Macron Win Isn't Necessarily a Loss for Le Pen

Celebrations for Macron’s victory at the Louvre. Flickr/Creative Commons/Lorie Shaull

Macron benefited from the fact that what Le Pen was selling was not palatable to most French voters.

According to an OpinionWay-Spol Analytics poll for Les Échos just before the presidential vote, En Marche! is on track to win between 249 to 286 seats. The same poll indicates that centrist and conservative parties (like the Republicans) are set to win between 220 and 210 seats. The big loser is the Socialist Party, which had 280 seats in the outgoing National Assembly and is on track to win between twenty-eight and forty-three seats.

What will be closely watched is how the National Front will perform in the legislative elections. In the outgoing National Assembly the Far Right party held only two seats. The OpinionWay-SPLV gives the National Front between fifteen and twenty-five seats. Although Le Pen lost the presidential vote, she did win 10.5 million votes, giving the National Front a historic high in the election. In the aftermath of the vote, Le Pen quickly asserted that the National Front is the true opposition, considering the large number of votes garnered and that the two traditional parties—the Republicans and Socialists—did not even have a candidate in the second round.

Although Le Pen’s performance in one-on-one debate with Macron hurt her, she still managed to take the Far Right to 35.5 percent of the vote for the highest office in France. If nothing else, Le Pen’s candidacy demonstrated the depth of anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiment in the French body politic. This allows her to be considered as a more serious opposition force, which could translate into higher-than-expected gains in the National Assembly.

The 2017 elections represent a historic break in the life of the French Fifth Republic, which commenced in 1959. It was the first election in which the traditional parties of the right and left failed to send a candidate for president to the second round, while it gave the country’s Far Right the most votes ever in a national election. Replacing the old left-right divide, the new political delineation is between a liberal, pro-globalization stance and an inward-looking populism guided by a close the border mentality.

Another potential break in France’s political life under the Fifth Republic is that En Marche! could join the ranks of major political parties. That will depend on the June election results. All of this reflects a changing of the political guard in France, something long needed, but a process filled with uncertainty and far from complete.

Over the next year there is a heavy political calendar in Europe, including the June 8 United Kingdom elections and the September German elections, as well as an election sometime in the next twelve months in Italy. There are also a number of fragile political situations in the Balkans (Macedonia, Bulgaria and Montenegro), not to mention Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism. Along these lines, European democracy is being challenged from multiple quarters, making what happens in France important. It is, after all, one of the EU’s democratic and economic cornerstones. The end of the French presidential election has brought relief in Brussels and Berlin, but for Macron the hard work is just starting.

Scott B. MacDonald is chief economist for Smith’s Research and Gradings.

Image: Celebrations for Macron’s victory at the Louvre. Flickr/Creative Commons/Lorie Shaull