In a repeat of 2017, France’s 2022 presidential election is now down to the same two candidates: the incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far right leader Marine Le Pen. In first round voting which took place on Sunday, centrist Macron emerged with 27.6% of the votes while Le Pen managed 23.4%. This is a bigger showing for Le Pen and her National Rally party (formerly National Front) than five years ago. The determining second round vote will be held on April 24.
While the war in Ukraine continues to dominate most headlines, the French media has naturally been focused on the election throughout yesterday and today. Newspapers in far-flung corners of the globe are not giving as many column inches as in 2017 — which saw a historic first round in which France’s major political parties did not advance. However, the UK and our European neighbors are following closely as the National Rally’s brand of extremism is on the rise across the continent. In the U.S., the New York Times noted, “Le Pen’s strong performance demonstrated the enduring appeal of nationalist and xenophobic currents in Europe.”
In 2017, Macron beat Le Pen in a landslide final with 66% of the vote. This came after a crushing debate in which an unprepared Le Pen flailed. The two are now set to debate again on April 20.
Macron has lately been focused on the war in Ukraine and his role as a continental statesman, though many in France have become increasingly concerned about cost of living and rising inflation at home.
Populist Le Pen, who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was one of the first international politicians to celebrate Donald Trump’s U.S. presidency, has attempted to soften her image and that of her anti-immigration party, by focusing on economic issues and playing to the countryside. Her program, however, still includes a call for a referendum that would alter France’s Constitution and ban policies that lead to “the installation on national territory of a number of foreigners so large that it would change the composition and identity of the French people.”
In the wake of the results, there have been calls for a barrage to block Le Pen’s advancement. Most of the first round also-rans including socialist Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the Republican party’s Valérie Pécresse have urged their supporters to favor Macron. Pécresse warned of “chaos”, “impotence,” “discord” and “bankruptcy” should Le Pen be elected, while also noting the candidate’s “historical proximity to Vladimir Putin.” Leftist Jean-Luc Mélanchon, who scored the third most votes in Sunday’s round, tacitly endorsed Macron by repeatedly telling supporters, “You must not give one vote to Mrs Le Pen.”
The main candidate who is driving his fans towards the controversial politician is ultranationalist former TV pundit Eric Zemmour.
Le Pen declared on Sunday night, “I will restore France to order” and spoke of a “choice of society and even of civilization” to safeguard “the legitimate preponderance of French culture and language” as well as “sovereignty reestablished in all domains.”
Macron said, “I want a France in a strong Europe that maintains its alliances with the big democracies in order to defend itself; not a France that, outside Europe, would have as its only common international allies the populist and the xenophobic. That is not us.”
Whichever way the ultimate outcome swings, the future of public broadcaster France Televisions could be in the balance. Macron has said he would do away with the annual TV license fee that serves as its main funding. While he has not proposed a replacement, allies have suggested funding would come from the state. This could compromise the broadcaster’s capacity to pursue a long-term investment strategy and be shielded from partisan pressure.
Meanwhile, Le Pen wants to privatize France Télévisions, about which analyst Claire Enders says, “No one in their right mind would attempt this… It’s a gigantic force in France.” If privatized, Enders suggests billionaire businessman and media titan Vincent Bolloré would be the beneficiary.
Enders tells Deadline that the government has always “welched on their commitment to France Télévisions… France Télévisions has always been absolutely 100% achieving and exceeding its regulatory envelope and the government has systematically for 15 years been doing the opposite.”
Either way, says Enders, “You have to have France Télévisions exist, be independent, be trusted. Otherwise, the French have no access to free information that they trust in their language… Come what may, there’s a great deal of uncertainty… What is absolutely alarming is the anti-democratic nature of the proposals of either Macron or Le Pen.
It’s unclear for the moment how the outcome could affect the rest of the entertainment sector if Le Pen rises to power, although the industry last time around rallied not so much with Macron but against Le Pen. She has officially abandoned her Frexit platform — one she put forth in 2017 that would have seen an attempt to take France out of the Euro — but her program still includes measures that are in contradiction with European treaties, potentially calling into question the freedom of movement of goods, and also people, as Les Echos noted last week.