Monday

22nd May 2017

Analysis

French election run-off: Far right vs. EU

  • Macron wants a "France of patriots in a Europe that protects" while Le Pen wants to "free the French people … from arrogant elites that want to tell it what to do". (Photo: Reuters)

The second round of the French presidential election on 7 May will amount to a referendum on the far-right and the EU after traditional left and right parties were eliminated.

Emmanuel Macron, a social-liberal who campaigned with the French and European flags, will face Marine Le Pen, who wants to take France out of the euro and organise a referendum on EU membership.

Macron, a 39-year old former economy minister, finished ahead in the election's first round on Sunday (23 April), with 23.9 percent versus 21.7 percent for Le Pen. This is the first time that the Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans Party are both absent from the run-off.

Bar a major upheaval, Macron will be the new French president, as he will most likely benefit from a so-called republican front, where voters from the left and right unite to block the far-right.

A first poll on Sunday said that he would beat Le Pen with a 62-38 percent outcome.

The prospect of Le Pen being beaten and the wave of anti-EU forces being contained in the bloc’s second biggest country sent sighs of relief in Europe.

In unprecedented moves after the first round of a national election, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker expressed their support to Macron through their spokespeople.

Merkel’s Steffen Seibert wished “all the best” to Macron on Twitter and congratulated the French politician for being successful with his programme of “a strong EU and social market economy”.

Juncker’s Margaritis Schinas , said also on Twitter that the EU executive chief had “congratulated” Macron and wished him “good luck” for the run-off.

“The second round will be a vote for or against Europe,” Marie-Sixte, a Macron supporter, told EUobserver as she was waiting for the candidate’s speech on Sunday. “Its not a matter of person, but of programme. The question for France is: what do we do?”

In his address, Macron referred several times to Europe simultaneously with France, and said that he wanted to represent a "path for hope for our country and for Europe".

Using by Le Pen's own words, he said that he would be "the president of patriots against the threat of nationalists".

"There are not several Frances, there is only one, the France of patriots in a Europe that protects and that we have to rebuild," he insisted.

Le Pen conspicuously did not mention the EU in her speech on Sunday, but she said that she now had "the immense responsibility to defend the French nation, its unity, its security, its culture and its independence".

"It is time to free the French people … from arrogant elites that want to tell it what to do," she said, using the language she usually uses to refer to France’s EU membership.

She said that what was mainly at stake was "the wild globalisation that endangers our civilisation".

She called on voters to "choose France, borders that protect our jobs and our spending power, our security, our national identity".

Despite Macron’s predicted victory in the second round, Sunday’s results and first reactions show that the debate is not over.

7 million votes

Receiving more than 7 million votes in the first round, Marine Le Pen did much better than her father Jean-Marie Le Pen when he also qualified for the run-off in 2002, with 4.8 million votes.

At the time, Le Pen senior’s performance sent shockwaves throughout France and triggered massive demonstrations against the National Front (FN) party.

His opponent Jacques Chirac eventually won with 82.21 percent of votes.

On Sunday, the feeling in the country was relief that Le Pen junior was only second, after leading polls for months, and that she would be facing Macron, who is more consensual than conservative Francois Fillon and less radical than leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon – the two candidates who finished third and fourth.

Le Pen also did better than the 6.8 million votes obtained by FN candidates in the December 2015 regional elections – the party’s higher result so far.

The anti-EU, anti-migrant far-right is likely to remain a solid political force in France, even if it continues to hit the “glass ceiling” of France’s two-round voting system.

Le Pen’s score on 7 May will partly depend on how conservative voters chose to vote.

Fillon, the Republicans party’s candidate, said on Sunday that “there is no other choice than to vote against the far-right”.

He told supporters that the FN was “violent” and “intolerant” and that its economic programme would lead France to “bankruptcy” and the EU to “chaos”.

But at his campaign headquarters in Paris, party members were divided.

Asked by EUobserver about Fillon’s call to vote for Macron, several of them refused to answer. Some admitted that he was “dignified” and “courageous” to oppose Le Pen. But most of them said they didn’t know what they would do; they would either cast a blank vote or cast a vote for Le Pen.

“It is difficult to vote for Macron, whom we fought so hard against for three months,” said a student Ulysse, just after Fillon’s speech.

“Voting for Macron would be falling into the trap” of the political system where the left and the right are too close to each other, said another supporter who declined to give his name.

According to Sunday’s poll, 33 percent of Fillon voters would vote for Le Pen in the second round, against 4 percent of socialist voters and 9 percent of Melenchon voters.

Voters 'change face' of French politics

Newcomer Macron and far-right leader Le Pen qualified for the presidential election run-off in a vote that pushed aside the two main traditional parties.

Analysis

France holds nail-biting 'anti-system' vote

Tactical votes could still bring down either of the two favourites in France on Sunday in a nervous election seen as crucial for the future of the EU.

European right hopes Macron will save France

With Fillion all-but out of the election, a senior European politician said "committees" are working on what to do if Le Pen wins and takes France out of the EU.

France still anxious over possibility of Le Pen win

Despite opinion polls that place centrist Macron well ahead of the far-right leader Le Pen in the 7 May presidential run-off, doubts are emerging about his capacity to unite the French people around his candidacy.

Schulz fails to beat Merkel in German home state

Former EU parliament leader, Martin Schulz, says the defeat of his social-democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia is "difficult". The elections showed that a "Schulz effect" does not (yet) exist.

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