In presence: two antagonistic visions of France, of politics, of the nation, even of democracy.
The National Front, renamed the National Rally in 2018 (
refocused electorally, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen to seek wider support. Support which, in some polls, rose to 48% of voting intentions in the second round. But a push that would be, according to the latest probes, in ebb with a decline in the 44% against the outgoing president. Which would remain an unprecedented score.
socialists in matters of the economy, welfare and redistribution, remains a right-wing populist formation that puts the nation above all. A party that opposes immigration, challenges the
globalism technocratic elites, is wary of the European Union and wants to change the political regime by frequent recourse to popular initiative referendums.
A referendum on Europe, according to Emmanuel Macron
Opposite Marine Le Pen: an outgoing president, Emmanuel Macron, who represents optimistic faith in openness to the world, free trade, the role of the market, shared sovereignty within a European framework. According to Macron, this election
is a referendum on Europe.
During his April 20 debate with Marine Le Pen, he even used the controversial expression
european sovereignty, speaking of the need for the Old Continent to exist strategically as a world pole between the two great powers of China and the United States. According to him, countries like France and Germany, in the 21and century, must absolutely unite if they still want to weigh on the world stage.
But Emmanuel Macron, who was able to benefit in 2017 from the novelty effect – a president under 40! – bears a mixed record in 2022, with unfinished reforms, for example on pensions, a country that is tired, depressed and doubting itself. A France worn down by the loss of world prestige, by repeated terrorist attacks, the rise of insecurity and economic anxiety. Not to mention a pandemic which, there as here, hit very hard.
A changed political landscape
The political landscape on the eve of this second presidential round – which will be followed in June by legislative elections – is turned upside down.
Two parties have traditionally dominated French politics under the Fifth Republic established in 1958: the right of De Gaulle (which became that of Presidents Chirac and then Sarkozy), a so-called Gaullist or Republican right. And the socialist left, still in power from 2012 to 2017 with François Hollande. Two political families today pulverized, with microscopic scores on April 10: less than 7% combined for candidates Valérie Pécresse and Anne Hidalgo.
Three new blocks have emerged over the past five years: a
center rather right-wing in economics, liberal on social issues, pro-Europe, etc., embodied by Emmanuel Macron (28% of the votes cast in the first round).
Then, a nationalist extreme right bloc, tinged with xenophobia, with strong support in the working classes. If we add the votes of Marine Le Pen and the provocative essayist Éric Zemmour, this bloc exceeded 30% (23+7).
Finally, a radical left, embodied by Jean-Luc Mélenchon (the
rebellious), which crushed traditional left-wing formations, seduced young people and intellectual circles, enlisted militants
wokemulticulturalist and ecologist (to the detriment of the green party
officialacronym EELV, also pushed to the margins).
At 22%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon even
heated Marine Le Pen part of the evening of the first round, before finally admitting defeat by a percentage point.
Disaffection and abstention
These three blocs, their political staffs and their electorates, hate each other. They show a fragmented France in a chagrin, even surly mood. We sometimes speak of a latent civil war – the expression is frequent in the press.
All against a backdrop of disaffection and loss of faith in the political process and institutions. What expressed, on April 10, a participation rate of less than 74%, low for a presidential election in France. We do not expect more – and perhaps an even lower rate – in the second round.
A big unknown is the proportion of the 22% of voters who voted for Mélenchon who will choose to abstain on Sunday in
going fishing (rather than at polling stations), according to an old French expression.
Because the resentment against the
president of the richa haughty technocrat allied with
globalist elitesis something well shared, not only by the electorate of Marine Le Pen, but also by that of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
What makes Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s call on the evening of the first round –Pen!”,”text”:”not a voice to Marine LePen!”}}’>not a voice to Marine Le Pen! – not only will not be heard by all (a minority of these voters will nevertheless refer to Le Pen), but it can above all result in a strong abstention from this group in particular.
This abstention could reduce the lead of Emmanuel Macron who, according to numerous polls, had in the week preceding the vote a lead of 10 to 12% – admittedly reduced compared to 2017 (32% difference), but still comfortable.
A flat and formatted debate
The themes covered and the programs presented during the approximately three hours of the single debate between the two finalists were numerous. There were two opposing conceptions of France, of the world and of public governance.
But in contrast to that of 2017 (which had been chaotic and catastrophic for Marine Le Pen), the April 20 televised face-to-face showed – in form – a tightly formatted, controlled and timed discussion. An almost courteous debate, with an erased Marine Le Pen, with subjects strictly separated from each other – one could say
This is what has now become, in many countries, of these hyperframed electoral debates. This context makes it difficult for thematic links, syntheses, free exchanges, major professions of faith, the clash of ideas…
Clashes on Ukraine and the Islamic headscarf
We should nevertheless mention two subjects which caused some (rare) clashes between Le Pen and Macron.
On Ukraine, Marine Le Pen was put in difficulty, because of her past support for Vladimir Putin. Once the subject was announced, Emmanuel Macron immediately launched the offensive. He accused her of being dependent on Moscow, with her past declarations of admiration for the Russian president.
He recalled that the National Rally (at the time National Front) had contracted in 2014 (the year of the attack in the Donbass and the annexation of Crimea) a loan of several million dollars from a Russian bank reputed to be close of the Kremlin. A loan that is still not fully repaid in 2022.
Emmanuel Macron then had this murderous sentence towards Marine Le Pen:
When you talk to Vladimir Putin, you talk to your banker, you depend on him. She replied by saying that today she supports the fight of Ukrainians for their freedom, even if Macron, tit for tat, recalled that the National Rally, in the European Parliament, voted very recently against any material aid to Ukraine.
So a highlight of the debate, linked to the hottest news.
Another subject which, too briefly and towards the end, gave rise to some outbursts: the question of the Islamic veil (or headscarf).
There, the opposition was clear between the two candidates. Marine Le Pen wants the pure and simple ban of the Islamic headscarf in all public places, and not just at school or in the administration, where this ban is already applied in France (and on this specific point, Macron is Okay).
But the president added: with the total ban on the veil, everywhere outside,Pen”,”text”:”you will create civil war, Mrs. LePen”}}’>you will create civil war, Mrs. Le Pen.
Could this debate change the outcome of the vote? Unlikely, if we look at historical precedents in France. Emmanuel Macron remains widely favored to win his re-election. But it would be a re-election with a reduced score and in front of a small half of France which remained defiant and was already waiting for the re-elected president at the bend.
Then go to the legislative elections in June, where the situation could be very different.