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Fast Thinking

April 24, 2022

With Macron’s victory, the ‘fragile’ center holds in France

By Atlantic Council


The center held. French President Emmanuel Macron won a second term in office Sunday, with a decisive victory over far-right challenger Marine Le Pen against a grim backdrop of rising inflation and war in Ukraine. Our experts are here to analyze the global ramifications for the European Union, populism, and more—while laying out what’s next for France under Macron.


  • Rama Yade (@ramayade): Director of the Africa Center, senior fellow at the Europe Center, and former French deputy minister for foreign affairs and human rights

Eminent ‘front’

  • Early returns showed Macron earning around 59 percent of the vote—a healthy victory but short of his 66 percent showing five years ago against Le Pen. “Once again, the ‘republican front’—a coalition opposed to the far right—saved Macron,” Rama says. “But this front is increasingly fragile.”
  • That’s because Le Pen was able to peel off more supporters of left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the third-place finisher, for the best-ever showing for the far right—another blow to Macron, who set out to reduce the faction’s influence in the country. Plus, a near-record number of eligible voters abstained from the vote. Rama says this all reflects a country that is “divided” as well as “frustrated and angry.”
  • But for those cheering Sunday night, Marie had a keen observation: At Macron’s Eiffel Tower celebration “there were as many French flags as EU ones” because Macron “made clear during his campaign that the European project was at stake.”

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Nerves in Brussels

  • Those images were cause for a “deep sigh of relief” in Brussels, Dave tells us. “But there is still great unease that, twice in five years now, the EU had to worry about its second-largest country falling to the far right.”  
  • European luminaries went all out to back Macron, including what Marie called an “unprecedented” opinion column in Le Monde by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa calling for French voters to preserve “European values” as freedom and democracy are challenged.
  • While Le Pen backed off her 2017 pledge to pull France out of the Eurozone, she still would have “challenged the EU with an alternative vision for the bloc,” Marie tells us. Le Pen advocated for a “Europe of nations,” Marie adds, pushing “the primacy of French law over European law.”

Permanent campaign

  • French voters head back to the polls in a matter of weeks to determine Macron’s governing partners, and his party is in danger of losing power in the June parliamentary elections.
  • Dave points out that both Le Pen and Mélenchon have asked voters to make them prime minister. “While a far-left or far-right majority in parliament remains a very distant prospect, were it to come to pass it could lead to gridlock in the EU’s lawmaking process,” he says, with France’s leaders at odds with each other in Brussels. 
  • As the war in Ukraine continues to rage, Macron hardly gets a breather with his triumph, Marie notes. The challenge for the president, now back at the helm of a permanent member of the UN Security Council and founding member of NATO and the EU, will be “to find the balance between the demanding international/European agenda and the more domestic concerns expressed by French citizens.”

Further reading

Related Experts: Rama Yade, Marie Jourdain, and Dave Keating

Image: Supporters of French President Emmanuel Macron, candidate for his re-election, react after results were announced in the second round vote of the 2022 French presidential election, near Eiffel Tower, at the Champs de Mars in Paris, France on April 24, 2022. Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters.