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French Presidential Election: Did the Far-right Really Lost?

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The 2022 French presidential election, held on 10 and 24 April, resulted in the re-election of Emmanuel Macron, representing the Republic on the Move (En Marche). Macron has been the first person to be elected as the French president twice in the past two decades. Macron, a centrist, secured 58.5% of the total votes in the second round and defeated his rival, Marine Le Pen, Representing the far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National). World leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, the prime ministers of Belgium and Luxembourg, and European Council President Charles Michel, congratulated Macron for defeating the anti-establishment and anti-immigrant politician Le Pen.[1] Macron’s victory was received positively especially by the European Union (EU) due to his commitment to the EU, unlike his opponent.[2]

While many leaders were relieved after the election since Le Pen did not win, it should be noted that she is now one step closer to the presidency. The Le Pen family, first the father and now the daughter, has been in presidential elections since 1974, and yet they had never been able to convince so many French of the idea that multiculturality is dangerous for France. [3] Le Pen aims to ban the wearing of the headscarves in public as part of her counter-terrorism plan. She also prioritizes French citizens for getting jobs and housing.[4] Moreover, Le Pen benefited from another candidate, Eric Zemmour, a former pundit and political journalist. Zemmour has been repeatedly convicted of hate speech. He made racial arguments about the dangers of replacing white French people with non-European refugees and migrants during the election. Although Zemmour received only 7.1% of the total votes in the first part of the election, his racist statements caused Le Pen to be seen as a more central candidate than Zemmour. In addition, contrary to what happened in the previous elections, Le Pen drew attention not only to immigration but also to health and housing issues in France in this election. This situation increased the perception that she was closer to the center than before. Le Pen and Zemmour, two far-right politicians, received 32% of the total votes in the first round.[5]

Another possible reason for the increase in Le Pen’s vote rate is the increase in immigrants coming to France. This increase has been continuing regularly since the early 2000s. Accordingly, the proportion of people born outside of France and living in France corresponds to 10% of the population. Therefore, although the issue of immigration was not used by Le Pen in this election as much as in the previous elections, it still had an essential place.[6]

Another factor affecting the election was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is known that Le Pen is on good terms with Putin and supports many of Putin’s policies. Aware of these ties, Macron accused Le Pen of taking advantage of Russia economically, as Le Pen’s party reportedly requested loans from various Russian banks. Moreover, Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and in prison since returning to Russia, also criticized Le Pen for being linked to Moscow and urged French voters to vote for Macron. While Le Pen criticized the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she also criticized some of the sanctions imposed on Moscow since these sanctions could also hurt French businesspeople.[7] In short, although Le Pen’s bond with Putin was known, this bond became more questionable after Russia invaded Ukraine.

In conclusion, although Le Pen lost the election, almost half of the French people supported her policies by voting for her. Thus, Le Pen and her extremist policies are closer to power than ever before. Considering that Macron may adopt some extremist policies to attract Le Pen voters to stay in power, it would not be correct to say that the far-right lost in France. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that the far-right is not currently in power in France, but its impact on politics is gradually increasing. In short, the far-right could become mainstream policy in France, which could endanger democracy. Considering that the far-right leaders in Europe are working with each other, it is not only France but also European democracy that is at stake. The 2022 French election shows us that European democracy is in more danger than it has been for many years.

[1] “French Election: World Leaders Congratulate Macron on Victory”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/24/french-election-2022-europe-reacts-as-macron-beats-le-pen, (Date of Accession: 04.05.2022); John Leicester, “Election Loss Still a Victory for Far-right in France: Analysis”, CTV News, https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/election-loss-still-a-victory-for-far-right-in-france-analysis-1.5874612, (Date of Accession: 05.05.2022).

[2] “Relieved European Leaders Congratulate Macron After His Reelection”, Le Monde, https://www.lemonde.fr/en/2022-presidential-election/article/2022/04/24/european-leaders-swiftly-congratulate-emmanuel-macron-after-french-presidential-election-victory_5981533_16.html, (Date of Accession: 04.05.2022).

[3] Leicester, op. cit.

[4] “Le Pen Vows Headscarf Fines in Tight French Election Battle”, France 24, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220407-le-pen-vows-headscarf-fines-in-tight-french-election-battle, (Date of Accession: 05.05.2022).

[5] Leicester, op. cit.

[6] David Brown, “French Election: A Really Simple Guide”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60799845, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2022).

[7] Silvia Amaro, “Russia Ties Haunt Far-right Candidate Le Pen as France Gears Up for Election Day”, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/22/france-elections-russia-ties-haunt-far-right-candidate-le-pen.html, (Date of Accession: 07.05.2022); Kim Willsher, “French Far-right Leader Marine Le Pen Forced to Defend Putin Links”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/02/french-far-right-leader-marine-le-pen-forced-to-defend-putin-links, (Date of Accession: 07.05.2022).

Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ was born in 1994 in Adana. He completed his primary and high school education in Osmaniye. Kıldiş, who graduated from Gazi University International Relations Department in 2016, has been continuing his graduate education at Gazi University in the Department of Middle East and African Studies since 2017 and writes on "Syrian Refugees and the Rising Far Right in Europe". During his undergraduate studies, Kıldiş did his internship at the Economic Development Foundation in Istanbul, he did Erasmus internship at TÜSİAD in Brussels and an internship at ANKASAM strategic analysis center in Ankara. The author studies immigration, Islamophobia, the far right and the European Union.