A big win comes with big challenges: The road ahead for France’s Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election is being celebrated beyond the country. The West is relieved that the far-right has been kept out of Élysée Palace but the polarisation of France is evident

FP Explainers April 25, 2022 13:53:44 IST
A big win comes with big challenges: The road ahead for France’s Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron won 58.55 per cent of Sunday’s vote, making him the first French leader to be re-elected in 20 years. AP

French president Emmanuel Macron won re-election on Sunday, convincingly defeating his rival Marine Le Pen and prompting a wave of relief in Europe that the far-right had been kept out of power.

Macron took 58.55 per cent of Sunday’s vote, making him the first French leader to be re-elected in 20 years. He and Le Pen advanced to the runoff after finishing in first and second place, respectively, among 12 candidates who ran in the first round on 10 April, reports CNN.

The 44-year-old centrist leader said at the foot of the Eiffel Tower after his victory that he would be a “president for all”.

Even though Macron was all smiles, he knew he has big challenges ahead of him, something he acknowledged in his victory speech. “An answer must be found to the anger and disagreements that led many of our compatriots to vote for the extreme right,” Macron said. “It will be my responsibility and that of those around me.”

The rise and rise of the far-right

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen hailed her score in presidential elections as a “brilliant victory”, despite her defeat to Macron. Promising to “carry on” her political career, the 53-year-old vowed that she would “never abandon” the French.

In 2017, Marcon defeated Le Pen with 66 per cent of the vote. This time the margin is much lower. The 41.45 per cent of people who voted for Le Pen put the French far-right closer to the presidency than ever before.

Her performance is the latest indication that the French are turning to extremist leaders to voice their discontent with the status quo.

When Macron took the centrist position in 2017, he pushed the Opposition to the extremes of left and right. He thought it would never be a threat. But this election has demonstrated that more and more people in France are now prepared to dally with the “extremes”, reports BBC.

Many voters refused to choose. Those who did not want to pick between Marcon and Le Pen stayed at home. More than 12 per cent of voters cast a blank ballot, compared to 2.2 per cent for the first round. The abstention rate was also significantly higher than that of the first round of 2022 (28 per cent versus 26.3 per cent), and was also higher than that of 2017’s second round (25.4 per cent), reports The Conversation.

The France electorate is more divided today than it was in 2017 and that continues to be a concern for Macron.

Economic challenges

Macron faces the huge task of reviving the French economy.

Le Pen campaigned on the issues of the rising cost of living in the country and the surging energy prices.

Now Macron faces the challenges of improving the country’s overall economy. He needs to get growth back on track, especially given the threat of inflation and uncertainties arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and counter the rising inflationary pressure.

After Macron’s win, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that the government had work to do. “There is a lot to do. We have to address inflation, the economy, and re-industrialisation,” he told reporters.

The economic reforms that await France include ones that Macron promised such as increasing the retirement age, cutting taxes and relaxing labour market rules. However, these reforms will not be easy to pass, given the opposition he faced the last time.

A big win comes with big challenges The road ahead for Frances Emmanuel Macron

Supporters of French president Emmanuel Macron celebrate in Paris, France. His victory also comes as a big relief to leaders in the West. AP

Plans for the European Union

Macron has also always been the one for deeper European integration. He has called the election a “referendum on Europe”, arguing that Europe protects France from crises and war.

Some of his European ambitions are “energy and strategic” autonomy, a reform of the Schengen free-movement zone with better protection of the EU’s external borders, and a common asylum policy. He also wants European countries to develop a stronger defence capacity and for relaunching the economy, he has proposed an EU-wide fuel tax, reports Euronews.

But most importantly, he faces the task of holding the EU together. Le Pen wants France to leave the EU and there are many member states, especially Hungary and Poland, that are led by people whose views align with the far-right leader.

Now the onus lies on France, one of the most powerful members of the bloc, to make sure they stay united in wake of the threat from Russia.

European Council president Charles Michel wrote on Twitter, “Bravo Emmanuel.”

“In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union.”

The Russia-Ukraine war

Macron has played an important diplomatic role in the war, with France holding the presidency of the EU. He has maintained close contact with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and says the role of France and Europe is to provide Ukraine with military equipment and take in refugees, reports BBC.

With Russia and US ties hitting new lows, Macron has kept the communication channels with his counterpart Vladamir Putin open. The war rages on, and the French president has to continue the balancing act, even as he faces criticism back home for concentrating on the conflict instead of the problems in France.

His election win came as a big relief to allies that the nuclear-armed power won’t abruptly shift course amid the war in Ukraine from European Union and NATO efforts to punish and contain Russia’s military expansionism. Officials feared that a Le Pen victory could impact the trans-Atlantic relationship given her previous ties with Putin, disdain for NATO, and hostile view of the EU, reports CNN.

Macron has emphasised the need for influence in the event of a ceasefire. “Europe must be at the table. We must all be very vigilant. We mustn’t find ourselves in a situation where, because we had decided no longer to speak to President Putin, the negotiators will be the Turkish or Chinese presidents or others,” he had said on France Inter.

It’s a tough road ahead of Marcon. The big victory has come with big challenges.

With inputs from agenices

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