When French voters go back to the polls for the second round of the presidential election on 7 May, they will be choosing between two candidates – Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron – with radically different visions for the country. Christian Lequesne writes that the election has underlined the cleavage that exists in French society between those who believe France must adapt to globalisation and Europe, and those who support closed borders and protectionism as an alternative.
Emmanuel Macron. Credits: WEF (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Marine Le Pen will probably not be the next President of France. She qualified for the second round of the election behind Emmanuel Macron, who was still unknown by most French citizens just a year ago. This does not mean that Le Pen will not receive a solid level of support in the second round of the election. She can win more than 30% of the vote, a figure that has to be compared to the 18% achieved by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, against Jacques Chirac in 2002.
However, two broader conclusions can be drawn from the first round of the presidential election. The first is that there has been a clear de-legitimisation of the mainstream political parties in France. Neither the Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party – PS) for the left, nor Les Républicains (The Republicans – LR) for the right were able to qualify for the second round. This is a dramatic change in the history of the Fifth Republic.
Second, there is a real cleavage in the French electorate between those who are convinced that France must adapt its policies to globalisation and Europe, and those who think that national solutions behind closed borders and protectionism must prevail. This main cleavage crosses two other cleavages: a social one based on the level of education and integration in the job market, and a geographical one dividing the country between the cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants and the rest.
The pro/anti globalisation cleavage will dominate the second round. It explains why Marine Le Pen is using the argument against Macron of being “the representative of globalised elites” when she is supposed to incarnate the “people”. It also explains why the left wing electorate, who voted for Mélenchon in the first round, hesitates to give its vote to Macron. At the end, a majority of them will probably do it, but without any firm conviction. Their goal will be to block Le Pen and not to support Macron.
Much attention has been and is still focused on the presidential election. But another electoral deadline will be crucial just after: the parliamentary elections in June. The right wing Republicans are now concentrating all of their energy on winning a majority of seats. Macron’s party En Marche will have its own candidates in every constituency, but it is impossible to predict if it will get a majority. For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, the possibility of a partisan reconstruction beyond the traditional left/right cleavage is possible. The main challenge for Macron, if he wins the election, will be institutionalising this third way and attracting political resources both from Les Républicains and from the Parti Socialiste. If he succeeds in this challenge, France will enter something approaching a ‘Sixth Republic’.
After the defeat of the far right candidates in Austria and in the Netherlands, the first round of the presidential election in France demonstrated that liberal reflexes are still alive in European societies. In France, the extreme anti-European discourse from both Le Pen and Mélenchon has alienated part of the electorate. In surveys, 70% of French respondents think that leaving the EU will have negative consequence for their country, even if 45% of the electorate voted for anti-EU candidates.
Macron has been the most pro-EU candidate during the campaign. There is a lot of expectation all over the EU that he will be able to relaunch the integration process after Brexit together with the next German Chancellor. On the French domestic scene, he will have to take into consideration the anti-EU forces who gave him their voices against Le Pen. His margin of manoeuvre in Europe will subsequently have strict domestic limits.
Please read our comments policy before commenting.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
Christian Lequesne – Sciences Po
Christian Lequesne is Professor of political science at Sciences Po and a former LSE-Sciences Po Alliance Professor.
Like so many other articles uisng the terms “left” and “right” it is less than illuminating.
It persists in using short-hand that means little to the voting public – but serves more to declare where the author is coming from.
Constantly describing Marine le Pen or the FN as “far right”, without a specific policy example tells us nothing other than the author detests or, fears the FN.
On the rare occasions when we receive a fuller report of Le Pen’s policies, it seems closer to the historic “left”.
If Le Pen really did say (and these days the truth is often different) ““the representative of globalised elites” then surely that puts her towards the traditional “left”?
