Apr 11, 2022 - World

Populists chase Macron as France’s mainstream parties collapse

Share of votes in first round of French elections
Data: French Constitutional Council; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The presidential election in France on Sunday didn't just cement a second-round rematch between Emmanuel Macron and far-right rival Marine Le Pen. It sealed the total collapse of the center-left and center-right parties that had governed France for decades.

Why it matters: When the centrist, pro-European Macron comfortably defeated Le Pen in 2017, it was hailed as a victory for liberal elites that could stem the tide of populism sweeping across the West.

  • Instead of a revival, Macron's establishment counterparts have today been vanquished in favor of an empowered far-right and far-left.

The big picture: Either the center-right Republicans or center-left Socialists held the French presidency from 1981 until 2017 — when Macron burst onto the scene.

  • He sought to modernize French politics under the banner of a new party — La République En Marche! — that would be both economically and socially liberal, in the traditional sense of the word.
  • Domestic discontent and pressure from the surging far-right forced Macron to adopt some more conservative positions during his presidency.
  • Nonetheless, he's remained staunchly pro-European.

By the numbers: Macron came in first in Sunday's election.

He had 27.84% of the vote, followed by Le Pen (23.15%), far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon (21.95%), and insurgent far-right candidate Éric Zemmour (7.07%).

  • Republican Valérie Pécresse, who at one point was touted as a legitimate contender for the second round, won just 4.78%.
  • Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, finished with a stunning 1.75% — 10 years after Socialist President François Hollande came in first with 28.63% in the first round of the 2012 election.

Between the lines: Because both mainstream candidates finished under the 5% threshold, they will not be refunded by the state for campaign expenses.

  • Pecresse on Monday was forced to ask for urgent donations to save the party.
  • "What is at the stake is the very survival of Les Republicains and beyond, the very survival of the Right," she told members.

What to watch: A victory by Le Pen could threaten to dismantle the unified Western response to the war in Ukraine at a critical moment.

  • She has a long history of praising Russian President Vladimir Putin — and attacking the EU.
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