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Could 2022 bring a win for France’s Marine Le Pen? 

French President Emmanuel Macron - Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Marine Le Pen is successfully convincing French voters that Emmanuel Macron is out of touch… could she succeed in 2022?

Earlier this month thousands of people joined the May Day protests across France.

Trade unionists and workers marched to demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions and their impacts, particularly on the working class. This comes less than two years after President Macron’s administration was bogged down in fights with unions, whilst the pandemic halted his planned pension system overhaul.

Although Macron’s handling of the pandemic is regarded as “chaotic” by some, including his future opponent to the Elysée, Marine Le Pen; this is nothing in comparison with the perceived handling by Boris Johnson’s government in the UK. Nonetheless, Macron remains hugely unpopular and heavily criticised. 

It is a year to go before the next vote for France in the presidential election. It has become hard to turn a blind eye to a feeling of “déja vu” when looking at the unsettling backdrop of French and European politics in 2021.

A recent poll published in the French newspaper Le Monde showed Le Pen garnering 43% of support compared to Macron’s 57%.

Even though he has not yet announced whether he will be running again or not, what is certain is that he has seen his current presidential term marred by unpopular actions on a whole host of domestic issues alongside his divisive handling of the pandemic.

Public dissatisfaction has been compounded by a bungling of the vaccine rollout in France and the EU which has increased the French people’s disdain towards the European Community as well as a certain feeling of Europhobia. 

So, what now? Since the crisis of the yellow vests (Gilets Jaunes), Macron has found himself in a very delicate position.

Two recent polls conducted in April by IFOP (the independent French Institute of Public Opinion) has shown that only 35% of the public currently trust the government’s actions on COVID-19 prevention and only 45% of people have a favourable opinion of him as being suitable for president.

This is not solely the result of the failure in providing an efficient vaccine rollout but more the fact that the president preferred to act against scientific advice on the pandemic.

This has dented his reputation in a France already shattered by dissent after the recurrent terrorist attacks and fiery pension reform. Although these polls are not definitive, they are a good snapshot of the complex episode France is currently going through. 

Voting intentions for Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, the National Rally, have not been higher since 2002 during her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s qualification for the second round of the presidential election. The far-right party is ranking ahead of any other French political party for voters in the 25-34 age range, who have been amongst those who have paid the price during the economic crisis, being unable to secure a job or to finish their studies.

This rather quick shift in opinions is also due to the will of the National Rally, to de-demonise the party’s ideas and general image into something less caricatural and more unifying than it could have been in the past.

What Le Pen has “succeeded” to do is to act like a real (and what seems to be the only) opposition party against Macron’s government, taking advantage of the president’s weaknesses on questions such as secularism, separatism and migration which clearly has cost him a lot in the last two years.

Her tactic seems to build a strong criticism of Macron as being out-of-touch with those living in rural areas and the poorest, and instead, the president acts to benefit capitalists and actors of globalization. 

One thing that has not changed since Le Pen’s defeat in 2017 is her inability to present coherent economic plans, especially when dealing with the country’s debt. And this lack of realism in her economic agenda seems to lead to her recurrent failure. 

But Macron is not done yet and, although the French president is not officially a candidate yet, he plans to tirelessly continue his fight against elitism and privileges, most notably by his recent closure of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the elite postgraduate school that for decades has churned out the nation’s top civil servants.

This may only end up being symbolic, but the President is determined to ensure that public servants are reflective of the diversity of French society. This aligns closely with his government’s work on secularism and freedom of religion in a France that is strongly divided on the definition and application of secularism, particularly in schools and universities. 

But he will have to manoeuvre a variety of candidates from across the political spectrum. These include the Republicans (LR)’s expected candidate Xavier Bertrand who seems to be unlikely to win second place against Le Pen and Macron, particularly after LR’s failure in the last local and European elections.

There is also likely to be a reappearance on the ballot for the populist left-winger Jean Luc Mélenchon. If the LFI leader runs a third time he is unlikely to win but is likely to increase pressure on Macron over what he sees as infringement or threats to individual liberties and rights. Parti Socialiste, which does not yet have any official candidate, could also participate.

Four years ago Macron was not expected to become president, but in an unexpected twist, he became victorious.

Once again in the next election, anything is possible – and we should be prepared for more plot twists and unexpected events as we head towards 2022.

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