French Election: The Build Up and Impact

Written By: Adhara Ayndrila

The French presidential election 2022 has marked a new height of polarization in French politics. As no candidate won a majority in the first round, a runoff was held, in which Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen and was re-elected as President of France. Macron from La République En Marche! (LREM) defeated Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally, a far-right populist party. After two back-to-back rounds of polling, France has finally appointed its president, concluding the presidential election of 2022. However, the upcoming second term will be a rather challenging one for Emmanuel Macron, given that the French voters did something for the first time in 30 years. They denied a newly elected president a majority in the National Assembly. This will lead to complex negotiations and parliamentary compromises for the President. Ensemble!, the party of the presidential majority (LREM and MoDem), has won 245 seats in the National Assembly, 105 fewer than in 2017. The Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale (NUPES) came in second as the main opposition force with 131 seats. The Rassemblement National won 89 seats, well beyond the 15 required to form a parliamentary group.

In a country of polar political ideologies where the far right and the far left can be said to have equal credibility, holding the fort with centrist policies might be a tough position to be in. Yet, the election result shows why it worked out to be the winning factor for Macron. Especially since the candidate in question has already served his first term amidst a pandemic, crisis, and inflationary spiral. Even though France ranks among the most developed countries in the world, its economy is constantly struggling to resist crumbling. France has a deficit of more than 6 percent of GDP, with public debt beyond 112 percent and government expenditure no less than 55 percent. As the country approached the election, the far-right, the far-left, and the center had their own ways of resolving the issues and advocating for the state’s prosperity.

With populist Viktor Orban winning a fourth consecutive term as Hungary’s prime minister days ago, eyes have now turned to France’s resurgent far-right candidates. In particular, to the  National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who wants to ban Muslim headscarves on streets and halal and kosher butchers, as well as drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe. Le Pen has attempted to defend France as a global superpower that must retake its place in the world. She sees nothing better than defying NATO and the European Union in order to fight for protectionist policies and stronger connections with Moscow. Even though she has opposed Russia’s invasion “without ambiguity,” Le Pen’s meeting with Putin five years ago has haunted her campaign during Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. She did, however, say that once the war is over, there should be a “strategic rapprochement” with Russia. 

Le Pen’s proposed economic plans appeared too unviable in the economic debate. She promised significant tax cuts as well as massive spending increases. On the other hand,she wanted to fight inflation by punishing international trade and lowering VAT. These populist initiatives would have resulted in an additional $105 billion deficit, bringing the total annual deficit to $226 billion. Among her plans were reinstating the wealth tax, nationalizing the highway network, lowering the retirement age to 60, and paying up to 100,000 euros to families with at least three children. Despite losing the election, these initiatives are not entirely out of the question, considering her stronghold on the parliament. Even looking at the radical left represented by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his NUPES alliance, we can predict a clash of demands in the parliament. Mélenchon’s alliance advocated for a 15% increase in the minimum wage to 1500 euros per month, the reinstatement of wealth taxes on individuals and corporations, and a price freeze on basic necessities. He is a staunch opponent of the country’s membership in the free market economy.  Mélenchon also stated that France would leave NATO and oppose any future EU free trade agreements under his rule. At this point, it is difficult to distinguish between some electoral mandates of the far right and far left alliances in the parliament. It is possible to argue that in his efforts to reconstruct the leftist French, Melenchon may support measures proposed by Le Pen. However, one source of contention remains, and that is Macron’s determination to pursue his current agenda.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has provided Macron with an opportunity to demonstrate his international clout and bolster pro-NATO credentials in election debates. Under Macron’s leadership, France’s defense budget has increased by €7 billion ($7.6 billion), intending to reach 2% of GDP. In his second term, Macron will probably try to develop a single European response to Ukraine and counter Russian threats. The United States frequently praises France as its longest ally, and Washington requires a solid partner in Paris on issues ranging from Russian sanctions to climate change and the United Nations. France is a crucial trans-Atlantic ally for America because it is the only permanent UN Security Council member with veto power in Continental Europe. Macron shares a strong connection with the Biden administration that he would not let go in vain. As for the domestic concerns, he promised to push through a contentious pension reform that would “progressively” raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 years. Furthermore, the minimum state pension would be increased from €950 to €1,100. He proposed allowing firms to give employees untaxed bonuses of up to €6,000. Emmanuel Macron aims to make France the first major country to phase out coal and gas. Subsequently, he has committed to building six new nuclear power plants to supplement France’s 75 percent nuclear energy mix.

The current circumstances would force Macron to act differently than he had intended. His political machine was all-conquering during the first term –stealing the best and brightest from the center-right Republicans and the center-left Socialists. By straddling the mainstream, he drove unhappy voters to Ms. Le Pen’s extreme right or Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s radical left. It will be difficult for Mr. Macron to appease the furious bunch who gave both of these candidates a major electoral boost, especially without spending more money that France does not have. Macron should continue pursuing the complex long-term changes that France needs, such as reforming its convoluted pension system, laying the groundwork for energy transition, and rebuilding the inflexible and highly centralized education system. However, the future appears bleak. . As seen in the past, French politics is extremely polarized, possibly too much for even the most modest policy consensus. As a result, Mr. Macron will need to change the culture. This requires adopting a new political style, one that is less controlled and more open. It will not succeed easily, but if he fails, so will his second term.

Featured Image Courtesy: NBC News/Getty Images


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