"Europe is part of Macron‘s DNA"
With 58.5% to 41.5%, the incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected with a clear lead over his rival Marine Le Pen. However, the gap between the two candidates has narrowed compared to the 2017 election. Five years earlier, Macron was elected with 66.1% to 33.9%. However, approval ratings are always lower in the re-election of a president than in the first election, as the President of the National Assembly and En Marche politician Richard Ferrand pointed out to France 2 TV after the results were announced. Finally, this is the first time that a French president has been re-elected since the introduction of the 5-year term. Even if this means that the incumbent president can continue to govern with a comfortable majority, there is no denying that a significant and growing part of French society voted for the far right, as Marine Le Pen scored almost eight percentage points and 2.7 million votes more than in 2017.
Ode to Joy: France Remains Strong European Partner
Emmanuel Macron's speech was eagerly awaited as a huge crowd of the president's supporters and ministers had gathered at the Champ des Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower to celebrate their candidate's victory. The mood was exuberant and the French and European flags were hoisted in equal numbers in the crowd. After all, Europe is part of the DNA of Macron's supporters and his political movement En Marche. The longing for Europe was appropriately fulfilled by a corresponding appearance with gravitas: thoughtfully, similar to five years ago in front of the Louvre, Macron strode with his wife and their children up to the podium and one melody resounded above all: the Ode to Joy. This may be interpreted as a sign to his European partners that France will continue to pursue a pro-European and proactive course in European policy and extend its hand to its partners, first and foremost Germany. "Macron's re-election is essential for France and for Europe," said the Secretary of State for Europe, Clément Beaune, in reaction to the election result on France 2. Although Europe had not initially played a prominent role in this election campaign, it recently took up more space in the debates, also because the media had seriously examined the question of what a President Le Pen would really mean for the European Union.
Macron's speech was rather sober and did not contain any new announcements or elements. He addressed right at the beginning that he was aware that part of the votes cast for him were protest votes against Marine Le Pen, and that more than 13 million French people had voted for her. Therefore, it was his responsibility to soften the "anger" of this electorate and to be the president of all French people. One of the main points of his speech was his assertion that France should become a "great ecological nation", underlining his claim, announced between the first and second ballots, that he would push forward the energy transition in France. This strategy seems to have paid off; 65 % of Green candidate Yannick Jadot’s voters from the first round voted for Macron in the second. Together with the votes of the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, this perhaps also explains why, in contrast to the first round, 61 % of 18-24 year-olds voted for Macron. However, the consequences of his announcements for France's economy and society remain unclear. Prime Minister Jean Castex is said to dissolve the government this week, before the parliamentary elections in June, and that a large part of the existing ministerial team will be replaced.
Voter migration between the 1st and 2nd ballots
Reactions of the Candidates From the First Round of Voting
In his speech shortly after the results were announced, the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was narrowly defeated in the first round, came down hard on Emmanuel Macron. In his view, Macron was re-elected in a "presidential monarchy for lack of alternatives". However, 42% of his electorate voted for Macron in the second round (see graph). Never before has the approval rating of a president in the second round of voting been so poor. His "inaction on climate policy" was nothing less than "a crime". No wonder that the Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot, subsequently remarked with irritation how radical she found the tone of this election campaign. With the exception of the television debate between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron four days before the second round, in which both candidates visibly tried to adopt a more respectful tone, the far-right and far-left candidates were repeatedly conspicuous for their strong slips. In the final stages of the election campaign, Marine Le Pen spoke of getting rid of the "oligarchs", meaning the French elite, against whom "the people" should revolt - the similarity in style to Donald Trump can hardly be denied. Le Pen’s "campaign aide", the extreme right-winger Éric Zemmour, continued to offer his help in his speech on Sunday. With 122,000 supporters of his movement "Reconquête"(Reconquest), the fight for France would continue, and the nationalist voices would have to unite to form a "national union" in order to win the fight in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This refers to a coalition between Zemmour's new party and Le Pen's Rassemblement National as well as Nicolas Dupont-Aignan's small party "Debout la France" (roughly: France stands up). Even those conservatives who no longer wanted to belong to the Républicains would be welcome to join this union, Zemmour said, which was promptly rejected from the ranks of the former People's Party.
The latter, however, addressed the high approval ratings for Le Pen, who was able to position herself more broadly in the geographical distribution of her votes than in 2017. This is particularly problematic for the conservative Republicans, as they, like the Socialists, are traditionally well anchored locally, where they have been able to maintain their position as the former People's Party. Christian Jacob, leader of the conservatives, therefore stressed that the strategy in the future must also lie on this territorial anchoring. Macron must acknowledge the fact that about nine million French people live below the poverty line - this explains the strong voices of protest in the country. The upcoming parliamentary elections are all the more important now, after all, the people's representatives are elected in the constituency.
Parliamentary Elections in June as a Third Round?
Traditionally, due to low voter turn-out, parliamentary elections arouse less interest in French society. However, this election campaign gives the impression that the parliamentary elections could become the decisive factor for the further development of the political landscape in France.
In her speech after the announcement of the result, Marine Le Pen emphasised that despite her defeat, the result as such was a victory. She also announced her intention to remain politically engaged and to lead the "great battle" of the parliamentary elections in June together with the vice-president of the Rassemblement National, Jordan Bardella. He said it was intolerable to simply accept the automatic re-election of En Marche in the French National Assembly, favoured by the electoral system, and to accept Macron's "brutal approach". So, as is often the case in France, political debates seem to be conducted with much more virulence than in other countries: after the election is before the election.
Jeanette Süß is a European Affairs Manager in the "European Dialogue" Brussels office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.