May 2022

By Lucie Gonçalves


Following the second round of the presidential election on April 24, Emmanuel Macron was reelected as President of France. He won the run-off with 58.54% of the votes while his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen only garnered 41.46% of the votes. However, Emmanuel Macron had beaten Marine Le Pen far more comfortably in the 2017 presidential election, garnering 66.1% of the votes to her 33.9% in that run-off.

 

Main lessons from the Presidential election

 

The considerably narrower gap compared to the 2017 contest highlights the increasing polarization taking place among the French electorate. Marine Le Pen may have lost the 2022 run-off, but she did so with a historically high score, gaining 2.6 million voters while Emmanuel Macron’s victory was somewhat lessened by the loss of 2 million voters compared to his 2017 result.

In addition, the second round saw a marked increase in the abstention rate (28,01%). Voter turnout for the April 2022 vote was the second lowest for a French presidential election since 1969.

In the run-up to the second round, both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen courted leftwing firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s voters. With 21,95% of the electorate rallying behind him during the first round, the two remaining contenders saw the radical left candidate’s voters as a key swing constituency. In an attempt to win over those swing voters, especially among the youth who had flocked to the radical left candidate, Emmanuel Macron repositioned himself as the pro-environment candidate in the days that followed the first round.

Those efforts partly bore fruit. In the second round, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s young electorate mostly voted for Emmanuel Macron or stayed home. A majority of those aged 18 to 24 voted for the incumbent president, and 41% in that age bracket did not vote at all. For her part, Marine Le Pen came first among the 25–34-year-olds, even as her share of the vote gradually decreased to the benefit of Emmanuel Macron among the older age groups.

In terms of income, Emmanuel Macron won over wealthier, well-educated and contented voters, while the less well-off, less well-educated and discontented French citizens tended to cast their ballots for Marine Le Pen. This trend notably reflects the perception of part of the population who believes that Emmanuel Macron did not do enough for the working classes during his first term and qualify him as "the President of the rich".

Finally, the incumbent president benefitted from many voters’ strong aversion to Marine Le Pen’s ideas and personality. According to post-election surveys, as many as 42% of those who cast their ballot for Emmanuel Macron did so primarily "to block Marine Le Pen".

 

 Forming a new government in a divided country

 

President Macron was officially inaugurated for his second term on May 7. During his inaugural address, he pledged to be "a new president" for "a new mandate” and a “democratic renaissance” and promised resolute action for France and Europe. He vowed to develop a new productive, social, and ecological contract, by making the government, his administration, Parliament, social partners, and civil society work together.

At the European level, President Macron committed to preventing any further escalation following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to building a lasting peace on the European continent, and called on Europeans to “go fast and dream big”. At the national level, he stated his ambition to make France a great ecological power through radical transformation, to strive for a “full employment society”, for gender equality, and to tackle inequality by redesigning the French education and health systems, as well as to fight against terrorism.

A new Prime Minister should be appointed mid-May. President Macron decided that the current government headed by Jean Castex would remain in place until May 13, the official end of his first five-year term. On that day, the current Prime Minister is expected to hand in his resignation, after almost two years at the head of the French government.

President Macron has already given some indications as to who he envisions in the position. As he was seeking to draw Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s voters to his side after the first round of the presidential election, Emmanuel Macron announced that the environment would be at the heart of the next Prime Minister's tasks and that they would be directly responsible for environmental planning. To that end, two Ministers will support the future head of government: one in charge of energy planning, and another in charge of the territorial planning of the green transition. In addition, President Macron recently indicated that his new Prime Minster would be someone “committed to social, environmental, and productive issues.”

Finally, President Macron may also consider choosing a woman for the top job. He had already considered several female candidates in 2017 and France’s only female Prime Minister, Edith Cresson, was appointed by socialist President François Mitterrand more than 30 years ago.

 

Parliamentary elections as “third round” of the Presidential election

 

The new Prime Minister will take the lead for the parliamentary elections, which will be held on June 12 and 19, 2022. The President’s allies face an uphill battle as they attempt to secure a majority at the National Assembly, France’s lower house, amidst an increasingly polarized electorate and the steadily deteriorating economic conditions brought on by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Since the implementation of the five-year presidential term in France, newly elected Presidents have consistently secured a majority at the National Assembly. Given that in the presidential election, out of 577 constituencies, Emmanuel Macron came out on top in 256 constituencies in the first round and in 418 constituencies in the second round, the most likely scenario remains that his allies will secure an absolute majority at the National Assembly come June. This scenario is made even more likely by the “useful vote” reflex, with voters expected to rally behind the president’s party in case of a duel against far right or radical left candidates.

To further improve their chances, President Macron’s party and his center-right wing allies, the “Modem” and “Horizons”, announced the creation of a confederation called “Ensemble”. Under this scheme, the three groups will coordinate to present a single confederation candidate per constituency.

However likely the victory of the President’s confederation in the upcoming parliamentary elections, there are two other possible outcomes that should not be ignored.

First, the presidential party and its allies could be unable to secure an absolute majority at the National Assembly. In such a “relative majority” scenario, President Macron would have to make political agreements with one or more political parties that are not already part of the confederation created to support him.

Second, the presidential party and his allies could fail to secure any majority at all. In such a “cohabitation” scenario, President Macron would have to govern with a Prime Minister and a parliamentary majority from a competing political force. Radical left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has sought to capitalize on his third place in the presidential race to turn the upcoming parliamentary elections into a “third round” of the presidential election. To energize voters, the leftwing firebrand claims that should his party win a majority of seats in Parliament, President Macron would have no choice but to name him Prime Minister, allowing his party to implement their leftwing program. To compete with President Macron’s “Ensemble”, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party has successfully formed a broad alliance with other leftwing parties, the greens, communists, and socialists. This “New Social and Ecological People's Union” plans to present joint candidacies for the parliamentary elections.

Finally, Marine Le Pen also intends to establish herself as the primary opponent of the President and will likely continue to play up anxieties connected to purchasing power and immigration to gain seats in the National Assembly. However, with few parties willing to work with her and with Ensemble having openly designated her grouping as their polar opposite, Marine Le Pen is unlikely to win over enough seats to sway French politics in the next five years.

With Emmanuel Macron securing a far narrower victory in 2022 than he did in 2017, the parliamentary elections are likely to be far more contested than they were five years ago. Public debate in the run up to the vote will likely revolve around pension reform, French people’s purchasing power, social and environmental issues, as well as France’s role in the European Union. Depending on which scenario materializes come June 19, France could be at the threshold of five very challenging years.