Macron hammer blow as Le Pen 'more in tune with daily issues'
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But, unlike 2017, this rematch between Le Pen and President Emmanuel Macron is more likely to see the incumbent limp across the finish line than leave his rival in the dust. In a televised debate watched by millions on Wednesday, neither candidate landed the killer blow. But what was clear from the showdown was that Le Pen and her fellow hard right challenger, Éric Zemmour, have between them set much of the agenda in French politics.
The hard right now commands a solid one-third of French public support, something which has forced Macron to at least adopt more of their language during his time in office.
What should worry Macron supporters even more however is that even if their man does cross the finish line in 2022, he will not be there to do so in 2027.
The French constitution only permits two consecutive five-year terms, and Macron’s party – La République En Marche! – is really his vehicle, with no obvious successor after he goes.
As for other torchbearers on the centre ground, one of the great stories of this election has been the near total collapse of the traditional parties.
Between them, the traditional conservative and socialist parties scraped together just over 6.5 percent of the vote. Indeed, it was leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon who came a close third in first round voting, and first among 18-34-year-olds (Macron only polls top among the over-60s, a further ominous sign).
How Mélenchon’s supporters will break will be crucial in deciding Sunday’s vote. Data suggests around 41 percent will plump for Macron, while a further 35 percent could either stay home or cast a blank ballot. Just 24 percent could vote for Le Pen. What is becoming clear however is that the French centre is being squeezed with little to inspire it after Macron leaves office.
It is not inconceivable then that 2027 could end up as a battle between the hard left and the hard right, between them now winning over most of the French public, but also united in their support for more protectionist economic policies, and united in their greater hostility towards NATO and the EU.
Of course, the hard left and hard right disagree on contentious issues like immigration, and it is here – in common with the rest of the Western world – that the French culture war is at its most brutal. This, in a country where soldiers are openly warning of civil war.
All of this must raise concerns in Brussels and, should he win, give an added incentive to Macron to push his pro-European agenda while he still has the chance.
The French public, while Eurosceptic by Western European standards, still largely back EU membership, something which no doubt contributed to Le Pen’s decision to publicly back France remaining in the bloc.
That said, French Euroscepticism shows no sign of retreating.
Le Pen has been accused as promoting ‘Frexit’ by the back door, with policies such as prioritising French law over EU law, and wanting to decrease French funding for the EU. More concerning for Brussels however is that Le Pen’s hostility towards the EU and NATO is only matched by comparable hostility from the Mélenchon camp.
Polling increasingly suggests that between them the hard left and hard right now align with the bulk of the French people, and could emerge as the two pillars of French politics by 2027 as no obvious successor emerges to Macron. While Brussels can probably breathe a sigh of relief in 2022, the next election could be the long-awaited earthquake.
Of course, much could change between now and then but conditions on the ground in France and Europe are unlikely to have altered dramatically by the end of a second Macron term, certainly not in ways which would help a centrist contender for President. It is quite likely therefore that 2022 will serve as merely the prelude to the next proper French Revolution in five years’ time.
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