The French Presidential Election and the Future of Europe

Marc Rastoin, SJ

 Marc Rastoin, SJ / Culture / 15 June 2017

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In the end, Emmanuel Macron emerged victorious from the French presidential election, winning the runoff with 66.1 percent of the vote, against the 33.9 percent obtained by his opponent, Marine Le Pen. The new French president won 20,703,631 votes, while the National Front leader received 10,637,183. At over 25 percent, abstention reached its highest level since 1969, while blank or invalid votes reached a record high at 12 percent. While the subsequent June legislative elections are unfolding, it is important to look back at the presidential race and the phases that led to the runoff, to understand how the development of France’s political situation constitutes a key factor in the “crisis” of the original European Project.

France and the Future of the European Union

National interests were not the only thing at stake in the recent election. Also at stake was the future of the European Union – the project that, since the Treaty of Rome, has sustained the hopes of Europeans who are not resigned to the end for their continent or to its “exit from history.1

Just as it was in 2002, the second round was a runoff between a proEuropean candidate and the candidate for a party that has opposed the European project for the past 30 years. Of course, Brexit called the project into question in 2016, but France was among the EU’s founding states, and, as we know, reconciliation between France and Germany after the Second World War was the basis for Project Europe.

Nonetheless, the level of Euroscepticism that emerged from the election’s first round was a critical signal of the crisis Europe has been facing for several years now. The fact that only one candidate out of 11 clearly committed to Europe’s political unity was, in itself, a novelty and a surprise.

I will try to analyze this diffidence toward Europe, which goes well beyond France. Of the factors influencing the vote and contributing to profound changes in the French political landscape, many are common to other Western democracies, while some are more clearly tied to the specific context.

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