The socio-liberal candidate for the presidency of France, Emmanuel Macron, arrived at the Elysée Palace in 2017 as a breath of fresh air without having previously stood for any elective office. He challenged the traditional parties French and that benefited him in his first presidential elections.
“The fact that he didn’t come from either of those two games, having his own brand”, made managed to “impose himself in a political game that was in full reconfiguration”, according to statements made to RTVE.es andhe researcher at the Barcelona Center for International Relations (CIDOB), Moussa Bourekba.
Now, he is no longer unknown and after five years in office, he is once again facing his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen. He is he first French president to run for re-election in two decades, but according to the director of the Nebrija University International Relations department, Adela Alija, “Macron has it much more difficult because in 2017 there was a common front to stop Le Pen and now there isn’t.” The French president reaches the second round of the presidential elections after obtaining more than 27% of the support, three points more than in 2017, but these elections are more complicated for him.
Macron, economic liberalism wrapped in patriotic discourse
Emmanuel Macron, a former banker who studied at the elite National School of Administration, arrived at the Elysee in 2017 as an unknown quantity. He was Economy Minister with Socialist President François Hollandebut had never before run for elective office.
During the campaign that brought him to the presidency, Macron offered a more centrist view of Francecasting aside old political allegiances and challenging the traditional parties, something that for many French it differentiated him from the dominant political class.
Adela Alija assures that Macron It came at a time of “brutal crisis of the classical party system”. “In this crisis of the system a man arrives who in reality does not have a clear party behind him and does not present a clear ideology, but what he credits is like a kind of breath of fresh air in traditional politics”, adds the expert.
In this sense, Bourekba explains that in 2017, Emmanuel Macron “was the big news.” “He did not have a party, but he claimed to have a movement. He did not describe himself as someone from the left or from the right, but he was supposed to be in a kind of center ”, affirms the researcher.
For his part, the director of the Madrid Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), José Ignacio Torreblanca, points out that Macron “read very well what was the moment of crisis and destructuring of French politics.” “Macron is very smart when it comes to inserting a proposal that, on the one hand, is economically liberal, but that is able to wrap it in a patriotic speech, of collective values”, he emphasizes.
His success: ideology, opportunism and new electoral techniques
In 2017, Macron promised to bring a new political style to the presidency with an ambitious agenda of economic reforms and whose priorities were centered on tackle unemployment, education and relaunch the European project.
According to Bourekba, “very often, the one who represents the novelty It is the one that can take a good part of the votes or the one that can even win an election.”. “Macron did represent the novelty, but this is not happening now and it is a fact to take into account for this second round,” he underlines.
For the professor of International Relations at Comillas Pontifical University, Andrea Betti, Macron is “the typical leader who represents a little how politics has changed in many European countries in the last decade.” “In addition to a competition between left and right, there is a new competition between those who are in favor of more integration and more globalization and those who, instead, are in favor of a more restrictive vision of integration”, explains Betty.
Another aspect that led Macron to the Elysée Palace was his new electoral techniques. His campaign used algorithms through which he identified the neighborhoods and districts that were most representative of France. Thanks to that information, the party understood the campaign priorities and policies.
Besides, his campaign made heavy use of social media, something that has kept him in the race for the presidency this year. Macron’s official photographer, Soazig de la Moissonnière, has published a series of images of the president with which he sought to offer his most natural side. The most viralized photo has been one in which Macron appears with an open shirt sitting on a sofa.
“At that time (2017) the traditional political parties, in addition to being traditional in their thoughts, they were analog parties in the way they campaigned, but Macron was very innovative”, Torreblanca points out. “From the beginning he used social media very powerfully and the ability to communicate directly with voters. That’s why he was able to come to power without creating an organic apparatus and a strong territorial structure”, adds the expert, who indicates that “it really was a very successful combination of ideology, opportunism and novel electoral techniques”.
More complicated elections than in 2017
In the first round of the presidential elections, Macron has obtained close to 28% of the votes, almost three points more than in the 2017 elections. But the candidate of La República en Marcha is no longer unknown as he was then, but rather a president who has served for five years and who for many voters he is the “president of the rich”, and that it has not paid enough attention to social and economic inequality. This is one of the factors that make for Macron these elections are more complicated than those of 2017in which he also faced Le Pen.
In the five years of his mandate, Macron has had to face months of “yellow vest” protests, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which has increased the concerns among the French about inflation and rising prices of energy.
Torreblanca explains that “governing generates damage, aggrieved, disaffected and disagreements.” “In the end, there is wear and tear on the Government and it is not the same to arrive for the first timewhen no one knows you and you arrive with an exciting project against the extreme right, when you have already been in government for five years and people know you”, he details.
Opinion polls point to a second round more closely fought than in 2017, when Macron won the elections with 66% of the vote compared to 34% for the far-right candidate. This is partly because Le Pen has calmed his speech and many voters no longer see her as a dangerous radical.
“Macron has it much more difficult because in 2017 there was a common front to stop Le Pen and now there isn’t. Although from other parties they ask to vote for Macronfrom other positions, fundamentally from France Insumisa, they are asked not to vote for Le Pen, but they do not say that they vote for Macron. So that makes it more difficult for (Macron), ”explains the Alija.
The benefit of the war effect for Macron, diluted
Before the war in Ukraine began, the French president took advantage of his six-month rotating presidency of the European Union to position himself as the main European mediator. Macron had several conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, both in person and by phone, before and after the invasion that began on February 24in an unsuccessful attempt to achieve a de-escalation in Ukraine.
The director of the Madrid Office of the ECFR believes that Macron “At first, the war effect benefited him, because there is always an effect of joining the flag when there is a war, and that prompted him at the beginning”. However, he points out that “this effect has been diluted and has been declining more to the economic effects and inflation to the price of life”.
“Macron thought he was going to run a much more successful campaign and he really hasn’t. In addition, his diplomacy with Putin has not been successful either. It hasn’t made him seem like a strong leader, or decisive, or getting things done.. It has been a bit overshadowed, ”adds Torreblanca.
In this sense, Professor Betti believes that with the war in Ukraine “it is likely that Macron’s image has been somewhat affected from the point of view of effectiveness, although not from the point of view of the sympathy of the voters”. “Those who want to vote for Macron will continue to vote for him, but it is true that Macron has always tried to present himself as an effective leader, who solves and allows things to move forward, and in the case of Russia, this has not been the image we have had of it”, he asserts.
For their part, both Alija and Bourekba agree that Macron’s efforts on Ukraine have not been particularly bad for him during the elections. “Macron was in a position in which, in general, the French and politicians thought they had to be. Faced with the risk of a war, we had to dialogue, talk with Putin and seek the diplomatic route, not the conflict”, assures the CIDOB researcher.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.