French Election Result: Macron's Victory Over Le Pen Welcomed With Relief

The sitting French president was re-elected – but the far-right tops 40% of the vote for the first time.
Emmanuel Macron greets well-wishers after casting his vote in Le Touquet, northern France.
Emmanuel Macron greets well-wishers after casting his vote in Le Touquet, northern France.
via Associated Press

On Sunday, French voters handed Emmanuel Macron a second term as president in an election in which he comfortably defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

But despite Macron’s achievement – he is only the third president since the 1958 founding of modern France to win twice at the ballot box – there were mixed emotions.

There was relief that Le Pen’s National Rally, a movement long known for anti-Semitism, Nazi nostalgia and anti-immigrant bigotry, was held off, but also concern that having topped 40% of the vote, her brand of anti-foreigner, anti-system politics is increasingly popular in France.

What happened?

France’s presidential election is held in two rounds. In the first round two weeks ago, 12 official candidates were whittled down to two – the centrist Macron and extremist Le Pen. It meant a replay of the 2017 election that Macron won comfortably (66% to 34%).

Having had an image makeover and softened her tone, Le Pen was closing the gap on her rival compared to four years ago, according to the polls, leading some to fear she may actually win. Those fears subsided as polling day loomed, and Macron won with 58.5% of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.5% – a handy margin but closer than when they first faced off.

Why it’s important?

Macron became the first French president in 20 years to win a second term. The last incumbent re-elected was Jacques Chirac, who trounced Le Pen’s father in 2002.

In doing so, France escaped a political, social and economic earthquake, and providing stability to the European Union as the continent grapples with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Le Pen’s fiercely nationalist far-right domestic agenda included ending a number of welfare benefits for foreigners, stopping family reunification, giving preference to the French for jobs and social housing, banning the hijab in public spaces and kicking unemployed foreigners out of France.

Marine Le Pen gestures as she arrives to speak after the early result projections of the French presidential election runoff were announced in Paris.
Marine Le Pen gestures as she arrives to speak after the early result projections of the French presidential election runoff were announced in Paris.
via Associated Press

She also pledged to dilute French ties with the EU, Nato and Germany, moves that would have shaken Europe’s security architecture as the continent deals with its worst conflict since the Second World War. Le Pen also spoke against EU sanctions on Russian energy supplies and faced scrutiny during the campaign over her previous friendliness with the Kremlin.

Acknowledging that “numerous” voters cast ballots for him simply to keep out Le Pen, Macron pledged to reunite the country that is “filled with so many doubts, so many divisions” and work to assuage the anger of French voters that fed Le Pen’s campaign.

A chorus of European leaders hailed Macron’s victory, since France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Why are people still concerned?

Macron’s 17-point margin over the far-right challenger is significant, but commentators have interpreted the victory in a number of different ways.

On the one hand, Macron has failed to ease the frustration fuelling Le Pen’s politics, a goal that he set himself at the outset of his presidency. “I will do everything in the five years to come so there is no more reason to vote for the extremes,” he said.

Le Pen’s support is an unprecedented result for the far-right. Surpassing 40% of the vote elevates Le Pen into the mainstream: since Charles de Gaulle beat François Mitterrand by 55% to 45% in 1965, all defeated finalists lost 40-something to 50-something.

Le Pen called her result “a shining victory”, saying that “in this defeat, I can’t help but feel a form of hope”.

But some critics have pointed to the dangers of over-interpreting a Le Pen “victory”, especially given the unique circumstances arguably working in her favour.

While Macron went into the vote as the firm favourite, he faced a fractured, anxious and tired electorate. The election was set against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, which battered Macron’s first term, as well as months of violent protests against his economic policies.

In celebrating victory, Macron acknowledged a debt to voters who helped get him over the line, “not to support the ideas I hold, but to block those of the extreme right”.

“I want to thank them and tell them that I am aware that their vote obliges me for the years to come,” he said. “I am the custodian of their sense of duty, of their attachment to the Republic.”


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