After his dazzling rise to the Elysée Palace, going through a global pandemic and facing a war in Europe, everything points to Emmanuel Macron He will become this Sunday, except for surprise, the first president of France to achieve re-election since 2002. He will thus have five more years to improve a legacy that, for now, is much more prosaic than it promised: the economy has improved remarkablybut the major reforms are still pending and above all, the discontent of the French has not only not been mitigated, but has been accentuated.
Proof of this are the results of the first round of the presidential elections, even though Macron himself is going to repeat the 2017 duel against Marine Le Pen in the second round. Despite the good performance of the presidentwhich obtained more votes and more support than five years ago, the extreme right, embodied in Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, achieved its best result, with 10.6 million votes, more than 30% of the total. Y on the anti-system left, Jean Luc Mélenchon received 7.7 million, almost 22%.
“Indeed, it is surprising to see to what extent the results of the first round are so radical. More than 50% of the French have voted for radical candidates, left and right,” he admits. Bruno Jeanbart, vice-president of the French demographic company OpinionWay and author of The anomalous presidency: the roots of the election of Emmanuel Macronan analysis of Macron’s arrival at the Elysee.
“There is a lot of discontent that is not necessarily linked to the economic situation of the people, but to a feeling of loss of identity, of loss of the future”, explains Jeanbart, who believes that the key is in the realization by the French that their once powerful state is less and less effective in resolving problems. “There are very varied fears: there are people who are afraid of climate change, people who are afraid of immigration, people who are afraid of globalization… Very different things that are mixed and that result in this very paradoxical situation.”
The economy, the greatest success of his management
because if only economy it was treated, Macron can present a good record of services before the French. The gross domestic product it has recovered at a good pace and, after growing 1.9% in 2021, it is now very close to recovering its pre-pandemic level. The unemploymentwhich closed the year at 7.4%, marks its lowest since 2008 and the inflationthe great concern of all of Europe about the war in Ukraine and the rise in energy prices, has risen much less than in neighboring countries -although it already exceeds 5%.
The main concern of the French in this electoral campaign, according to the polls, is the purchasing poweran indicator that it also improved at the end of 2021: it grew by 0.8% in the fourth quarter. However, the perception of much of French society is that this economic improvement does not reach everyone.
“There are material conditions for discontent. Inequality has increased and, above all, the precariousness of the middle classes and young people, a process that does not only occur in France,” he stresses. Raquel García, researcher at the Elcano Royal Institutewhich points out that “people who are doing well support Macron, but those who are not doing so well turn to radicalism.”
Hence the huge reply with which some initiatives have been received, such as the failed attempt to reform pensions, postponed in 2018 due to citizen protests and resumed in recent months, although with much less depth. Also included in this malaise are the yellow vest protests, which, at the beginning of 2019, put the Government in check, until Macron organized the so-called ‘great national debate’ and annulled the fuel tax. “Macron has not focused on that aspect, he has not advocated raising social spending,” says Raquel García, who emphasizes that “who has been able to channel discontent has been Marine Le Pen.”
A polarizing president
The pandemic, in this sense, served as a foothold for the president: in exceptional crises, a country tends to rally around the leader. Y Macron’s popularity, which hit rock bottom during the yellow vest crisis, soared with the arrival of COVID-19. Something similar has happened in recent months with the war in ukrainein which its European leadership – France presides over the European Union this semester – has also strengthened it internally.
In fact, Macron ends his term with a higher approval level than his predecessors in the Elysee, above 40%. but also with very high levels of rejection: “Many French people respect his intelligence, his competence. His intellectual quality is not in doubt. But he is not much loved, because of the personalization of such a special position as that of President of the Republic and because he does not project at all a dimension affective,” says Bruno Jeanbart.
Arrogant, classist, haughty… these are adjectives that usually accompany Macron, who has not managed to shake off the label of ‘president of the rich’. His figure is divisive in France, and not only on a personal level, but also on a political level.: by monopolizing the entire center, all the moderate options, it has eliminated the traditional parties of the left and right from the chessboard -neither the Socialist Party nor the Republicans have reached the threshold of 5% in the first round of the presidential elections- and pushes the dissent towards the extremes.
“It has contributed to blowing up the traditional party system of the Fifth Republic, which is now based on personalist projects,” says García, who cites both Macron’s and Le Pen’s candidacies, determined to smooth out the edges of the old National Front to being president, that of Zemmour, a journalist without a political background to support him, and even that of Mélenchon, who brings together a split from socialism thanks to his charisma. “These personal and conflicting projects lead to polarization, to the division of French society,” says the analyst from the Elcano Royal Institute.
The rise of the extreme right, its greatest failure
That fracture of the political space, fueled by the same process that brought him to the presidency, is perhaps the worst legacy of his mandate. Especially considering that Even if he manages to be re-elected on Sunday, in 2027 he will not be able to run again and there is no glimpse of a relief of guarantees in the moderate forces to face a very strong radical right. “One of Macron’s electoral promises five years ago was to bring down the extreme right and it has never been so strong in France. It is a failure,” says Bruno Jeanbart emphatically.
Many of the issues that the extreme right has placed at the center of the political debate, such as security or immigration, will still be there in five years and even Macron himself has incorporated them into his ideology, with regulations such as the recent security law global, the habitual incorporation of exceptional measures against terrorism or the law against “religious separatism”. The left accuses him of lean to the rightbut Jeanbart believes that “it has been French society that has leaned to the right”, and that Macron is only a reflection of those concerns.
In any case, The polls indicate that next Sunday he will revalidate the presidency of France smoothly, although with much less margin over Le Pen than in 2017.. In June he will try to revalidate the parliamentary majority of La República en Marcha, his party, in the National Assembly. And then he will begin the most complicated part, governing, especially when there are no relevant moderate forces to agree with, which ensures notable opposition both in parliament and in the streets. “The risk is that it has very little capacity to make deep reforms,” warns the vice president of OpinionWay.
Raquel García goes further and points out the difficulty that France will have to “rebuild the social and generational ties” that have been broken in these years, in addition to restructuring the traditional parties and finding a successor for the center political space. By the time Emmanuel Macron, the youngest French head of state since Napoleon, has completed his historical legacy, for better or worse.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.