2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: A RE-ELECTION FOR EMMANUEL MACRON?

, by Riya Peter, Yash Arya

2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: A RE-ELECTION FOR EMMANUEL MACRON?
Emmanuel Macron at the “Congrès des maires” on 19 November 2019. Credits: Jacques Paquier, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons

The Élysée Palace welcomed its youngest ever resident in May 2017. Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron, a newcomer with no prior electoral experience, won the 2017 French presidential election with 66.06% vote defeating the far-right Marine Le Pen. Scholars and politicians keenly observed the competence between Emmanuel Macron of La République En Marche!, a centre-right party and Le Pen of Rassemblement National (National Rally).

Five years have passed. The political air around France has undergone profound changes during the Macron presidency. From the Gilet Jaunes movement to terrorism and Macron’s struggle to protect Laïcité - the French brand of secularism, and finally the COVID-19 pandemic, the President has had a lot on his plate during the first term.

France is all set for the 2022 Presidential Election. The election of the President of the Republic of France is through direct universal suffrage. The first round of the election will be held on April 10, 2022. Suppose no candidate wins a majority vote in this round. In that case, the top 2 candidates will compete in a runoff at a second round on April 24. The incumbent can stand for a second term as per the French Constitution.

This article will discuss the two key factors. Firstly, the Macron Presidency has come across the key issues in these five years and how these affected his re-election perspective. Secondly, who will be the major competitors in the election and who will likely reach the second round.

Macron’s Challenges

Let us look at the three key challenges Macron had to cross, which impacted his approval rating among the French voters.

  1. The Gilet Jaunes Movement: The first measure of the former finance minister upon becoming the President was to enhance the economic competitiveness of France. He was adamant about reviving the French economy from the clutches of the 2008 financial crisis. But unfortunately, he forgot to focus on mitigating the inequality among the French working class. As a result, he was often criticised for being the ’President of the rich. Even though these policies positively impacted the initial stages by reducing the unemployment rate to 7.8 %, the lowest since the 2008 financial crisis, Macron failed to convince the people of its necessity. The Gilet Jaunes or the Yellow Vest protests began on November 17, 2018, over Macron’s decision to hike the diesel taxes. His pro-business policies tarnished his image at the domestic level. The French middle class, particularly the lower-middle-income workers, united against the President’s anti-welfare policies that created income inequality. Although the protest lacks popular support, it actively takes up various anti-government slogans.
  2. COVID-19 Pandemic: France was among the most affected nations when the pandemic first hit the globe. This unprecedented situation has halted Macron’s goal to bring the unemployment rate of France below 7% by 2022. The genuine hurdle in his tenure, the pandemic, brought his approval rating below 40% in 2021. He was criticised for a comparatively slow distribution of vaccines at the start. Simultaneously widespread protests erupted in many parts of France against compulsory vaccinations and the need to carry a health pass. People resented Macron for curbing their right to liberty. Preparing for a second term, Macron has apparent plans to revive the economy. His strategies include a state intervention to protect businesses and jobs by implementing a 100 billion Euro rescue plan. However, the pandemic has become the deciding factor on Macron’s political future.
  3. The Islamic Separatism Bill: From the very beginning, Macron knew that the far-right Le Pen would be his primary opponent in the 2022 election. Political analysts have seen a shift in his political ideology over the five years of his presidency [1]. Macron, who expressed himself as a liberal internationalist, has exhibited certain viewpoints of the far right. Such policies were an indirect echo towards France’s growing Muslim population. In a speech in September 2020, President Emmanuel Macron presented a plan to tackle what he called “Islamic Separatism” to defend the secular values of France. The scheme responded to about 30 terrorist attacks in France in the last eight years. Macron made this speech while the trial of the convicts of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack was undergoing. A few days after the speech, on October 16. Samuel Paty, a school teacher, was beheaded for showing Prophet Muhammad’s cartoon images to his students. Macron called this incident an Islamic attack and urged the citizens to stand up against extremism. The French brand of secularism attracted widespread discussions when the ’Strengthening Respect for Republican Principles’ bill, commonly called the Islamic Separatism Bill, was introduced in the French parliament. However, the bill received harsh opposition from the Muslim countries, even to boycotting French products. Macron’s diversion from being a centrist has threatened the Muslim population in France. Recently, a new statement by the French government declared that they would reshape Islam, giving it a makeover and rid it of its extremist tendency. These policies go against the principles of Laïcité. Many critics claim that these efforts are a political ploy to lure right-wing voters into voting for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party ahead of the presidential election.

