This is the first of two Quick Takes about the French election. A second Quick Take will be published soon after the final election round providing a deep dive into the ramifications of the result.
- France’s presidential elections will take place in two rounds, on April 10 and 24. Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, with a 44% approval rating, is predicted to face his far-right 2017 opponent Marine Le Pen in the second round, with polling showing him winning this match-up 54%-46%.
- Given such odds, the other candidates are eying this June’s National Assembly elections, which will provide an opportunity for the losing parties to maintain their influence at the national level.
- The war in Ukraine has thrown the race into flux, replacing health and security as the focus of France’s national dialogue. Most candidates are showing broad support for President Macron on the subject.
- In a second term, President Macron would seek to build on the pro-EU momentum spurred by the crisis in Ukraine. At the national and EU levels, he will authoritatively push to create a more business-friendly environment, apart from the industrial, tech, and energy sectors, where France and Europe will likely move towards interventionism.
- Under a surprise Le Pen victory, France would swing decisively towards isolationism, with policies heavily benefitting French companies and citizens over their international counterparts.
THE CANDIDATES & ELECTION MECHANICS
French elections take place in two rounds: the first includes candidates across a wide array of parties. After, a runoff election takes place between the two candidates who scored highest in the first round.
Emmanuel Macron: The Incumbent
Emmanuel Macron was elected president in 2017, defeating far-right opponent Marine Le Pen with a convincing 66.1% of the vote. Macron was a moderate consensus candidate, with most of the electorate uniting behind him to deny Le Pen the presidency. He entered the race with relatively little political experience and outside of France’s two conventional political parties. Even as Macron is aiming to embody an alternative to the left-right divide, his right-leaning record is limiting his appeal.
Macron ran on a pro-business, pro-European platform, promising to reform France’s rigid economy, bring tech start-ups to France, and address climate change. His tenure was marked by controversial reforms to France’s labor system, a raucous protest movement painting Macron as an out-of-touch elitist, and France’s mixed efforts to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite pandemic-related difficulties, unemployment has fallen to 7.4% of the workforce, the lowest level in over a decade. Macron has been a visible leader on Ukraine, but his outreach to President Putin ultimately failed to prevent an invasion.
Macron’s approval rating currently stands at 44%, up from 37% in August. Polling shows him winning first place in the first round of the April elections with 27%, then defeating Marine Le Pen 54% to 46%.
Marine Le Pen: France’s legacy far-right candidate
Marine Le Pen is the leader of the Rassemblement National, or National Rally, party. Following her 2017 defeat to Macron, Le Pen is continuing her efforts to distance herself from the far-right, neo-Nazi origins of her party, advocating for nationalist policies with toned down rhetoric. Le Pen has continued to argue for drastic restrictions on migration coupled with renewed spending on the French welfare system, excluding non-French citizens. She is a harsh critic of the EU and is now struggling to justify a history of taking loans from Russian banks and making warm statements towards President Vladimir Putin. Le Pen is currently polling in second place after Macron in the first round and is slated to lose 54%-46% in the second.
The Runners Up: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Eric Zemmour, & Valérie Pécresse
The remaining candidates are polling far behind Macron and Le Pen and are looking to build momentum towards the National Assembly elections in June.
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon: a far-left candidate who has positioned himself as the left-wing alternative to Macron in the absence of a viable Socialist party candidate. He has gathered momentum throughout the past month and is advocating for large reforms to France’s democratic system.
- Eric Zemmour: a far-right firebrand and former TV host, Zemmour has tried to out-flank Le Pen with controversial stances on immigration, but failed to co-opt a large enough portion of her base.
- Valérie Pécresse: the only representative on this list from one of the two traditional French political parties, Les Républicains. Her party maintains strong representation in the legislature and at the local level, making her platform of pro-business reforms and strong industrial policy important even as she is not expected to reach the final presidential election round.
THE ISSUES DRIVING THE ELECTION
Edelman Paris has maintained a Digital Barometer to show which issues have sparked the most conversation and salience online. In recent weeks, the war in Ukraine has come to dominate the discussion, relegating health and security, which had represented respectively 33% and 34% of Twitter mentions during the two weeks prior to the war, to the background. The war has also added new focus on buying power as inflation and oil prices rise.
IMPLICATIONS: A MACRON OR LE PEN VICTORY
Polling shows President Macron safely ahead, with Marine Le Pen leading the remaining candidates in the race to face Macron in the second round. Macron is predicted to win over whichever candidate he faces in the second round. Below we describe the implications of a victory from Macron or Le Pen.
- Economic competitiveness: Macron is promising to continue making France’s economy more competitive, arguing that France could reach full employment within five years if the country pursues his program of €50 billion in tax cuts, and labor and unemployment reforms.
- Security & energy independence: Particularly in light of the Ukraine invasion, Macron has advocated increased military spending and state interventionism in strategic industrial sectors.
- What it means: Macron’s pro-business policies, while controversial, have had a real impact, even with the COVID-19 pandemic. Another Macron term could make France more attractive to international businesses in areas such as the agriculture, maritime and digital sectors, even as he pursues an interventionist approach in the energy sector and other critical industries.
- Furthering European economic integration: President Macron is pushing for more joint EU borrowing to accelerate EU integration and make Europe more resilient to economic shocks.
- A push for Europe’s strategic autonomy: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Macron has made building a more powerful, effective, and independent EU a key part of his program. Specifically, Macron has advocated for increased European autonomy in energy, technology, critical infrastructure, and security.
- Agriculture: As the war in Ukraine pushes the EU to become more agriculturally self-sufficient, it will likely look to France, offering new subsidies for French farming.
- What it means: Under a Macron second term, France would push for EU investment in localized supply chains in areas like health and technology to decrease its reliance on third countries such as China and India. Despite France’s heavy reliance on nuclear, Macron would also promote EU investment in clean energy, even as Europe increases its LNG imports amidst the war in Ukraine.
Marine Le Pen
- Economy and buying power: Particularly as the Ukraine invasion has sent gas prices skyrocketing, Le Pen has proposed to put more money in French pockets by cutting the VAT tax on energy from 20% to 5.5% and pushing for 10% wage increases. She has also argued for entirely exempting people under 30 from income tax and give more buying power to the elderly.
- Immigration/ethnicity: Le Pen has forcefully argued for hardline immigration stances regarding undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, family reunification, and birthright citizenship.
- What it means: A Marine Le Pen term would likely result in heavily isolationist policies, favoring French citizens and companies over international ones. Her presidency would also likely result in cultural and political rifts, to which companies would be pressured to respond.
- While Le Pen no longer advocates for a “Frexit”, she remains a staunch Eurosceptic. She would actively oppose further European integration across most sectors with the potential exception of agriculture, as Europe’s agricultural policies and investments still play a key role in supporting France. Overall, Marine Le Pen’s election would likely significantly disrupt any ambitions for closer EU cooperation in areas such as health, defense, energy, and most of all immigration.
Contributions from: Sean Willner, Sebastian Loerke, Sarah Kalonji, and Chloe Prompt.