For Macron, “business as usual” should no longer be an option

French President Emmanuel Macron (Copyright: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2022 – Source: EP)

By Dutch MEP Rob Roos (JA21, ECR) 

A big shadow hangs over the re-election of French President Emmanuel Macron. Almost 42% of French preferred Marine Le Pen, who advocates a fundamentally different course for France. Never before did a national-conservative candidate perform so well.

It cannot hurt to emphasise how limited Macron’s electoral mandate actually is. Not only did Le Pen manage to break the 40% barrier, making her a candidate of choice in the next presidential elections in 2027, many of Macron’s voters also really voted against Le Pen, rather than for Macron. Without any doubt, her surname did play a role here. Many – particularly older – French people cannot live with the idea of a President with that name, despite the fact that Marine’s ideas are moderate, and therefore incomparable with those of her extremist father.

Also the war in Ukraine will have caused “rally around the flag” effect, benefiting Macron. The idea behind this is that during times of crisis, it is better to choose “the devil you know”. All of this should not be confused with genuine enthusiasm for Macron. Even voters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and even Éric Zemmour voted for Macron during the second round. They most certainly are not the greatest supporters of the French President’s  beloved globalism.

Again, it should be stressed that this presidential election recorded the second lowest turnout since 1969. Many French people do not like Le Pen, but neither do they like Macron. As a result, they voted with their feet. This is something that indicates a declining confidence in politics, something which the President may care about.

The President of all French citizens?

To be fair, Macron seems to be aware of all of this. During his victory speech, he stated that he intends to be the president of all French people, pledging that his second term would not be a continuation of the first term. We can only hope so. The election result should offer Macron some clues on what to do next.

First of all, Macron should pay attention to the economic and social situation in the French periphery. Large parts of the countryside are witnessing emigration, as they are also becoming poorer: that is where the losers of globalisation live. Macron’s government in Paris introduced too many policies without taking into account the interests of the tens of millions of French people that do not live in cities. This is an important spark that contributed to the «Yellow Jacket» protests.

Le Pen gained a lot of ground there. Also France’s map of unemployment shows a remarkable correlation with electoral support for Le Pen, who is regarded as the Queen of purchasing power.

Secondly, Macron should prioritise immigration. According to research, this was the biggest driver for voters to opt for Éric Zemmour, while the the issue remains as important as ever for Le Pen voters. During Macron’s first term, his government welcomed at least 1.2 million immigrants. This while, according to a renowned pollster, as many as 70% of French believe there should be a complete stop to immigration.

In other words, when it comes to one of the most important political topics, Macron’s policy is completely out of step with policy preferences of the majority of the population. If he really wants to become the president of the majority of the French, Macron really needs to tighten up his immigration policies.

Third of all, a President enjoying a majority should never exclude citizens. During the Covid pandemic, Macron sowed discord by declaring that someone that is unvaccinated is “not a citizen”. The implication: those that opt not to be vaccinated are inferior human beings and do not  actually deserve civil rights.

From a rule of law perspective, this an outrageous statement, which should have caused more of an outcry. If Macron wants to be the president of all French people, he should refrain from making such statements.

The same is true for the brutal violence which French police have used to crack down on peaceful demonstrations and for legislation eroding the rule of law, like the controversial security law that no longer allows images of police deployment to be distributed.

Macron has been re-elected, but he still has much to recover. My advice for him is not to quickly look at the left, but to instead pay attention first to the more than 13 million voters of Marine Le Pen. Take their concerns, their grievances and their wishes serious. Repair purchasing power, respect for the rule of law, immigration policies and security policies. And refrain from making polarising statements.

If one thing has become clear, following this election, it is that France is already sufficiently divided.