by Edelawit Siri
The first round of voting for the 2022 presidential election in France was held on 10 April. Data calculated on the basis of 97% of registered voters (the breakdown of French voters abroad still remains to be counted), currently sees Emmanuel Macron as a favourite, with 27.6 & for “La République en Marche” (a party neither of the right nor of the left, but central), followed by Marine Le Pen, with 23.41% for “Rassemblement National”, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon with 21.95% of votes for “La France Insoumise”.
Why the media focus on Le Pen?
Marine Le Pen has been president of the Rassemblement National since 2011. Since 2017, she has been described by many as the one who managed to normalise an ultra-right party in France. The “Joan of Arc who fights for the honour of the people against the obscure manoeuvres of the elites”, she has progressively won votes by the working-class vote and the ones of people in need, affected by globalisation. The influx of media reports about Le Pen is a consequence of certain statements that the politician has made in recent years, putting forward ideas that are at odds with the idea of European unity. In 2011 she made public her closeness to Russia, describing it as a privileged partner. In a speech to journalists in Nanterre she stated “I think France has every interest in looking at Europe, but at the greater Europe, in particular working in partnership with Russia“. Le Pen has also made known her desire for France to leave the Atlantic Alliance.
Why the votes of Rassemblement National are increasing?
Disenchantment with democratic institutions has moved voters towards extremist politicians who promise a complete break with the past. The violence associated with extreme right-wing groups is therefore not an unfortunate isolated phenomenon, but a symptom of an endemic and generalised malaise among European societies that seems destined to be long-lived. Frédéric Dabi, director of Ifop, argues that Le Pen now has a popular profile closer to that of Jacques Chirac, the former right-wing president who won the 1995 elections with a populist campaign platform. Since its foundation, RN has evolved from a purely nationalist party to one that is now described as sovereignist and even “populist right-wing”. Regarding the points of the National Front’s programme, it focused all its propaganda first of all on the exit from the Euro in order to regain national sovereignty to be maintained with protectionist measures, the exit from NATO in an “Eurasian perspective”, the rejection of austerity policies, the centralisation of state power under the banner of republican values and secularism, strategic planning for reindustrialisation, access to quality healthcare for all French citizens, national priority and a public debt relief plan. It also proposes a revision of the Schengen Agreements on the free movement of people, limiting the flow of immigrants to 10,000 per year, prioritising talent and innovation and expelling illegal immigrants. RN opposes the ‘multiculturalist model’ and ‘differentialism’ that would undermine the equality of all citizens, and the veil and other religious symbols in public places.
FREXIT and consequence in the rest of EU
The problem, various observers of European politics point out, is that Le Pen does not recognise the principle of supremacy of EU law over national law, i.e., the lintel of the Union, which is now being questioned by the most Eurosceptic countries: Hungary and Poland. The difficulties encountered by the European Commission in confronting the governments in Warsaw and Budapest are not comparable to the possible victory of Le Pen over Macron, which would bring Europe’s second largest economy to the positions of the Visegrad group. If Le Pen’s programme on the EU puts Europe in turmoil for domestic reasons, her programme on NATO makes the Atlanticists’ veins and wrists quiver, all the more so given the geopolitical background to the French elections. The ultra-nationalist leader wants to take France out of NATO so that Paris “is no longer involved in conflicts that are not ours“, Le Pen said. A choice that, although radical, caused less agitation as long as NATO was, in Macron’s words, “in a state of brain death”. A definition used in 2019 on which the French president himself has made amends, giving instead his support to the ‘rebirth’ of the military alliance in the face of the Russian threat. It is precisely the relations between the Kremlin and Le Pen, corroborated by the loan received by her party in 2014 from a Russian bank and by the Rassemblement National leader’s visit to Moscow in 2017, that have generated strong controversy over the figure of the Elysée candidate. A pro-Russian past that Le Pen has tried to shake off by condemning the invasion of Ukraine and calling on her US and UK allies to “abandon their prejudices” against her.
Who is really the favourite? All the main candidates excluded from the second round have already ‘endorsed’, directly or otherwise, Macron. With Le Pen only Zemmour. Many had doubts about Melenchon, but the third wheel has been very clear: “No vote should go to Le Pen”. Numbers in hand, overtaking Le Pen in the run-off appears to be an arduous undertaking, bordering on the impossible, but nothing can be ruled out. Analysts point out that any progress towards a common approach on energy policy, defence or greater fiscal integration “would become much more complicated, at a time when effective European leadership is needed to address these pressing issues”.