Paris, France – On Sunday, the French will go to the polls to vote in the first round of the presidential elections.
As Emmanuel Macron’s presidency has been plagued by tumultuous events over the past five years – such as the rising cost of living and the coronavirus pandemic – voters will have the opportunity to choose to stick with him. for another term or to change course in favor of more radical leaders.
Here are five questions on the minds of voters:
France’s place in the world
Russia’s war on Ukraine gave Macron an opportunity to flex his muscles as head of state, using France’s NATO membership to conduct shuttle diplomacy.
“NATO is becoming important again for the French, and France is becoming essential again within the alliance,” former French ambassador Michel Duclos told Al Jazeera.
Although Macron is the only frontrunner to be pro-NATO, the unlikely event that France leaves NATO if another candidate wins will only marginalize the country from its allies, especially the United States.
And if the far-right eurosceptic candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour did not hide their virulent criticism of the European Union, they refrained from calling for “Frexit”.
“Europe has been a big part of Macron’s agenda during his tenure,” Duclos said. “Its balance sheet has been mostly positive, with the vaccination and recovery plan following the coronavirus pandemic, all handled on a European scale.”
This has made it more complicated for candidates to base their campaigns on leaving the EU.
“Marine Le Pen has understood this, but she remains hostile to the European institutions and will above all guarantee the sovereignty of the States. If elected, he will definitely weaken France’s position in Brussels.
According to a study conducted by the Ipsos group, 58% of respondents said that purchasing power was the most important subject for them. Health and the environment follow, at 27% and 25% respectively.
Frédéric Marty, economist at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and lecturer at the University of the Côte d’Azur, said France is experiencing its worst inflation in 30 years.
The concept of declining purchasing power is not new, he said, adding that it appeared right after the changeover to the euro.
“It was basically related to what we call an anchoring bias, with the consumer’s perception fixed in the past,” Marty said. “Between 2000 and 2020, we have seen inflation of around 2% per year. Over 20 years, this represents 35%”.
The most affected by this situation are low-income households, which are struggling to make ends meet.
People who live in the suburbs and use a car to get around are also struggling, due to rising energy prices – which the war in Ukraine has exacerbated.
The disappearance of the left
Of the 12 candidates in the running, seven are from the left. A lukewarm attempt last April to get the left to stand in a united front behind a single candidate was defeated, leading to ever-greater fragmentation in leftist votes.
Unlike the French right, which runs campaigns based on differences of opinion, the left has fundamental beliefs on which it disagrees, said political analyst Thomas Guenole.
“The French left should have two major candidates: reformist and radical,” he said.
While far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon – currently third in the polls – can be seen as coming from the radical camp, his party’s anti-capitalist ideology refuses in principle the idea of a united left.
“Mélenchon will never be able to go to the second round and unite the left behind him because he is an extremist,” Guénolé said.
The reformist left, represented by the Greens and the Socialist Party, also refuses to merge – even though their views are, according to Guénolé, representative of the right and left wing of the same party.
The scattering of the vote to the left – or its collapse – is attributed to the general shift of the political spectrum to the right.
“Half of far-left voters are now left-wing voters,” he said. “Voters on the left moved to the center or to the right.”
“In 1982, 50% of voters voted left,” he added. “Today, one in four voters does. The global electoral left has collapsed by more than 50%.
The issue of immigration has been at the heart of French presidential elections for decades, notably with the rise of the far-right National Front party in the 1980s.
According to Gilles Ivaldi, a researcher at Sciences Po’s Cevipof Institute, the fear of immigration is directly linked to the “economic and cultural concerns” of a multicultural society – mainly understood as the integration of Muslims into European societies.
“All of these issues have become political concerns,” he said. “Studies show that the French think there are too many immigrants in France, and a large part of them want to limit the number of entries into the country.”
Macron has “toughened up his immigration policy due to public pressure and the rise of the far right”, Ivaldi said.
The general trend in public opinion, which extends to the majority of European countries, is what Ivaldi described as “identity closure”.
For politicians, he continued, it is a matter of balancing this trend, the need for immigration to bolster an aging country’s workforce, and international law obligations to refugees and family reunification.
The extreme right
France, like many of its European counterparts, has seen the rise and integration of the far right into its political arena.
“Far-right success is tied to socio-economic status,” Ivaldi said. “As we know, the far right thrives when unemployment rates are high.”
The far right has bundled its concerns about Islam, immigration and a multicultural society into very agitated, anti-immigration rhetoric, he said.
For 40 years, the far-right National Front (FN) party – now called the National Rally – has spread such ideas in French society.
“A lot of parties, especially on the right, are appropriating some of the FN’s favorite themes to limit the rise of the far right,” Ivaldi said.
“So there’s a first phenomenon that far-right ideas about immigration, Islam, multiculturalism and this conspiratorial idea of the ‘great replacement’ – all of these ideas are now trivialized, mainstreamed,” he said. he declares.
These candidates, Ivaldi said, seem less shocking to the public now that their ideas are already known and shared by many people.