Written by Kenzie S. Ryvantya
On Sunday, 10 April 2022, more than 35 million French citizens made their way to their local voting stations and casted their ballots in the 2022 presidential elections. After having been exposed to plenty of campaigns, rallies, and televised debates for the past few months, the French public will decide who should earn the right to serve the next five years as their head of state.
Elections in France are important to be observed because whoever gets to lead the country will be able to define how France views and responds to various international issues. As a major power capable of projecting its influence far beyond its own borders, France has played a historically significant role in inspiring liberal and nationalist movements around the world. Today, its role remains influential and respected in both European and global affairs. So, how will the 2022 presidential elections affect France’s international standpoint and foreign relations?
What does French politics look like?
The current French constitution provides a semi-presidential system of government, where the presidency is the highest political office. It has the authority to appoint the prime minister, approve or veto laws proposed by the parliament, hold supreme command of the French armed forces, and give consent to the usage of France’s nuclear weapons arsenal. By convention, French prime ministers typically handle domestic affairs, while French presidents determine national security and foreign policy. Outside of its territory, the President of France has a high degree of influence and respect in regional decision-making within the European Union (EU) framework.
French presidential elections are overseen by the Constitutional Council and typically held in two rounds. A wide cast of candidates will run in the first round, and two candidates with the most votes will then advance to the second round to decide the final winner. If a candidate successfully wins over 50 percent of votes in the first round, a second round wouldn’t be necessary; however, this has never been the case.
This year, French voters were given the option to choose between several candidates representing various contrasting political ideals. The main contender, incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, comes from a liberal-centrist party. His strongest opponents include Marine Le Pen, a right-wing nationalist, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a veteran left-wing politician. Most early predictions heavily favor Macron and Le Pen, but actual results from the first election round show a relatively evenly-distributed vote between the three top candidates, with Macron winning 27.6% of all votes, Le Pen 23.41%, and Mélenchon 21.95% (Kirby, 2022).
However, things were not always this way in France. For many decades, the political landscape had been dominated by two forces: socialists and conservatives, each representing opposing sides in the left-right political spectrum. This duality—the “two-party system”—is common in other democratic states in the West, like the United Kingdom and the United States, where two major parties typically dominate national-level politics. Nonetheless, this “natural order” has been reworked recently when Macron went up against Le Pen in the 2017 elections and eventually won. This development has disrupted the influence of socialist and conservative parties, damaging their performance in polls (Faure, 2022). Therefore, if the Macron versus Le Pen “duel” was a Netflix show, then the 2022 elections could be considered its second season, with both main characters now readier than ever for another battle.
Who are the candidates and what do they stand for?
The last five years have been extraordinarily eventful for France. It has witnessed the rise of immigration to Europe and the socio-economic issues it caused, worsening climate change, the global Covid-19 pandemic, and certainly the recent armed conflict in Ukraine. Under the leadership of President Macron, France has managed to tackle these issues to the best of its ability through enacting pragmatic policies and maintaining mutually beneficial relations with the international community, especially the EU.
Nonetheless, there is always room for change. There are several highlighted political issues in French mainstream media surrounding this year’s elections: the Russia-Ukraine war takes the spotlight in foreign affairs, while energy security and high living costs come to prominence in the domestic realm. Differing viewpoints and policies are offered by the candidates to respond to these issues.
The Incumbent: Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron has benefitted significantly from the “rally effect” due to his handling of the war in Ukraine, gaining several points ahead of his rivals in pre-election polls as voters consider him capable enough in crisis management (Faure, 2022). In his early years as president, Macron had attempted to approach President Vladimir Putin to improve Russia’s alignment with the West, but when the war broke out, Macron strongly supported sending military aid to Ukraine and imposing tough economic sanctions on Russia in solidarity with NATO and the EU.
Macron has been quite keen on large government spending to boost economic recovery, provide generous social programmes, and increase industrial production to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers, which resulted in France’s massive public debt (Mallet, 2022). Furthermore, his vision of making France a “renewable energy center” is shown in his commitment to invest taxpayer money in wind energy development and solar power production.
While Macron has performed admirably in polls and will be able to attract votes from the center and left-wing, there is still room for change. Will the French people decide that Macron deserves a second term for his successes, or will they vote for a fresh face to lead them into the future?
