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Macron needs to bring France back together

Lisa Louis standing in front of the Eiffel Tower
Lisa Louis
April 25, 2022

Emmanuel Macron's victory against Marine Le Pen was narrower than five years ago. If he wants to stop the far-right from rising further, the president will need to adapt his program — and his ways, Lisa Louis writes.

Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron arrive after his victory in France's presidential election
Many French view Macron as a lofty, arrogant manager, who's disconnected from their day-to-day worriesImage: THOMAS COEX/AFP

France has reelected Emmanuel Macron as its president, but the race was tighter than five years ago, when the same two candidates — Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen — reached the run-off vote.   

Macron will now need to shift his policies and ways — or else, France's far-right might well find itself in the Elysee one day.

When he stepped onto the stage on Sunday night, he sounded not only glad and relieved, but also humble.

"I know that many of my compatriots have voted for me not because they support my ideas, but because they want to block the far-right from getting to power," he said. "This vote places a responsibility on me."

Many voted for Macron despite his style and his program

Voters chose him despite his market-oriented reforms, which are opposed by many in France — such as the liberalization of the labor market and the reform of the public rail company SNCF.

He was reelected despite his failure to address the deep-rooted anger of the so-called yellow vests quickly enough, or to find a way to soothe their anxiety. These protesters blocked France's streets and roundabouts for months, demanding more social justice.

Lisa Louis
DW correspondent Lisa LouisImage: Sandy Palenzuela

Macron got away with first commissioning and later scrapping a €48 billion ($51.85 billion) plan to improve life for those living in France's destitute suburbs, and also with not better including French citizens with an immigrant background.

Voters have given him a second chance even though he did not do more to fight global warming — notwithstanding his 2017 pledge to "make our planet great again," when then US President Donald Trump announced his country would leave the 2015 Paris Agreement. Several courts in France have since convicted the French government for failing to adequately address climate change and not reaching its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The republican front has started to crumble

But Macron did pay a price for all these policies.

France's so-called republican front — democratic parties and voters standing together to block the far-right from rising to power — has started to crumble.

At an anti-racism demonstration between the two rounds of voting, protesters were up in arms about yet again seeing Le Pen reach the run-off.

They were also aghast that they would once again have to vote for a candidate who doesn't appeal to them.

"Marine Le Pen is threatening our rule of law, but that doesn't mean I will give my vote to Macron — he only implements right-wing policies," one protester in his twenties said, explaining that the French had already held their noses and voted for Macron in 2017.

He added that the current president hadn't done anything for young people — Macron reduced, for example, housing subsidies.

Many of the protesters were supporters of Jean-Luc Melenchon, the left candidate who picked up 22% of the vote in round one. These were ballots that Macron desperately needed to win the run-off vote.

Macron will have to overcome dislike even among those who voted for him: DW's Lisa Louis

Macron needs to change if he wants to stop the far-right from rising

Macron did manage to convince enough of Mélenchon's voters to keep him in power — or rather Le Pen out of power. But many begrudged having to support Macron.

They see him as a lofty, arrogant manager, who's disconnected from their day-to-day worries.

Some therefore even opted to abstain or vote for Le Pen, their priority instead to block Macron from staying in power.

It's far from certain that, presented with the same scenario five years down the road, those Mélenchon supporters who did vote for Macron would do so again.

That's why the president reelect needs to urgently start implementing more left-wing and ecological measures. Macron needs to change his ways and show that he does understand the suffering of those who feel left behind, in order to give left-wing voters the feeling that he is an acceptable alternative.

The president indicated in his speech he'd do all this. Now, he needs to follow through with it.

If he doesn't, that could lead to, or at least contribute to, a further stengthened far-right. What decides the next French presidential election might then be 'anyone unlike Macron,' rather than 'anyone but Le Pen.'

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru