Answering the Most Important Questions About the French Election
Reporting by Elena Sheppard.
If you’ve been even just peripherally scanning the news, you likely noticed that something’s been happening in France. That something is an election; it took place on Sunday, and the centrist candidate—Emmanuel Macron—won. You probably already knew that. But what does that all mean? And what do you need to know?
Perhaps you’re feeling like these are questions you should have asked a long time ago, and now you’re too late to the game to even catch up. Don’t worry, we got you! We’re going to keep this pretty basic. So, let’s get started.
Who is Emmanuel Macron?
The president-elect is a bit of an anomaly. He is an independent centrist who has never held elected office before, and ran with a party he himself formed a year ago called “En Marche” aka “On The Move” (also his initials). At 39-years-old, he will be France’s youngest president ever, and his biggest differentiator from his opponent Le Pen is that he is pro-Europe and wants France to remain in the EU. His most recent job was as economy minister under President Hollande, a job he left so he could pursue his own candidacy. Oh, and people seem to like to know that his wife is 24 years older than him, and was his high school drama teacher. Also, Obama endorsed him (in case that matters to you).
Who is Marine Le Pen?
People first got to know Le Pen because of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front (the party she ran under). Her father was an incredibly divisive leader, one whose anti-semitic and racist beliefs forced Marine Le Pen to work overtime to try and rectify her party’s reputation. That never quite worked.
Politically, Le Pen is an economic conservative, who largely won over France’s working class voters. An isolationist and a populist, Le Pen ran under the promise of returning France to their previous currency the Franc and likely pulling a Brexit-style departure from the EU. Many strongly compare her to Donald Trump.
What does Macron’s win mean for France?
Well above all else, it means that France will more than likely stay in the EU — which is a huge sigh of relief for Europe. Even though Macron ran independently, his win is seen as something of a continuation of the French status quo. Case in point, he was a protégé of the current President Hollande.
Where Macron is likely to face dissent is in the same arena that led to Le Pen’s rise — employment, immigration, and the terrorist threat (which due to a flurry of recent attacks, is front-of-mind for many French citizens).
What happens to France’s National Front now?
Even though Le Pen didn’t win, the fact that she rose in the way she did pulls back the curtain on the political discontent among the French people. Also, the fact that she was in the election’s final two is something many are considering a milestone for the once fringe party. It seems there is much more to come from them.
What does this mean for French relations with the rest of Europe?
As we mentioned before, relief. Had Le Pen won, France would have almost certainly left the EU, which would have put the entire structure of the European Union into a very precarious situation. The rest remains to be seen but most importantly, France will remain in the European Union.
What does this mean for French relations with the U.S.?
Good things! Macron is pro-America, pro-trade, pro-NATO. While his politics differ majorly differ from Donald Trump’s, his general attitude is one of cooperation. While Le Pen and Trump were more politically aligned, her isolationist perspective likely would not have made her version of France into a great ally.
What happens now?
Macron will be inaugurated on Sunday, May 14th, which is incredibly soon. Like, this weekend soon. Then, in June, the French people will vote twice again in the parliamentary election and it’s important that he gets heavy support in those elections so that he’s able to carry out his presidency as he envisions it. Because his political party is so new, it currently occupies no seats in parliament, though polls—which correctly predicted his win—are anticipating that En Marche will continue to do well. After June 18th, once the seats have been filled, Macron will appoint his prime minister.
P.S. In case you thought French elections were anything like American elections, they’re totally, totally not.