On Saturday 6th May 2017 Europe held its breath. The people of France were going to the polls, and in a matter of hours the results of the final round of voting in the French Presidential Election were to be declared. It was an election that would have ramifications across not only France, but the European Union in being one of a number of major hurdles that would determine its survival. The results? On the right, Marine Le Pen leader of the Front National attained 34% of the popular vote whilst Emmanuel Macron, a centre-left independent candidate won the presidency with a resounding 66% of the vote.
Above: Front National Meeting, 1st May 2012. Credit: Blandine Le Cain, Flickr.
On the face of it these results look like a major defeat for Le Pen and the movement she leads and in some ways, in the short term at least, they probably are. However it would be premature and a dangerously naïve assumption to regard the rise of Le Pen as being over, as many seem to be celebrating. Attaining 34% of the popular vote (more than ever before) highlights the reality that a major minority of French citizens support her. When coupled with the fact that over 4million French voters spoilt there ballot paper and it was the lowest turnout in 50 years for a presidential election, Macron's sweeping final round mandate actually begins to look rather flimsy.
It is also of major notice that around 45% of 18-24yhr olds voted for Marine Le Pen. These are the voices of the future, and such a large number seemingly desired a future lead by Marine Le Pen. A high turnout for her amongst young people must create a sense of trepidation for those in France who oppose the Front National.
Le Pen would have brought a major sense of national disunity, which would have been a danger to France. However I doubt Macron's ability to unify the country and resolve a number of endemic societal issues. Despite his surface level outsider status, he represents more of the same. With a wing and a prayer Le Pen was prevented from getting anywhere near the premiership of the second largest country in the Eurozone on this occasion, but as issues are exacerbated things could be much closer next time. Perhaps President Elect Emmanuel Macron will prevent a continued economic and social deterioration and will provide the solutions for a country in desperate need of them, or perhaps he won't. If he doesn't, the result of the next presidential election in 2022 will prove to be much tighter.
Regardless, the ground-breaking nature of both candidates in the final round of voting in neither coming from either of the main parties, who have governed France since the founding of the 5th Republic, means that French politics is only going to get a whole lot more interesting in the years to come. With the imminent onset of parliamentary elections in France and outsiders increasingly being woven into the acceptable political mainstream, there will be much to observe and commentate on in the coming years.