Emmanuel Macron’s reelection as France’s President of the Republic comes with a sigh of relief from many European leaders, such as Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who has defined the election’s results as “splendid news for all of Europe”. In fact, the first round of presidential elections had cast worries across the EU, as an extraordinary number of French citizens voted for Eurosceptic candidates, namely Marine Le Pen. However, there is a bitter side to this election: it showed how popular far right political parties have become in France, with Le Pen’s Rassamblement National accounting for a staggering 42% of votes in the second round. While Macron’s confirmation as President will allow him to pursue his European strategy, he will also have to deal with a divided nation.
Signs of a divided country
Both from a political and social perspective, France appears to be quite fragmented. Politically, the upcoming June legislative elections promise to be fierce, as Macron’s rivals from the far left and the far right, Mélenchon and Le Pen, are calling upon the French to vote for their parties and establish a cohabitation. In French political slang, the term cohabitation refers to the situation in which the President and the Prime Minister are from different political parties, greatly limiting the head of State’s powers and making France more akin to a parliamentary republic. Obviously, such circumstances would make it far more difficult for Macron to unite the French and stabilize the country, as any proposition of his would need the approval of the majority of the Assemblé Nationale’s deputies. For this reason, the French President is counting on forming an alliance with the other moderate political parties to have more chances of a parliamentary majority that would not result in a cohabitation.
"Marine Le Pen à la tribune". Source: Flickr.
The success of the far right
The reasons for the success of extreme political forces in France are various, some of which are exclusive to the country, while others may also be found in other European nations. Many candidates centred their presidential campaign on the feeling of unease and dissatisfaction that many French people feel with their country. What is interesting about this is that this feeling is greatly exaggerated; overall, the French are better off than they were in 2017 when Macron’s first term started. The French Economic Observatory (OFCE) has published a study on the purchasing power in France between 2017 and 2021 that shows how, on average, purchasing power has increased by 0.95% per year, corresponding to roughly 300 euros for each household. However, Le Pen’s campaign slogan was “Give the French their money back”, precisely because she, like another extremist candidate, Eric Zemmour, insisted on the idea that France is currently on the decline and has long lost its grandeur. In France, the far right’s political propaganda clings to the nostalgia for a golden past that seems further and further away to its inhabitants, especially in the Eastern part of the country, where immigration is mostly concentrated. Immigration is one of the key reasons for the increasing popularity of the far right also in other European countries, such as Sweden and Italy. Recently, riots were staged in some Sweden cities after several Quran burning manifestations were organized, showing the symptoms of rising tensions between the Swedish Muslim community and Swedish society. In Italy, as per the most recent polls, the most popular political party is Fratelli d’Italia, which holds clear views on how immigration undermines and endangers Italian cultural identity.
Emmanuel Macron’s European perspective
However worrying the far right’s popularity may be, Macron’s reelection shows an encouraging sign of the French support for the European Union. As a matter of fact, his brief campaign was heavily centred on the EU and a European perspective. Just like 5 years ago, Macron chose to be accompanied by the notes of the Ode to Joy, the anthem of the EU, while celebrating his victory in Paris on the night of the election. Before the second round of voting, three European leaders, the German chancellor Scholz and the Spanish and Portuguese Prime Ministers Sanchez and Costa, called upon the French to choose Macron over Le Pen, stressing the need for a France that defends the common European values, so dear to the neo-elected president. The French president therefore enjoys his European colleagues’ esteem and could even gain more support over the course of his term. In fact, as expressed in an eloquent speech delivered at the Ecole de Guerre in February 2020, Macron has a clear European strategy and has been calling for an autonomous European Union, both from a geopolitical and a military perspective. In today’s delicate geopolitical scene, France’s president’s proposals for a common defence strategy as well as energetic autonomy appear to be the right path to follow for the EU.
"Emmanuel Macron". Source: Flickr.
Will Macron find support among his European colleagues?
During his second term, Macron has the chance to push his European autonomy strategy forward, since the German chancellor seems to be more prone to collaborate with him than his predecessor. France might even become the leading partner in the dual alliance with Germany, especially considering Scholz’s weakening leadership in his country, where he has met criticism even from within the majority that supports his government because of his decision not to send any heavy military equipment to Ukraine. Other European countries are more likely to support Macron’s European agenda than they were five years ago; the inflation that is plaguing the energy sector, as well as the crisis engendered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have abruptly made it clear how crucial it is for all European countries to develop a smart energy strategy. In order not to rely too much on Russia and avoid financing its war, some countries have already started to seek other partners and diversify the energy supply chain. Macron’s proposed energy policy puts great emphasis on the need for more clean energy in Europe, a suggestion that is more likely to be promptly supported now that the other Member States are trying to find alternate sources of energy. Moreover, the possibility of Trump’s reelection in 2024 makes a defence policy that does not rely extensively on the United States likely to be discussed in the near future, considering the former American president’s nationalist foreign policy.
In conclusion, the results of the French elections signal a divided France and are possibly a symptom of the increasing popularity of extremist ideas perpetrated by populists not only in the Hexagon but also in other EU countries. Whatever the outcome of his newly inaugurated term will be, Emmanuel Macron will certainly face many challenges, given the ambition of his political strategy. However, it can be confidently said that his reelection will contribute greatly to the building of a stronger and more autonomous European Union.