Macron's second term to be tested by Le Pen
French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen is gathering her party's troops to plot out a victory in France's parliamentary election in June after a presidential run-off loss to Emmanuel Macron on Sunday.
Centrist President Emmanuel Macron beat Le Pen 58.5 per cent to 41.5 per cent , but the 53-year-old nationalist firebrand momentum charged into what is called the "third round" of voting, hoping to turn the tables on Macron's majority in parliament.
Le Pen's high support on Sunday laid bare a European Union nation that is fractured between those she refers to as the "France of the forgotten" — the vulnerable working class that has been hard hit by rising inflation and the fallout from sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine — and what she calls the "elitists" of Macron's staunchly pro-EU voters.
Flinders University senior lecturer Dr Romain Fathi said on Monday morning Australian time:
"Providing Macron’s party La République en Marche! can win the Lower House election in June – which it is predicted to do – the first major outcome of this election is continuity.
"For now, France remains a stable, moderate, “steady-as-she-goes” nation with inclusive values. No major change in policies (are) expected under Macron.
"And this, paradoxically enough, might become a major issue because the 2022 election results have clearly shown that the French long for radical changes and for their concerns to be addressed.
"Those include cost of living, inflation, low salaries, the environment and immigration.
Whether Le Pen can break through the ceiling of voter fear that has blocked her party in the past is central to capturing enough seats in parliament.
Still, the fear factor played a large role in her presidential loss. Dr Fathi projected late last week that Macron's appeal was not on his own policy platform, but as the candidate opposed to Le Pen's agenda.
Le Pen's program, which would crack down severely on immigrants and diminish the role of the EU and NATO in France, sent many voters into the arms of Macron. That was not due to their support for the 44-year-old president but to their desire to block his populist opponent. Le Pen also questioned why France is sending arms to Ukraine.
A revamped France under Le Pen — with less Europe — also pushed some voters aside.
Her goal was to create a "Europe of Nations," replacing the current system with a patriotic version that would have returned some powers to EU countries, whose sovereignty she and other populist leaders feel has been diminished.
Italian right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, a close Le Pen ally, pledged to continue their common project toward this vision.
"Onward, together, for a Europe founded on work, family, security, rights and freedom," he said in a tweet late Sunday.
Many voters already expect that Le Pen will gain more seats in parliament, the question is only how much.
"The gap (between Len Pen's and Macron's parties) is closing, and the National Rally party is going up," said French music teacher Valérie Jacquet, 56.
She said that shows the French are worried about their purchasing power — Le Pen's main campaign theme — and security.
"But I think that Mrs. Le Pen's platform is too extreme. She pushes people apart," Jacquet said.
The National Assembly currently has 577 seats, with Macron and his allies controlling 313 of them. Le Pen's party has only 8 seats now but would like to upset Macron's majority with a broader right-wing movement to hobble his ability to get his agenda passed.
The legislative vote comes in two rounds on June 12 and June 19. Candidates who win a majority in the first round are elected. If no one does — a common occurrence in France's fractured political landscape — those who get at least 12.5 per cent of the vote in a race go into a runoff on June 19.
If Le Pen's party had enough members to form a group in parliament, it would get more precious speaking time and clout. Had she become president, she would have switched to a largely proportional system that would allow her party to muscle its way into relevancy.
Jordan Bardella, who held the party's presidency while Le Pen campaigned, told reporters outside party headquarters:
"The movement we created, we're at the start of the beginning.
"In reality, everything is about to start."