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Victory for Le Pen in France’s presidential election would have big repercussions for France — and the rest of the EU

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French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen arrives on stage during an election campaign meeting in Arras, northern France, on April 21, 2022, ahead of the second round of France's presidential election

Though opinion polls show a Marine Le Pen victory as unlikely, she was at one point only 3 percentage points behind President Emmanuel Macron. Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

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France goes to the polls on Sunday, April 24, for the second and last round of the presidential election. While Emmanuel Macron seems likely to secure a second term, the rival contender, Marine Le Pen of the hard-right National Rally party, has been snapping at his heels. At one point in the campaign, she was only 3 percentage points behind the president.

Macron’s re-election should have been a shoo-in. As president he has cut unemployment, restored the French economy to pre-COVID levels and cut a dash on the world stage in his attempt to avert the invasion of Ukraine. However, as observed in a recent BBC interview by political scientist Romain Pasquier, Macron’s also acquired an unhelpful image at home.  

“There is an expression in French nowadays that Emmanuel Macron is ‘Le President des riches’ — the president of the rich,” Pasquier said.  

Macron’s pro-business reforms, his plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and his rather aloof manner have apparently alienated many voters. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen has taken an entirely different tack.

Professor Douglas Yates of the American Graduate School in Paris said that Le Pen has a laser-like focus on the cost of living crisis.

“She wants to create basic wage increases. She wants to get rid of the sales tax on fuel which is something that hits poor people in their pocketbook the most,” he said.  

Le Pen has also pledged to lower the retirement age for people who started work young and, in a successful bid to attract younger voters, she’s promised to scrap income tax for everyone under 30 and to offer low-interest rate loans to young couples starting families. And she’s softened what was previously a hard-line image.

“She has tried to make herself seem nicer, like someone who wants to take care of you, who’s concerned with the people,” Yates said.  

But the hard-line policies remain. She envisages a deep cut in immigration, a ban on wearing the Muslim headscarf in public and a plan to restrict housing and welfare benefits to French nationals. Le Pen is pro-Russia, anti-NATO and anti-European Union.

“It would be hugely problematic for the EU if it had to deal with a President Le Pen,” said Ian Bond, a former British diplomat now with the Centre for European Reform think-tank. Le Pen has ditched her plan to pull France out of the euro but, Bond claims, she’s still intent on blocking and hindering the Union.

“That’s unlikely to be to France’s economic benefit,” he said. “France is an economy that is highly integrated into the European economy. Along with Germany, France is one of the motors of the EU. And so Marine Le Pen could cause a lot of damage.”

Marine Le Pen and her supporters claim that President Macron has damaged France. They argue that the ever-closer integration with the EU that he favors, paired with high levels of immigration, pose a threat to the French national interest and French identity.

At their last rally before the last round of the presidential election, members of Le Pen’s party chanted, “We’re going to win.”

Opinion polls suggest they won’t, this time at least. But against a background of economic malaise, low pay and job insecurity, support for hard-right policies has been rising steadily.   

”There’s a storm on the horizon,” said Yates of the American Graduate School in Paris. ”I would not be surprised, in five years’ time after the next presidential election, to see the extreme-right taking power in France.”

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