Freddy Gray

Like him or loathe him, Macron is Europe’s driving force

It was, in the end, a disappointing night for Marine Le Pen

Like him or loathe him, Macron is Europe's driving force
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If you want to know why Marine Le Pen almost certainly won’t win the French presidency on 24 April, listen to the speech of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the man who came third in today’s first round of the presidential election. ‘We know who we will never vote for!’ said Mélenchon, the far-left autodidact who somehow outdid his strong 2017 performance and won more than 20 per cent of the vote tonight. ‘We’ll never give up our confidence in democracy.’

He then repeated, four times or more, as the crowd cheered louder and louder: ‘We mustn’t give a single vote to Marine Le Pen.’ The worry for the French establishment is that a large number of Melenchon’s voters – furious as they are after five years of Macron’s leadership – will not listen to his counsel and will plump for Le Pen, whose ‘anti-globaliste’ economic programme speaks to them more than anything Macron proposes.

But the sheer weight of people from far-left, to centre-left to centre-right who will spend the coming days denouncing ‘the far right’ over and over again, who will swear that a Le Pen victory would represent the death of French democracy, should be more than enough to re-elect Macron.

The fear of l'extrême droite turned out the Macron vote today and will in all probability be even more potent in two weeks’ time. The contrast to Mélenchon is Éric Zemmour, the hard-right alternative to Le Pen, who collapsed in the polls in the last few weeks of the campaign and ended up with 7 per cent of the vote. Tonight he told his voters to plump for Le Pen in the second round. He said that, while he has his differences with her, Macron was a disaster for illegal immigration in his first term and could be even worst in his second.

A curious eventuality might be that, just as quite a few Mélenchon voters could end up ignoring their man and lending their support to Le Pen, a large number of Zemmour voters may decide they can’t quite vote for Le Pen and help re-elect Macron.

It was in the end arguably a slightly disappointing night for Le Pen. Yes, she got 23.6 per cent of the vote — more than the 21.3 per cent she won in the first round of 2017. But the polls suggested the result would be tighter. Was that all part of Macron’s ‘project fear’ to drive out his vote? Or was the media just desperate to make the contest more interesting than it was?

Emmanuel Macron isn’t popular. Many people hate him. In Menton, near Nice, on the Côte d’Azur today, almost every poster of him has been defaced, usually with a little Hitler moustache. But there can be no denying that, when it comes to elections, he is a brilliant politician. 

After five years of crisis leadership, through Covid, the Ukraine war and more, he still outdid his staggering 2017 first round triumph by 4 percentage points. The first snap poll for the second round suggests that Macron will squeak through: 51 per cent to Le Pen’s 49. But the polls also suggested that Sunday night would be a lot closer than it was. A lot of French people say they don’t know anyone who voted for him. But a lot of people do vote for him and they did again on Sunday night. He hasn’t won re-election yet, but he is now the overwhelming favourite to retain the Élysée. 

More than anyone else, he is the driving force in French and European politics and, unless something very strange happens in the coming fortnight, he will remain so until 2027.