Who Will Challenge Macron?

Emmanuel Macron has not declared his run for a second term yet. France is kicking off its EU presidency from January 1 2022; an official declaration on re-election from the incumbent is expected very soon. This requires the President to combat the challenges faced by the EU along with an election at home. Let us look at Macron’s top challengers in the 2022 election.

  • Marine Le Pen - The National Rally: Tasting failure in the 2017 election, the far-right leader is still among the front-runners for the first-round voting. Currently, Member of the National Assembly of France, she is infamous for her anti-immigrant policies. In 2021, she drew attention by proposing a referendum to constrain immigration considerably. Despite remaining Eurosceptic and hostile to immigration, Le Pen has learned lessons from the 2017 failure. To become more mainstream, she has abandoned ’FREXIT’- the exit of France from the EU.
  • Eric Zemmour: While Le Pen was trying to give a new image to her party to detoxify its extremist path to attract the moderate voters, France has seen the rise of another extremist right candidate. Eric Zemmour, a talk-show star, has announced his bid on November 30, 2021. Zemmour reminds us of Donald Trump in many ways. He has explicitly expressed his hatred towards the Muslims in France and immigrants, often insulting the immigrants based on their colour and religion. He wants to save France from the scourge of decades-long immigration and liberalism. He is also against the student protests and social movements for gay rights and feminism.
  • Valérie Pécresse - Les Republicains: A “two-thirds Angela Merkel and one third Margaret Thatcher”, Valérie Pécresse became the centre-right Les Republicains party’s candidate. Moderate yet conservative than Macron, Pécresse has also expressed some far-right vocabulary to gain support from the voters. She, too, condemns the massive influx of immigrants and the growth of Islamism in France. She considers these to be the reason for a surge in crimes and terrorist activities.
  • Candidates from the left: The broad left in France seems to be the weakest in the nation’s political history. Divided between multiple candidates, the left will hardly impact the next President’s election. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, tops among the left-wing candidates. As a former Socialist, he contested in the 2012 and 2017 presidential elections scoring above 10% of first-round votes. The other two candidates include Yannick Jadot of the Green Party and Anne Hidalgo of the Socialist Party. Both are predicted to score below 10% in the first round of voting.

Predictions of The Opinion Polls

At the outset, opinion polls have forecasted the repetition of 2017, with Macron and Le Pen in a runoff. However, the political balance has changed since then. The arrival of other candidates can topple the predictions. Eric Zemmour has raised a solid opposition to Le Pen in the far right. Le Pen, Zemmour and the Conservative Pécresse are tied to getting 16% votes in the first round. Macron hoped for an easy win like in 2017 with Le Pen in the second round. Though the former’s rating has fallen over the years, he is sure that the French will never want the far-right in power. The Le Pen-Zemmour face-off will divide the votes among the far-right supporters. This brings Valérie Pécresse into the spotlight, jeopardising Macron’s vote share. The voters would be dangerously split between the two while keeping the extreme right out.

The polls show Macron to get a majority of votes, 24%, in the first round. Who will be his opponent in the runoff remains a question. Nonetheless, the chances of his second term are highly likely. According to the Harris Interactive poll, the incumbent President is estimated to have a 51%-49% margin against Pécresse, 55%-45% to Le Pen and against Zemmour, a 61% to 39% margin.

Conclusion:

To recapitulate, Emmanuel Macron has grown from being a wild card entry to the Élysée Palace in 2017. Bidding for his second and final term, Macron has established himself to be a dominant face of France and Europe. However, getting a 2017 majority is impossible; whoever he competes in the runoff, polls show a 7% to 10% reduction in the vote share compared to his previous victory.

Despite his views on immigration and terrorism, the voters will choose Macron over others. Giving the far right any power will negatively affect France’s secular ideology though it still preserves the Catholic heritage. Moreover, when the United States has plans to restore its hold over Europe under the pretext of containing Chinese and Russian growth, the EU cannot afford to lose Macron. He has a significant role in preserving the EU’s unity and power in global politics.

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