Macron’s re-election means…
French President Macron was re-elected for a five-year term on Sunday 24 April with around 59% of the votes against his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, who reached a historically high score (41%). The election, which was marked by the largest abstention rate in fifty years (28%), took place as the country becomes increasingly polarised.
Macron’s victory was made, in part, possible by the fact that many left-leaning voters decided to support him (albeit reluctantly), as observed in many of the polling stations throughout France’s main cities (Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg, etc.). The only exceptions to this were the often overlooked overseas territories of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, all of which boycotted the incumbent.
…positive news for the “more EU” party…
At the EU level, Macron’s re-election comes as a major relief for most heads of government, as highlighted by the unusual op-ed published last week by centre-left Portuguese, Spanish, and German leaders which appealed directly to French citizens to vote for him in the run-off against Le Pen.
This concern stemmed not only from the fact that France is Europe’s second largest economy but also that the potential of having a Eurosceptic as their new counterpart would have potentially hindered cooperation across the European Union. A strong Franco-German axis will now continue to propel Brussels forward, jointly with Draghi’s Italy, Sanchez’ Spain, and Costa’s Portugal, all of whom share similar pro-EU stances.
Over the medium-term, it will also be worth observing as to how domestic politics in France may impact the outcome of the 2024 European elections. If the trend seen during this election cycle continues, then the EPP and S&D groups may continue their downward trajectories, and the Renew Europe group could strengthen its position as ‘king-maker’ in the European Parliament. On the extremes, ID and The Left would have a more influential role as potential ‘troublemakers’. Such a projection, however, must be put into perspective as the EPP and S&D have typically maintained a strong hold on regional and local politics, despite national turbulences.
Overall, Macron is expected to advocate for the concrete roll out of the key political objectives which he has previously enunciated. This would, in practice, mean further strengthening of European autonomy on defence (e.g. Strategic Compass, Indo-Pacific Strategy), industry (e.g. Important Projects of Common European Interests), technology (investments in R&D), and energy (boost in domestic production).
On the foreign policy front, Macron will continue to be active, especially with regard to three strategic partners: the US, India, and more broadly Africa. Concerning trade, the approval of new FTAs (such as Mercosur) will remain controversial due to environmental concerns and reluctance from French farmers. As a result, he will continue to put the brakes on this issue to avoid losing domestic support.
… some worries for the future…
A tripolar system – far-left, centre, far-right – seems to be the new structure the French political landscape. Le Pen learned from previous failures by moderating and ‘normalising’ her appearance, notably by dropping the ‘Frexit’ proposal whilst maintaining her appeal to nationalist voters on security, justice and migration. Radical left candidate Mélenchon further increased his popularity (gaining 700,000 voters from the 2017 election), becoming de-facto the ‘vote utile’ for left-leaning parties and narrowly missing his ticket for the 2nd round.
Support for the extreme right has skyrocketed in the last 20 years, reaching unprecedented levels. While Le Pen (father) obtained around 18% of votes in 2002, his daughter achieved 34% in 2017 and as much as 41% in 2022. For many, this number was unthinkable only a few years ago.
The election confirmed the collapse of the two main traditional parties: ‘Les Républicains’ and le ‘Parti Socialiste’, which combined made up their lowest score ever seen of 7% (ten years ago, this number was 50%!). Both were swallowed up by Macron’s centrist position (who tried to grab votes on the right by focusing on immigration and security) and by populist parties (which are now the ones constituting more than 50% of the votes).
In addition, while Macron has benefited domestically from his Presidential status and a ‘rally-round-flag effect’ since Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, the real question remains, how long will this last? Several stumbling blocks lie ahead: topping this list is his perceived arrogance for ordinary citizens as well as rising inflation which will disproportionally impact the most vulnerable and rural households – exactly those people which constitute the ‘Yellow Vests’ movement base. On a more positive note, however, he managed to reduce the unemployment rate by 2% during his tenure (currently standing at 7.4%) while maintaining a relatively low inflation rate following the war in Ukraine compared to European neighbours.
In order to prevent extremist parties from continuing to make electoral inroads, Macron’s best strategy may be to increase state intervention in economic and social policy matters, which is what ties the majority of voters – despite their heterogenous political affiliations –together. This same logic could also be applied at the EU level, where the combination of economic and health crises highlighted the important role played by the state. In summation, French – and EU citizens more broadly – have high expectations for their public leadership.
… and homework in Paris.
The topic of climate change is where the discrepancy between Macron’s talks and deeds are at their most apparent, in turn questioning the EU’s ability to fully commit to its green agenda. Despite Macron’s vocal pledge to support the Paris Agreement, the independent think-tank the Shift Project has revealed that his program remains largely insufficient to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 (except on energy, where he plans to develop both nuclear and renewables). In fact, none of the 12 candidates in the election – including Green MEP Yannick Jadot – were able to offer a concrete plan that makes it possible for France to respect its Paris Accords’ commitments (although climate change ranked as the 2nd largest concern in the election – purchasing power being the 1st). As a result, some much-needed homework will be required for both France and the EU to reach their common objectives.
Macron will have until 13 May to appoint a new Prime Minister (and more broadly a new government). The most cited names include current Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne along with Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie. Nevertheless, speculation is rife as to whom will take up the position and a surprise choice cannot be excluded. Macron’s choice will send a clear indication as to which path and orientation he intends to take for his second term. On climate change in particular, Macron would like to entrust “ecological planning” to the upcoming PM to ensure that environmental issues are better integrated across all ministries. As tradition requires, he will also travel to Berlin for his first state visit to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
All eyes are now on the upcoming legislative elections, scheduled unusually late in June (2 months after the Presidential election instead of 3 weeks). In this regard, timing will be key: the longer the time span, the more likely Macron’s opponents will have time to campaign and build coalitions against him. In particular, Mélenchon will seek to gather support from all left-leaning parties while Le Pen will aim to do the same with the radical right. Previously, there have been rumours that Macron may dissolve the National Assembly to call for an earlier election – a tactical move (in theory), but which could heavily backfire if perceived as a power grab. Regardless of when the election will take place, one can expect Macron to lose a certain number of seats and possibly his majority in the National Assembly due to the broad opposition and his lack of political footholds locally.