Ask a Prof: Should the world be relieved by the French election results?

Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential elections on May 7. With 65.8 per cent of the vote, it was a resounding victory for Macron and his political movement En Marche!. Following Brexit and President Trump’s election, Le Pen’s defeat is a relief for those concerned about the rise of populism and nationalism around the world.

Laurie Adkin is a political science professor at the University of Alberta and teaches courses on European and Albertan politics, as well as Canadian environmental policy. We asked her how elections work in France, why these results are significant, and what they mean for the far right in Europe.

 

The Gateway: A lot people might not know how French elections work, could you explain it?

Laurie Adkin: In the first round, there are many presidential candidates and people could vote for any of them. The two candidates with the highest percentage of the vote go into the second round of voting. Typically it’s a left-right kind of alternative. This election was a new phenomenon in France because you had a centrist-independent candidate and a far-right one. There was a strong abstentionist movement because people were very unhappy with the choice they had of either Macron or Le Pen. For others on the left, it was very clear that one had to vote for the lesser of two evils.

So why is it significant that Macron won?  

It’s a relief for people all around the world, and particularly those in Europe who were very worried about the possibility of Marine Le Pen becoming president. Le Pen is the leader of the Front National, a party on the populist far right that has a very strong stance against immigration.

What does Macron’s election mean for the European Union?

Le Pen’s position was to renegotiate France’s membership in the European Union to restore more sovereignty to France, and if no agreement was reached she proposed having a referendum to withdraw France from the European Union. The fact that Macron was elected means there’s no imminent prospect of France withdrawing.

It’s very significant because you have the United Kingdom negotiating a withdrawal from the European Union, and if another major country like France were to also have a referendum and withdraw, it could mean the collapse of the European currency and the beginning of the disintegration of the European Union.

Many people see this as a reversal of the white-nationalist, anti-globalist trends that sort of began with Brexit. Should people feel relaxed by Macron’s victory?

No, because Le Pen has expanded her party’s electorate into traditionally-left segments. Le Pen won about five million more voters than her father did in 2002 when he got into the second round. Unless something happens in the short term to address these problems of unemployment and income insecurity that many people experience, and unless there are reforms at the European level, it’s not by any means a done deal.