voters will prevent a far-right politician from presiding over 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.

Le Pen has indeed come even closer than she did last time around, perhaps showing that despite her harmful ideas, her economic messages are resonating with voters battling rising prices due to the global inflation and the war in Ukraine. The French left failed to present 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 larger proportion of voters who had previously chosen leftist candidates, or who had previously voted for Macron himself, due to general apathy towards the incumbent.

A victory for Le Pen would have changed France and Europe

Le Pen has toned down her far-right rhetoric this election cycle to focus on economic issues and cast herself as the candidate for people struggling to pay their bills as inflation and oil prices fuel increase. Her shifting orientation does not negate the fact that she has long espoused views which, while not fascist, are nevertheless alarmingly close.

During a televised debate on April 20, Macron ripped Le Pen over his proposal to ban the hijab, a head covering that 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 it has already been severely discriminated against by the government: former President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a bill in 2010 that would ban all -faces – especially the burqa and similar coverings – in public.

France cherishes its particular vision of itself as a secular state; its 1958 Constitution stipulates that “France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic, guaranteeing to all citizens, whatever their origin, race or religion, equal treatment before the law and respecting all religious convictions “. However, building on the 2004 ban on religious clothing in schools, Sarkozy twisted the concept of secularism to fit his own right-wing worldview and defend the ban. But secularism does not mean preventing people from practicing or adhering to their religion in a public way – rather, secularism as defined in the French Constitution indicates that the state does not promote or identify to any religion and people are free to follow their traditions and beliefs as they wish.

Along with Le Pen, the proposed hijab ban would be in line with other discriminatory and anti-immigrant policy ideas, such as providing social benefits only to French nationals and giving them preferential treatment in social housing and employment programs. jobs; deport undocumented immigrants; the end of reunification programs for immigrant families; and withdraw residence permits from immigrants if they are not employed for more than a year.

A victory for Le Pen would have radically changed the balance of power between Europe and NATO, which would be particularly precarious because NATO support and European solidarity have proved essential for Ukraine as the country’s army tries to prevent Russia from seizing power. Le Pen has promised to withdraw French troops from NATO’s integrated military command if she wins the presidency, which at the very least would symbolically weaken the NATO alliance – especially after five years of Macron’s efforts to ensure France’s position in European and international alliances. Although she did not call for a complete withdrawal as the far-left candidate Mélenchon did, her positions on NATO and the EU would certainly destabilize these two alliances.

Regarding the EU, Le Pen called for greater French independence from the bloc, including recognizing the primacy of French law over EU law – a move that, when it was attempted by Poland last year, resulting in legal action by the European Commission.

Moreover, Le Pen’s call for a NATO rapprochement with Russia after the end of the war in Ukraine during a press conference on Wednesday was at best mistimed, and at worst could be perceived as the continuation of his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. While she condemned the invasion, she supported the first Russian incursion into Crimea in 2014, and her party, the National Rally, borrowed millions from the First Czech-Russian Bank. The bank eventually collapsed in 2016 and was acquired by Aviazapchast, a private Russian company with historical ties to the Russian government. His party has yet to repay the loan, making them beholden to Russia – and putting Le Pen in uncomfortable proximity to the Kremlin.

What happens afterwards?

Macron’s victory, while clear, isn’t quite the noise his supporters made in 2017. With around 66% of the public turning out to vote – a low figure in French elections – apathy politics and distaste for Macron are still clear. And again, Le Pen has come much closer to the French presidency than last time, indicating that although France’s political promise to keep a far-right nationalist out of the highest office has held, the Macron’s victory is far from a radical rebuke to the far right. in Europe.

It is also a clear indicator of the inability of the traditional political parties, the Parti Socialiste and Les Républicains, to carve out a clear place for themselves in the current political landscape, putting their future in question.

The low turnout, in particular, reflects French voters’ sense that “their national political system isn’t working,” as Susi Dennison, director of the European power program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Vox in an interview. . before the first round of elections.

“You can kind of see there’s this idea that there’s literally no point in voting, it doesn’t change anything,” Dennison told Vox. “The agreement that you pay your taxes, you go out and vote, you sort of play the game, is no longer applicable in France.” Macron’s victory, while a relief to many foreign observers, was likely carried by people who felt they had no other choice and no one was talking about their needs, but also that in the end they could not bring themselves to vote for Le Plume.

“There’s a lot of concern about the perceived increase in inequality under Macron, under Macron’s tenure, a kind of sense that some of the big, basic public services around health and education are becoming further pushed in a privatized direction,” Dennison said. “So I think it’s those very national political issues that are of concern to the debate – almost more so than the security context and so on.”

“Normally, with National Assembly elections taking place shortly after presidential elections, you tend to find it happens the same way,” Dennison continued. “But I wonder if this time around that feeling of frustration might be different, than if Macron, as expected, wins the election but people feel they haven’t had a chance to express their point. from a real point of view in the current context, that they were forced to vote for Macron for lack of an alternative, so I wonder if they can use the [National Assembly] elections as a chance to vote more with their beliefs,” she said.

“Which could make the situation more interesting with regard to the National Assembly but, with the functioning of the Fifth Republic, may make it more difficult for him to pass a clear program in his second term as president, not having the kind of support he had in the first term. The shape of Macron’s second term could become clearer in the National Assembly elections, which are due to take place on June 12 and 19.