The Arch-Rival: Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen will be running her third attempt for presidency this year, campaigning on a populist platform of localism and economic nationalism in contrast to Macron’s globalist views. Her views on foreign policy reflect a wish to strengthen France’s own sovereignty in global affairs by escaping the “US sphere of influence” in Europe and NATO.
Le Pen has been very vocal about policies that contradict France’s commitment to EU values, such as primacy of French law above European law as well as prioritizing French citizens above foreigners and immigrants in matters of employment, social security, and public housing to “defend French national interests” (Henley & Rankin, 2022). On the other hand, Le Pen also has close ties with President Vladimir Putin, opposing tough economic sanctions imposed by the West on Russia and instead pushing for a “strategic reconciliation” to prevent Russia from establishing closer relations with China (Associated Press, 2022). Finally, to enhance France’s energy security, she wants to halt wind energy projects to save spending and revive nuclear and hydrogen power.
Le Pen is now generally seen as the more moderate and reasonable candidate among France’s right wing, which had enabled her to win over 20 percent of votes in the first election round. Her ideas could be attractive to working-class French citizens who are disillusioned with the ruling elite and now carry the economic burden of high living costs due to Macron’s tax policies and sanctions on Russia. Quite confidently, Le Pen stated that the second election round will be a choice between “division and disorder” under Macron, or “a union of the French people around guaranteed social justice” under her leadership.
How will French-Indonesian relations be affected?
Bilateral relations between France and Indonesia have been simmering well under the leadership of President Macron and President Jokowi, especially after France was locked out of the Australia–UK–US (AUKUS) defense pact. The two countries currently cooperate extensively in areas of defense, with a recent agreement to purchase French-made Rafale fighter jets and Scorpene-class submarines for the Indonesian military. Both state leaders have expressed common concern regarding the growing US-China rivalry and its implications for the Indo-Pacific region (RFI, 2021). Therefore, if Macron wins a second presidential term, French–Indonesian relations may continue to improve on the right track.
If Marine Le Pen wins the second election round, French-Indonesian relations may be negatively affected. Her fierce anti-Islam sentiments, especially her plan to ban wearing hijab in public (The New Arab, 2022), will not sit well with the majority Muslim community in Indonesia, who might consider her as another typical European Islamophobe. Therefore, Le Pen’s victory may mean France’s defeat in its attempt to pursue closer relations with Indonesia. However, her campaign so far has been focused on domestic agendas, so we are yet to see what surprises she has in store for French foreign policy.
All in all, this year’s election will be a tightly-contested second season of the Macron v. Le Pen duel. Most predictive election models show that Macron may just secure victory over Le Pen by a slight margin. But with left-wing Mélenchon voters holding the ultimate key to victory with over 20 percent of all first-round votes, only time will really tell which path France will go down.
Associated Press. (2022, April 14). How France’s presidential election could impact Ukraine war. Retrieved 17 April 2022, from https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-macron-marine-le-pen-france-europe-478e0b797de1ae8aef21ffa39d5c90af
Faure, S. (2022, March 22). France’s presidential elections: All you need to know. Al Jazeera. Retrieved 22 March 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/22/frances-presidential-elections-all-you-need-to-know
Henley, J., & Rankin, J. (2022, April 15). ‘Frexit in all but name’: what a Marine Le Pen win would mean for EU. The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/15/frexit-what-marine-le-pen-win-mean-eu
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Kirby, B. P. (2022, April 11). French elections: Macron and Le Pen to fight for presidency. BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61061230
Mallet, V. (2022, February 14). Emmanuel Macron gambles on economic record to win a second term in France. Financial Times. Retrieved 17 April 2022, from https://www.ft.com/content/5b8021b3-ab0d-4bdf-afb2-c65a3706ed87
RFI. (2021, October 30). France’s Macron looks to Indonesia, India for deeper strategic ties. Retrieved 18 April 2022, from https://www.rfi.fr/en/international/20211030-france-s-macron-looks-to-indonesia-india-for-deeper-strategic-ties
The New Arab. (2022, April 9). France elections: Macron slams Le Pen’s proposed hijab ban. Retrieved 18 April 2022, from https://english.alaraby.co.uk/news/france-elections-macron-slams-le-pens-proposed-hijab-ban