Caroline Bouisse is a second-year History and International Relations student at King’s College London. Passionate about American and European politics and geopolitics, she aims through this article to relate the french presidential campaign, specifically the debate of the 2nd round between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen, particularly with regard to Ukraine and Russia.
Marion Gabriel is a second-year International Relations student at King’s College London. With strong interests in diplomacy, strategy, and European politics broadly, she is currently the European editor of International Relations today.
On Friday, April 20, 2022, the debate preceding the second round took place between Emmanuel Macron (La République en Marche, LREM, centrist party) and Marine le Pen (Rassemblement National, nationalist party). Even if “some had predicted a debate with a taste of herbal tea (…) It was nothing like that.” Just before the second round on Sunday, April 24; opinions were divided. Two different visions of France and its leadership in Europe opposed its electorate. The re-election of Macron in a France divided thus created a collective apprehensiveness for the future of the country and Europe.
The Foreign Press View on the Issue
The debate of April 20 has agitated the foreign press, which has counted the points between the two candidates until the election. The Belgian daily, for its part, judged that the “outgoing president” was “largely dominant on the substance”. He “regularly put, as in 2017, his opponent in difficulty“. Similarly, the British daily newspaper The Guardian judges that “Macron is an experienced and sharp debater, unlike Le Pen. Yet, (…) Le Pen was much better prepared this time around. She had been advised to play the role of mother of the nation – advice she did not follow in 2017.” On the American side, the Washington Post, announced a tense, complicated and close second round. The Spanish El Pais, predicted an unpredictable and potentially surprising outcome, because Macron did not manage to put the Pen out of the running as in 2017.
In the end, despite being re-elected with 58.8% of the vote, Macron hasn’t fully convinced his voters. His victory has deep challenges.
A sensitive subject, that of the war in Ukraine. Agitating the media, all eyes are on how France will manage the crisis. The conflict in Ukraine is of such importance that it overshadowed most of the issues in this campaign. Questioning French leadership in Europe and security cooperation among member states, it is indeed a vital concern with potential global repercussions.
Accused to plunge the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) into turmoil, at a time when the United States and its allies are engaged in a fight over Ukraine with President Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic and authoritarian Russia, Le Pen’s defeat may be partly explained by her opponent’s crisis management.
The current president has, according to Financial Times, effectively played the role of mediator up until now, and brilliantly exploited one of Le Pen’s weakest points- namely, her ties with Putin and a loan granted to her party by a Russian bank in 2014-. Yet, Macron’s success during this second mandate is not ensured. His long-term crisis management will be of great importance for the next 5 years.
A War that Invites Itself into the Ballot Box
This conflict is of great importance in the hearts of the French. 45% of the voters believe that the war counted in their choice in the first round. Following Macron’s current management of the conflict, his popularity rating gained 5 points last month, reaching 40%. This reveals a “butterfly effect”, a phenomenon by which, during a crisis, a part of the population shows its solidarity with the government. The butterfly effect was also seen in the 2015 elections, where François Hollande’s popularity rating jumped by 20 points a few days after the Paris terrorist attacks. Le Pen thus broke the French tradition. While trying to gain voters’ sympathy, she exposed an unclear position on the future of Ukraine. During the debate, she showed the current President a tweet published on November 9, 2014, saying “I support a free Ukraine, which is not subject to either the United States, the EU or Russia.”. Interestingly, this post came just before Le Pen’s statement after the Russian annexation of Crimea on December 4, 2014 “Crimea has been Russian for many, many years.” The annexation of Crimea in March 2014 after a Russian referendum denounced by Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and by much of the international community, was supported by the National Rally, contributing to Le Pen’s unpopularity.
We can conclude that, in a France divided, if votes balanced between “the plague and cholera“, the Ukraine war was a central theme in the French Presidential Elections. In such a context, Macron’s re-election promises to be decisive for European and global geopolitics.