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Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies - European University Institute

French elections, Macron's paradox: 'He won by losing'. Analysis by Olivier Roy

The French political scientist, and professor at the European University Institute: “Victory by default. The president loses votes on both the right and the left”.

28 April 2022 | Opinion


Paris. "This election will go down in history as Emmanuel Macron's paradox: the president wins by losing. He retains the Elysée. But his is a victory by default. He does not hold on because he is popular, but rather because the Marine Le Pen option was considered unacceptable by the majority of French people".

Olivier Roy is a French political scientist, professor at the European University Institute, and holder of the Mediterranean Chair at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies.

So, are we far from the enthusiasm that in 2017 led the newly elected president to also win an absolute majority in the National Assembly?

"The vote shows that. The country is divided. Macron has to come to terms with the fact that he is now deeply unpopular in a large section of French society. He survived the vote mainly because Marine Le Pen did not live up to her ambitions. The LREM leader lost on the left: and did not gain on the right. The only real novelty of this election was the result obtained by Mélenchon: the popular vote - that of the suburbs - and the vote of young people went mainly to him. And this means above all that he got the young Muslim vote. He intercepted the discontent of the less integrated, of the suburbs, mainly by refraining from talking about Islam. In short, Macron's electoral base has shrunk: in fact, he now counts on a centre-right electorate: the one that voted for Chirac and Sarkozy. True, the left-wing electorate has now allowed him to win. But they did not choose him in the first round and who knows how they will vote in the general election in June. A period of great unknowns is opening up.

The paradox of Marine Le Pen, however, is that she is losing, but growing...

"She has succeeded in two things: getting rid of the demonisation linked to the figure of her father, Jean Marie. And consequently, she managed to normalise herself politically. Of course, the hard-liners preferred the sovereigntists Zemmour. But even this has played into her hands: as it moved her towards the centre, contributing to her acceptance. In fact, when people talk about her, they no longer define her as an extreme right-wing leader. Only right-wing. If she did not win, it is because she failed in a third thing: appearing presidential. She did not appear well enough informed, she let Macron corner her in the debate by lecturing her, in short, she didn't manage to accredit herself as a figure politically serious enough to aspire to the presidency".

In France there is now a third major party: the abstentionists.

"Unfortunately, this is part of a more general crisis: that of political parties. The French no longer vote for them. Republicans, socialists, communists, environmentalists: they have all been defeated. It's the age of movements, which are no longer rooted in the ground, they don't have political headquarters or militants as they used to. They are volatile by definition. As is their vote, which is no longer one of belonging but of discontent, mere change for the sake of change.

The original Italian version of the article was published 25 April 2022 on La Repubblica.

Last update: 28 April 2022

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