Shortcuts / 28 April 2022

The French election and the future of France

The French have voted to give incumbent President Emmanuel Macron another 5 years in the top job. It was a decisive win, but he faces a divided nation, which is split between the haves and the have nots and differing visions about the future of France. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we run through the election result, what’s happening in France, and what it means for the world, including here in Oz.

Bonjour… Run me through the basics of this election.
French voters had a choice between another 5 years of Euro-centric President Emmanuel Macron, or Euro-sceptic Marine Le Pen, who was making her 3rd run for the top job.

And Macron won?
He did, but this result was tighter than in 2017 when the pair last met. In that election, Macron won with 66% of the vote. This time, Macron received 58.5% of the vote compared to Le Pen’s 41.5%. In the era of close elections, that’s a decisive win for Macron.

So he’s getting a 2nd term?
Yep, and Macron is just the 2nd president since the turn of the century to be re-elected for a 2nd term – the last was Jacques Chirac in 2002.

Why is that?
Well, there have been 8 presidents since 1958 – that’s when the country’s current ‘5th republic’ system of government was established by Charles de Gaulle. Some former presidents like Francois Hollande didn’t put their hand up for a 2nd term because of poor ratings. Political analysts say it’s hard for French presidents to get reelected because the French have high expectations and are often disappointed… 

Alright, take me through the nitty-gritty of this election.
So there were 12 candidates running in round 1 of voting, which was held on April 10. In that round, Macron received 27% of the vote and Le Pen received 23%, so they both went through to the run-off election.

Who were the other candidates?
Some to note include the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon. He got 22% of the vote – so not far behind Le Pen. And then there’s the far right’s Eric Zemmour who got 7%.

This Melenchon guy sounds pretty popular…
He is – he won the lion’s share of younger voters through targeted campaigns on social media sites like TikTok and Instagram. 

What about Zemmour?
He was a journo and commentator who had a nightly show on France’s version of Fox News called CNews. He stepped down late last year to make his political run.

What’s his deal?
To give you an idea, he popularised a debunked conspiracy theory about white Europeans being replaced by Africans and people from the Middle East. Analysts say Zemmour softened Le Pen’s hardline image, painting her as a more mainstream choice to voters.

So did the French turn out to the polls in droves?
No… In the end, 72% of registered voters turned up, putting voter abstention at the highest rate in 50 years. 

Why’s that?
Public’s perception that Macron would be the inevitable winner and dismay with both candidates. Another factor may have been the timing of the election – it was during the school holidays in many parts of France.

Right. So how did Macron react to the win?
When he spoke to a crowd of his supporters and claimed victory in the election, he struck a solemn tone, saying “our country is riddled with so many doubts, so many divisions” and vowed to not let anyone “be left by the side of the road”.

Sounds like a familiar story…
Indeed, and when Macron won as an outsider in 2017, he promised to break down the left-right divisions and bring France back to the centre.

But it hasn’t happened…
No, and commentators say Macron actually did the opposite – he brought in policies that were beneficial to corporations and the rich. That’s where the yellow vests protest movement sprung from – they were those big protests in Paris and other regional capitals that kicked off in late 2018.

What was that about again?
It was called the yellow vests movement because all French motorists have to carry yellow safety vests in their cars. It started as a protest against a new fuel tax but grew into a broader movement that pegged Macron as an elitist. In response, Macron parked the diesel tax increase and also increased the minimum wage.

While we’re on the economy, how’s France doing post-COVID?
It’s doing well. The economy is growing at 7%, which is double Australia’s growth rate of 3.4%. French unemployment is also at a record low of 7.4% – which is a lot higher than Australia at 4%.

So it’s smooth sailing?
Not quite… The war in Ukraine is seeing prices rise, with the price of fuel up 40% since last year. Cost of living pressures were also a factor in Le Pen’s rising popularity and pundits say Macron will need to manage it into the future.

So there are a few issues on his plate…
Yep, and means Macron has limited political capital to draw on when times get tough – particularly ahead of the legislative elections in June.

What else is on French minds as we look forward?
There’s anxiety in parts of the electorate over immigration and border control policies. Macron said he will push the European Union to implement stricter policies to stop people from entering Europe illegally. Just to note: France received about 104,000 asylum seekers last year, and this year, it’s received about 30,000 Ukrainians who have fled the war.

What about climate change?
Macron has outlined a very ambitious climate policy, including the introduction of a European carbon tax to fast-track greenhouse gas reductions. He’s pledged to plant 140 million trees, close large open-air landfills and reduce the country’s reliance on gas, oil and coal with the aim of phasing it out altogether.

So France is a big player in Europe?
There are those in France who don’t like being tied to these big European bodies. But Macron remains a central part of Europe’s efforts to broker peace in Ukraine. He’s also been key to keeping the EU united through the pandemic, so he’s really taken a lead role in the affairs of Europe. He also believed the EU should have its own joint defence force.

Back that up…
Macron reckons the EU should have a joint force, shared defence budget and a common defence policy, as opposed to the current situation where EU member states set their own defence policy. The idea is that it would be complementary to NATO.

What else is on Macron’s EU wishlist?
He wants to fast-track cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and promote green energy – he says that would allow Europe to crack down on Russia even harder through economic sanctions.

Because banning Russian oil and gas would hit Europe’s economy?
Someone’s been Squizing… But that’s right – if Europe is less reliant on oil and gas from Russia, they would be less reliant on Russia and could hit it harder.

Speaking of global politics, our relationship with France has been a bit rocky lately…
It sure has. In September last year, the Morrison Government made the surprise announcement to scrap a $90 billion deal to buy French-made submarines. Instead, the government signed a defence partnership with the US and Britain called AUKUS – which included a deal to make nuclear-powered subs.

And France wasn’t too happy about that?
No, Macron was furious, saying France had been stabbed in the back. Things seem to be thawing slowly, but as recently as February, France made it clear that all was not forgiven.

So we can expect to hear more about France in the near future…
We sure can. The war has galvanised France and the West more broadly as the world’s eyes remain firmly fixed on eastern Europe.

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