The French Presidential Election is Around the Corner. Here’s What You Need to Know

The 2022 French presidential election is currently at its most intense point. On April 24, the French voters will have the chance to decide their new president and what the next five years of their country will look like. Before the final result is revealed, here’s what you need to know about the French presidential election.

How is the French President elected?

The French Republic follows direct universal suffrage, introduced by Charles De Gaulle in 1962. This means all French citizens above 18 years old can directly vote for the presidential candidates. The French people also have the opportunity to vote even when they are living outside France. In North America, French citizens can directly vote for the candidates at the French embassy. In French-speaking cities such as Montreal, Canada, French voters can also go to polling stations specifically set up for the French presidential election.

In order to be considered as a candidate, the applicant must be a French citizen over 18 years old and have fulfilled obligatory services under the National Service Code. The applicant must collect at least 500 signatures from elected representatives in more than 30 French government departments and then provide the Constitutional Council with a declaration of assets and interests. Once approved, the candidates can officially run for president and start the campaign. The candidates need to follow strict campaign policies and can spend no more than €16.85 million until the first round of the election. Failure to abide by the policies may lead to legal consequences.

None of the candidates were able to receive a majority vote this year, resulting in a second round of the election, which will be on April 24. The French people will choose between the top two candidates who received the most votes in the first round. The result of the second round of voting will be announced within ten days. 

Who are the running candidates?

Up until the first round of the election, there were 12 presidential candidates. The top five candidates include the incumbent President and leader of La République En Marche Party Emmanuel Macron, Le Rassemblement National (National Rally Party) leader Marine Le Pen, La France Insoumise leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Reconquête leader Éric Zemmour and Valérie Pécresse, who represents the Les Républicains (Republican Party).

France does not have distinct bipartisanship. Many of the candidates come from newly founded independent parties. For example, the newest party, Reconquête, was founded by Éric Zemmour in 2021. The traditional parties that used to have more influence on the France political sphere are now losing their footing. Notably, the Socialists and Republicans obtained less than 10% of the vote in this election.

After the first round on April 10, Macron and Le Pen became the top two candidates who won the most votes, with 27.9% and 23.1%, respectively. Without winning an absolute majority, Macron and Le Pen will enter the second round of the election. 

The two candidates have been competitors since 2017. According to Le Monde, the manifestos of Macron and Le Pen differ greatly politically. Marine Le Pen is the leader of the National Rally Party, a far-right party previously known as the National Front. In terms of the economy, Le Pen has focused on increasing the “purchasing power” of the people. This means tax cuts on essential goods and energy. She hopes to abolish real estate taxes, raise the minimum wage by 10%, remove income tax for people below the age of 30 and cut sales taxes on goods such as gas and electricity. She also wants to lower the minimum retirement age requirement to 60 years old.

When it comes to France’s foreign policy, Le Pen takes a more nationalistic stance: she believes in reducing France’s responsibilities to the EU and having French law supersede EU law. She also calls for more frequent examinations of imported goods. Le Pen plans to have France leave NATO, which advocates for the collective defense of Europe. Le Pen’s policies become very controversial when she openly stated that she would want to have closer relationships with Russia after the Ukraine War. 

What makes Le Pen even more controversial is her firm stance against immigration and minority rights. For instance, she has advocated for stronger border control and banning Muslim women from wearing headscarves in France. 

This is Le Pen’s third run for President. She lost to Marcon five years ago during the second round of the election, receiving only about 34% of the vote. However, Le Pen seems to have a higher chance of winning this year. Compared to the last election, Le Pen softened her image to attract non-far-right voters. For example, she stopped calling France to withdraw from the EU and asked her country to make fewer contributions instead. During the first round of the 2022 election, the gap between Le Pen and Macron drastically narrowed to less than 5%, putting Macron at an unprecedented disadvantage.

Unlike Le Pen’s far-right views, Macron and his party take a centrist stance. Macron plans to make two major changes in the domestic economy—by reducing the unemployment rate and reforming the pension system. Contrary to Le Pen, who wants to lower the legal retirement age to 60, Macron wants to raise it to 65 to support France’s national pension system. In the meantime, Macron favors increased investment in energy and the military. To ensure France’s commitment to fighting climate change, Macron also supports the establishment of more nuclear reactors in order to generate nuclear energy that can replace fossil fuels.

When it comes to foreign policy, Macron is pro-EU involvement and wants to continue to push for European autonomy, especially in areas such as military and energy. In terms of the French alliance with the US, in 2019, Macron warned that NATO is experiencing a “brain death” and that Europe cannot rely on their American ally. However, he has now shifted his attitude and is more welcoming towards NATO, especially with the recent events in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Macron still believes in creating a Europe that does not rely on American power and influence. 

When it comes to immigration, Macron is far less radical than Le Pen. Yet, he also has adopted stricter policies toward immigration in his 2022 manifesto to attract right-wing voters. These policies include reinforcing the French border and reforming the Schengen zone to reduce the number of immigrants entering Europe.

Who is getting more public support?

A poll from Reuters indicated that, as of April 18, Macron is in the lead with an approval rating of 55%, putting him at 10% ahead of Le Pen. Multiple media outlets have also expressed confidence in Macron’s reelection. The Guardian points out that the upcoming second round makes people take a closer look at Le Pen’s manifesto, and realize that Le Pen’s softened image may not necessarily represent softer policies. What is more, Le Pen has recently been accused of embezzling around €137,000 ($148,000) of EU funds while serving in the European Parliament between 2004 and 2017, which has also negatively impacted her approval rating. 

What are the global impacts of the French election result?

If Macron succeeds in renewing his term, he is likely to lead France in a more moderate manner, promoting an independent Europe and investing in the future of the EU to better protect France’s national interest globally. 

Currently, most of the concerns are towards France which chooses Le Pen as the president. Analysts from the Atlantic Council indicated that France is an important member and major contributor to organizations such as the EU. It is the only EU member that is a nuclear power and holds a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. France’s foreign policies may also create a significant impact on these organizations. Le Pen has a long-held negative view of the EU, and her connections with Putin have also raised concerns about the EU. The analysts added that a potential Le Pen presidency could bring an existential crisis to the EU. 

The future of France lies in the hands of its people. Whether France citizens want to have another five years of centrist Macron or conservative Le Pen is still uncertain. The world will need to wait until after April 24 to find out.

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Alicia Liu

Xiao Alicia Liu is a freshman currently majoring in Communication and minoring in International Relations. Alicia hails from China and attended high school in the United States, where she took French as her third language. At USC, Alicia is a staff writer at Daily Trojan and a member of the Trojan Debate Team. Her areas of interest include foreign policy, intercultural relations, and international organizations. She also hopes to combine her academic interests by studying media impacts on a global scale.
liualici@usc.edu