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The French Presidential Elections In A Geopolitics Context: A Potential Shift To The (Far) Right
And how did the Ukrainian crisis reshape polls and the French Presidential campaign discourse on immigration?
29 March, 2022

In April, the French people will decide over a two-round election who will run the Elysée Palace for the next five years. The first round of elections will be held on April 10 and involve all candidates who managed to get the 500 signatures required to run. The two candidates receiving most of the votes will later face each other on a second tour taking place on April 24.

The 2022 French presidential elections are rather unusual, considering the absence of any credible left-wing candidate for the first time since the Fifth Republic establishment, and an electorate so disillusioned that abstention might reach a record high. These elections could mark a turning point to the (far) right for French politics.

Macron VS the right

Elected in 2017, Emmanuel Macron, at the end of his first mandate, is not unanimously supported by the French population. Paradoxically, this does not prevent the only centrist contender of this election from being the undeniable favourite in this race for the presidency. Looking at first-round polls, Macron had stood far ahead of his opponents since October. Thus, the core of the French presidential election is now an intense battle among the right-wing candidates for a second-place finish in a run-off against Macron.

The president officially announced his candidacy on March 3rd through a “Letter to the French”. This was only 6 weeks before the first round of the election, leaving his opponents in limbo for months. Staying above the melee of right-wing and far-right-wing candidates seems to have benefited Macron, who watched them tear each other apart on debates concerning immigration and internal security. These themes dominate the presidential campaign debate, to the detriment of others such as climate, education, or the debt explosion due to the pandemic.

Macron’s major opponents in this race for the presidency are Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour, and Valérie Pécresse, all candidates from the right and far-right wings. Le Pen, the matriarch of the National Rally party known for its anti-immigrant views, is running for her third presidential election. Her survival in French politics is further challenged by Zemmour’s arrival in the political landscape who has repeatedly attacked and ridiculed her. Even more controversially, Zemmour stormed into the campaign as an ‘independent anti-Islam nationalist’.  An advocate of the ‘great replacement theory’, and proclaiming that Islam ‘is not compatible with France’, Zemmour has been convicted for incitation of religious or race hatred several times. His ideas are so vile, that compared to him, Le Pen almost appears tame. Pécresse, who is pro-European and moderate, has struggled to campaign successfully, failing to present a distinctive program that would have given her a strong identity. This is highlighted by her sharp decline in polls since February. 

While France usually swings towards the right side of the political spectrum, these elections are a swerve according to Pascal Bruckner who declared that: ‘the left lost the popular classes, many of whom moved to the far right because it had no answer on immigration and Islam’. What is left of the traditional ‘Social-democratic Left’ in France amounts to a tragedy, the latter being on the verge of extinction. The moderate left, embodied by Yannick Jadot and Anne Hidalgo, represent only 5% and 2% of vote intentions respectively. Given the tilt of the French electorate towards the right, the ‘Social-democratic Left’ has already lost the presidential election battle. Nonetheless, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a radical leftist and the sole leftist incumbent representing more than 10% in polls, recently soared in polls, even outpacing Pécresse and Zemmour with 14% of vote intentions.

Le Pen remains the most likely candidate to face Macron in the second tour, but only the first-round election results will let us know which candidate will face the second round against Macron. However, the success of the elected president is conditioned by Legislative elections held in June. Getting a majority in the National Assembly is crucial for the president to enact his policies. Otherwise, there is a possibility of ‘unproductive cohabitation with hostile legislators’.

How did the Russia-Ukrainian war reshape polls and the French Presidential campaign discourse on immigration? 

The French presidential campaign and elections are taking place within a unique geopolitical context with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many candidates and most of the French population have felt like it has eclipsed the campaign. This rhetoric has been reinforced by the late announcement of Macron’s candidacy. Paulette Brémond, a French retiree, declared in February ‘the campaign feels like it has not started’

The Russian-Ukrainian war seems to have impacted the French electorate’s perception of the candidates. There is a correlation between the beginning of the war and the downfall of Zemmour in polls, whom many considered ‘Pro-Putin’. Conversely, Le Pen, ‘who makes no secret of her admiration for Putin’, did not see her polling position highly affected by the war, and has even seen a small raise in her polls.

Though atrocious, this major European crisis undeniably strengthened Macron’s bid for re-election. It not only reinforced his stature as Head of State, but also his image as leader of the EU. Indeed, there is a clear correlation between the upwards trend of Macron’s ranking in polls and the Ukrainian crisis.  

Whereas immigration was already at the centre of the campaign, the Ukrainian crisis reshaped the discussion on the subject. The question of whether France should accept Ukrainian refugees almost generated unanimity among the running candidates barring Zemmour. He stated that he would prefer that Ukrainian refugees stay in Poland otherwise it would risk ‘destabilizing France’. His outrageous statements resulted in general indignation, and despite relativizing his position, the latter is still not acceptable. While Le Pen holds strong anti-immigrant views, she proclaimed that France should ‘of course’ greet Ukrainian refugees who want to come to France, with reference to France’s responsibility ‘to respect the Geneva Convention’ on the law of war and to the fact that they are ‘Europeans’. Ultimately, the Ukrainian war has come at a decisive time for the French people, and the topics surrounding it, such as immigration and energy matters, will likely impact the lives of the French for the next few years.

3rd year Political Economy student at KCL

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