Also typical is the hint that those voting for the FN, Brexit, Trump “far right” are stupid.
e.g. “This main cleavage crosses two other cleavages: a social one based on the level of education and integration in the job market”
Plenty of intelligent people have concluded that “globalisation” is not working for every one – and there are sound reasons why.
Big Corporations have been given license to profit by over-generous patent, trademark, and copyright protection.
Corporations are the greatest protectionists. Competitors can be shut out by the sheer weight of corporate-funded lawyers – or new regulations preventing innovative products.
Corporate history contains plenty of examples of take-overs – less designed to reduce connsumer costs but instead to remove competition.
Corporations have been allowed to shift profits away from the place of creation – a privilege denied to their small, domestic competitor.
In short, free-market capitalism – which could spread wealth around – has been badly distorted.
“Constantly describing Marine le Pen or the FN as “far right”, without a specific policy example tells us nothing other than the author detests or, fears the FN.”
Well no, actually, this is just standard terminology used by the majority of people in France to describe the party and most academics. We can have some academic debate about whether that’s correct or not, but suggesting the author has to spend three paragraphs justifying the use of that term or that he therefore “fears the FN” is complete nonsense.
You’ve then gone on to give us a rendition of the decades old (and thoroughly boring) argument that parties termed “far-right” are actually “left-wing” because they support protectionism in the economy. They’re termed far-right because of their stance on immigration – the term not referring to “right-wing economic policies” but rather being used as a kind of imprecise shorthand for a particular type of party that obsesses about immigration above all other issues. We can pedantically argue about this label all we like, or we can move on, like the rest of the world did years ago, and argue about substance. Your point here has essentially nothing, whatsoever, to do with the article you’re commenting on, you’re just sounding off at “an academic” for the sake of it.
Finally you’ve given us the classic argument that anyone who points to a clear educational split in opinion polling when it comes to support for a particular party/policy is “calling the electorate stupid”. If you’re going to call the article “less than illuminating” then coming out with knuckle-headed rubbish like this isn’t doing your credibility any favours. If educational attainment is a statistically significant predictor of an individual’s political views then any analyst worth their salt shouldn’t think twice about mentioning that. It’s a real effect, it exists, end of story. If you stop pretending that facts are offensive then we might start getting somewhere.
When we strip all of that bland, predictable, moaning out of your comment we’re left with a fairly unobjectionable comment on globalisation. You’re right, globalisation doesn’t work for everybody. Very few people think that it does. The question is what you do about it – Le Pen thinks the answer is to put up walls and shut France off from the rest of the world, those in the centre think the answer is to put domestic policies in place that compensate those individuals who lose out. Given the potential negative side-effects of Le Pen’s strategy it’s not surprising a majority of French voters are going to opt for Macron.
“Given the potential negative side-effects of Le Pen’s strategy it’s not surprising a majority of French voters are going to opt for Macron.”
and that’s precisely what riles up Jules and his Brexiteer pals
they were banking on Geert Wilders and Marine lePen to bail Britain out of the hole Brexiteers have thrown her into … and despite being warned that it was a mistake (both Brexit and their deluded assumptions about world reality), rather than own it up, they are now full of sour grapes and trying to deflect blame the other way
talk about some immature grown old men
The Liberals are causing the death of European culture and will eventually bankrupt most countries on the continent. Socialism will not work simply because someone must pay the bills. A Socialist and Liberal government is one of thieves since they take from the tax payers without considering the economic impact and whether or not the tax payers are willing to sacrifice more of their hard earned wealth to ridiculous programs such as immigration support. If macron wins, France and the French culture is doomed forever.
woah ! a steady diet of fox news and right-wing talk shows does indeed breed crypto-fascists
congratulations Kelly payson on showing us why despite decades of France-bashing by rosbifs and yanks, they still can’t figure out that France is still thriving, not because of some gallic economic mystery, but because the very theorical assumptions about its strengths and weaknesses are so biased and stuck in ideological righteousness, that you will always get it wrong
human waste this guy is human waste!