The infamous painting by Eugène Delacroix “Liberty Leading the People” reminds the world of the July Revolution of 1830 which overthrew King Charles X of France. The lady in the center of the painting with the French tricolor always symbolizes the concept of freedom and reminds the whole world of the revolutions and the sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long way to go from the revolt against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to the establishment of a modern democratic society with the principles of ” Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity “.
France and the United States are rightly considered the cradle of modern democracy. The French Revolution taught the world lessons about revolution, freedom, modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of July 14 which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From the creation of the 1st Republic (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5me Republic (5and Republic) under the constitution drawn up by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.
Today, France holds its presidential elections. As the French believe, “You vote first with your heart, then with your head”, the first round of voting ended on Sunday 10and April and the presidential debate on 20and April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24and of the second round of the April elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and to analyze Why are the French presidential elections important for Europe?
French electoral system
France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the center of power and the prime minister leads the government. The President of the French Republic is elected by direct universal suffrage in which all French citizens aged 18 and over can vote, whether or not they reside in France. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-tower system is widely practiced in Central and Eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.
To apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures from elected officials and they must come from at least 30 ministries. A candidate can be independent or represent a political party. There is no limit to the number of candidates who can run in the presidential elections. For example, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017-2011 and 2022 there are 12. While all candidates are entitled to equal media presence, the amount of campaign spending is also controlled; for the 1st round, expenses must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, they were limited to 22.5 million euros.
This year, the 1st voting round ended on 10and April while the second is to be held on 24and April 2022. In the first round, the 12 candidates were eligible but in the second round, only two candidates having obtained the maximum number of votes are qualified for the second round.
A brief overview of the candidates for the French presidential election
Emmanuel Macron, five years ago, at 39, became the youngest French president of the French Republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of France’s two major parties – Republicans and Socialists – by running a “neither left nor right” campaign. During the tenure of hardline centrist Emmanuel Macron, France saw GDP growth of 7%, unemployment fell 7.2%, and the crime rate fell to 27%.
Far-right Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also in the running against Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 elections. and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. While adopting the party’s anti-immigration stance, she renamed the party Euroscepticism than French nationalism.
This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron in the lead with a carry out 4.7% of the vote (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).
Why are the French presidential elections important for Europe?
While European defense is mainly provided by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French President Macron said, “Europe must finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”advocating for a “European security” framework in the context of tensions with Russia over Ukraine.
On the other hand, Le Pen’s party was suspected of having received funding from a Russian bank linked to Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radio, Le Pen said: “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this rapprochement which risks being for us the greatest danger of the 21st century”, she even added, “Imagine… if we let the world’s largest producer of raw materials – which is Russia – [create an alliance] with the first factory in the world — which is China — to let them constitute perhaps the first military power in the world. I believe this is a potentially great danger. These statements only further bolster claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russian.
While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, is known for her “Frexit” plan, i.e. she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, in the 2022 elections, it seems that Le Pen has softened his position on Frexit. Another important issue relating to immigration was important not only for France but for the whole of Europe. This question of immigration is directly linked to “economic and cultural concerns” which raise significant concerns about the socio-political and economic integration of immigrants into French society and respect for the principle of secularism (secularism with French characters).
As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in the event of an influx of migrants and is also pushing to rethink the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said he urged the EU to be more effective in expel these entries refused. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign declared“I’m going control immigration and establishing security for all. It is pertinent to note that Macron introduced strict laws relating to immigration and the control of Islamic radicalization. For example, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding of mosques.
What is more interesting to mention are the worries about “energy” during the presidential election. Clearly, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has drawn more attention to the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France in particular, there is a significant split between the pro and anti-nuclear fractions. Interestingly, France has the second largest number of nuclear power plants in the world after the United States. Moreover, during the last week of the elections, Macron tried to win the hearts of French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and to regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear power plants and aims for nuclear power to supply 81% of France’s energy by 2050. While current President Macron and the far-right candidate right Le Pen are both committed to the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming, it is obvious that their approaches differ, particularly on energy. France being the second European economy, France’s climate policy could have an echo throughout the EU.
Furthermore, in light of the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis, Macron has played an important role as he is the bridgehead between Russia and the United States. He also brokered talks between Washington DC and Moscow and also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie. Indeed, he played the role of de facto leader of Europe in the face of the Ukrainian crisis. Nevertheless, with a marginal first-round victory over Marine Le Pen, winning the 2n/a term is not as easy as it was five years ago.
More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2n/a strongest military and 2n/a largest economy in Europe, besides the 5and largest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the Global Soft Power Index. It is also a founding member of the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, which makes it an important player in European politics. Therefore, the policies of the French leaders not only direct the political, social and economic life of the French, but also reverberate in Europe.