French President Emmanuel Macron Wins Reelection

By Terrance Turner

April 24, 2022

French President Emmanuel Macron won re-election today, becoming the first French leader to do so since 2002. Exit polls from today’s presidential runoff show Macron with 58.5% of the vote versus 41.5% for challenger Marine Le Pen (according to the New York Times). It was a rematch: Macron defeated Le Pen in 2017 with 66% of the vote, becoming the youngest president in French history.

The victory of Macron, a centrist, over far-right candidate Le Pen is being seen as a victory for democracy and for European alliances. The New York Times was blunt: “At a critical moment in Europe, with fighting raging in Ukraine after the Russian invasion, France rejected a candidate hostile to NATO, to the European Union, to the United States, and to its fundamental values that hold that no French citizens should be discriminated against because they are Muslim.”

Ms. Le Pen is a longtime sympathizer with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom she visited at the Kremlin during her last campaign in 2017. She would almost certainly have pursued policies that weakened the united allied front to save Ukraine from Russia’s assault, offered Mr. Putin a breach to exploit in Europe, and undermined the European Union” [a political union of 27 states, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Sweden. The alliance strives to maintain that EU citizens can live, work, study and do business throughout the EU as well as enjoy a wide choice of competitively priced goods and services].

Le Pen said the European Union functions in “an absolutely undemocratic way, which advances by threat, by blackmail and which implements policies that are against the interests of the people.” She pledged to reverse as many EU policies as possible in the name of a “freer, more independent France,” and introduce a “European Alliance of Nations” that would essentially replace the EU. She has also said that she would affirm the superiority of French law over EU law, challenging numerous EU treaties negotiated and ratified since 1951. According to Carnegie Europe, this strategy, similar to the one used in the 2016 ‘Brexit” by the United Kingdom, would unravel internal cohesion within the EU and its values. 

“Should Le Pen be elected, the European Union and NATO would instantly become weaker—some even speak of “collapse”—and it would represent the culmination of Russian support to France’s extreme right. It would also represent Putin’s biggest strategic victory against NATO and the EU,” wrote Carnegie scholar Marc Pierini. ‘A Le Pen presidency would further challenge the EU response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, likely through weaker or delayed sanctions and a stop to EU-funded weapons procurement.

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According to Pierini, Le Pen also posed a threat to NATO, which Ukraine had once proposed to join. (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance between 30 countries, which include Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom. They pledge to defend each other if any one of them is attacked. NATO has provided military assistance to Ukraine since Putin invaded the country in February.)

Pierini stated, “The consequences for NATO policies and operations would be of equally critical importance, as Le Pen would quickly move to reduce France’s involvement in the alliance. She has said she would remove France from the integrated military command [which is responsible for coordinating, training, and organizing troops. It sets military strategies and sees that they are carried out]. Leaving the integrated military command would amount to a drastic weakening of NATO’s overall response to Russia’s invasion, which could include reducing the current deployment of French forces in Estonia, Poland, and Romania[…]A Le Pen victory would immediately create a crisis situation for NATO’s policies in support of Kyiv. It would drastically hinder the alliance’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty,” he wrote.

Le Pen acknowledges that Russia’s invasion was “wrong” and “unacceptable”, but is skeptical about supplying weapons to Ukraine and opposed to sanctions. Macron’s government said it sent 100 million euros worth of weapons to Ukraine, and Macron vows to continue this support. He has also supported sanctions against Russia, as well as EU unity on the issue, per the Globe and Mail.

Le Pen’s ties to Putin were a liability that she tried to downplay. But Macron called her out during a recent debate: “In 2015 you took out a loan with a Russian bank and you still have not paid it back.” Le Pen did indeed take out a loan in 2015, and she personally visited Putin two years later. That became a source of weakness for her during the campaign amid Russia’s invasion and bombing of Ukraine. In the first three weeks of the war alone, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 1,900 civilian casualties in the country: 726 killed — including at least 20 children — and 1,174 injured. 

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Le Pen also came under fire for her stances on Islam and immigration. She had proposed to ban the hijab, a head covering for Muslim women, in public. (The French Muslim population is the largest in Eastern Europe.) Macron warned that the ban could lead to “civil war” and framed a woman’s decision to wear one as a feminist choice. While Macron vows to speed of processing of asylum applications, he has moved to the right on immigration — moving to strengthen borders and create a new force to control them. But Le Pen went even further, pushing to stop family reunification for immigrant families, remove birthright citizenship, and withdraw residency for migrants that are out of work for more than a year. She also proposed processing asylum applications outside of France and providing welfare benefits for only French citizens (per Reuters).

Le Pen campaigned on the economy, echoing French citizens’ complaints about inflation and the high costs of living. (Inflation in France spiked to 4.5% in March.) She proposed no income tax for those under 30, a value-added tax of 0% for essential items like pasta and diapers, and early retirement at 60 for those who have worked 40 years. Macron, like Le Pen, wants to boost monthly pensions and raise teachers’ wages. But he wants to progressively raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65 (Le Pen wants it to stay 62). Macron also wants employers be able to give employees an untaxed bonus of up to 6,000 euros (per the Globe and Mail).

The French unemployment rate fell to 7.4% in the fourth quarter of 2021, a level not seen since 2008. This is testimony to Macron’s reforms during his first term in office, among the most important of which has been cutting corporation tax from 33.3% to 25%.

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In the end, it appears that voter apathy was the biggest obstacle for Macron. According to Reuters, over 28% of French voters abstained from voting — the highest total in 50 years. Many French citizens decided to stay home. Still others voted for Macron simply to avoid Le Pen.

“It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transport logistics worker who backed a communist candidate in round one. “It’s a nightmare. I’ll cry when I vote Macron,” said Nana, a voter yesterday, preparing to cast her ballot for Emmanuel Macron.

In his victory speech at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, Macron acknowledged that reality. “I’d like to thank all my supporters,” he said, but added: “I also know that a number of our compatriots have voted for me — not necessarily to support my ideas, but to act as a barrier to the extreme right. I would here like to thank them, and tell them that I’m aware this vote will oblige me in the future years to make sure that I’m a depository of their sense of responsibility, their attachment to the republic, and also respect for the differences that have been expressed over the past few weeks.”

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He acknowledged those who had abstained, as well as those who had voted for Le Pen. He told the crowd, “From right now, I’m no longer the candidate of one particular [party]. I’m the president of everyone.”

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