"Europe could be an Achilles heel for Le Pen"

April 2017

The pro-European Macron faces the anti-European Le Pen in the final round of the French presidential election. What role has Macron’s position on Europe played in his success and to what extent will it be of importance for the final election campaign? And how crucial is his view concerning the Franco-German relationship?

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That a strong pro-European voice has managed to come out first in the April 23 presidential vote in France is one of the most outstanding results of this election so far. Emmanuel Macron's message of renewal and strengthening of the EU has indeed been a central feature of his campaign. This clearly tapped into the fact that although nearly 50% of votes went to first round candidates that criticize the EU, the European project remains popular among the French publicpeople are attached to it. An overwhelming majority wants to stay in the single currency and believes pulling out of the EU would be disastrous for the country and the continent at large. This is also why Le Pen has attempted, very recently, to soften her anti-EU stance, by claiming she is "European": she knows Europe could be an Achilles heel for her, among others. And Europe is likely to be one of the key themes in the May 3rd TV debate between Le Pen and Macron. 

On Germany, Macron has consistently said he wants to re-invigerate the bilateral relationship as an "engine" for the EU, and to do so, France must beforehand show it can restore its economic credibility through reforms. This, I believe, is an idea that appeals to his electorate because it holds out the prospect of a more influential and more confident France, after years of feeling Germany's role has been dominant as a result of French weakness. But foreign and European policies will not be the decisive factor in the presidential run off.

Besides foreign policy, what are the other decisive issues for the election?

Countering the far-right will be the centerpiece. Looking ahead to the June Parliamentary elections, one key question is how well can Macron widen his appeal beyond the urban, educated, more well off and pro-globalisation part of the population that has been drawn to him on April 23 (24% of the vote). He must reach out to lower and middle classes who feel they've been left by the sidelinesthe unhappy and anxious France, which is much more numerous than the confident, optimistic France. 

Election forecasts and polls failed to predict Trump and Brexit. Still, latest surveys and media opinions all indicate Macron becoming the next French President. Could these predictions pose a threat for his election? Is the voter turnout a crucial factor in this matter and can the support of the left-wingers and ultra-conservatives be considered as certain? Are there possible incidents that could lead to a turnaround in the French election?

It is essential that voters who dislike Le Pen don't become complacent about Macron's predicted win on May 7. Indeed opinion polls (which were indeed largely right about the first round) might make them over-confident about the outcome: this would erode mobilization. The other worrying factor is that radical left wing voters who supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19.6%) as well as some ultra-conservative Catholic groups who supported François Fillon are tempted to abstain or even vote for Le Pen. This shows how deeply the Front National has managed to neutralise much of its toxic image, including by swaying towards the far-left on economic matters. Le Pen has managed to convince many that she is a possible political alternative. Voter turnout will be crucial – that said, turnout would need to be extremely low for Le Pen to have a chance.  

 

Read the interview with Natalie Nougayrède "Elections in France - the End of the EU as We Know It?" here.

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