Why the French election matters

Last weekend, France held the first out of two election rounds. Placing themselves in the top two spots, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen passed through for the second round, where they will now go head to head.

Macron’s vision

The winner of the first round was Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European centrist who became the youngest ever president in 2017. He tried to tackle unemployment, revised labour laws, changed the country’s tax structure, reduced public spending and imposed strict security measures to counter terrorism.

He is now promising full employment within five years, tax cuts, minimum pensions, new recruits for the health service, and making gender equality a priority. How does he intend to pay for all this? By raising the retirement age from 62 to 65.

Le Pen’s priorities.

As leader of a far-right movement, Le Pen promises to restore France’s sovereignty with policies such as tax cuts on petrol and electricity to address inflation, as well as pension payout rises. Le Pen also took a hard line on immigration, promising a referendum on introducing strict immigration controls.

Under her “national priority” principle, housing and social services should be provided to French nationals ahead of foreigners. Her opponents like Macron imply that some of her policies, such as the banning of Muslim headscarves, are racist.

Why are the French relating to her message?

Le Pen’s rise is a testament to problems that exist in France that have been put on the back burner for years. In fact, one of the main concerns among the French population is – yes, you guessed correctly – immigration.

In fact, in round 1, Eric Zenmour, the candidate who is so far-right that he makes Le Pen look like a moderate, received a substantial 7% of the vote. These votes are expected to now help Le Pen in the second round.

In 2017, Macron cruised to an easy victory over Le Pen, garnering 66% of the vote. This time, it is expected to be a different story. Polls suggest that the gap between Macron and Le Pen has narrowed significantly over the past month, with Macron leading the race at 53%-47%.

A win for Le Pen and her France-First ideals would make both the EU and NATO nervous. Le Pen has admitted that she wouldn’t necessarily be against a Brexit-like referendum for France to leave the EU. This is a far cry from Macron’s vision of a tighter EU, which could include the creation of an EU army.

One of the main campaign weaknesses for Le Pen has been her close ties to Putin. She has since declared her support for the Ukrainian people. However, she also opposed the sanctions on Russia.

One has to understand the underlying problems that the French think Macron and his centrist policies are not addressing and how a meaningful conversation on these issues is needed. However, it is also likely that a win for Le Pen could spell an existential threat for the EU and possibly NATO.

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