Macron’s Reelection: Putin’s Long Shadow Looms Large Over Decisive French Vote

Written by | Tuesday, April 26th, 2022

French President Emmanuel Macron won re-election on Sunday (24 April) with 58% of the vote, compared with 41% for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, but a third figure was ever so present — Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For much of France’s four-month-long presidential race, Macron looked like a shoo-in to become the first French president in 20 years to win reelection. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Macron had quite rightly painted himself as an irreplaceable figure who could hold the Kremlin at bay or at least serve as the one reliable avenue into the mind of the Russian dictator. But Macron’s attempt at remaking Europe in the French image and himself as its powerful, focused leader, has not worked out quite as he’d hoped. Instead, Europe has been plunged into the worst conflict on its continent since the Second World War. Meanwhile, back home, Le Pen was quietly focusing her efforts on the pocketbook issues that French families care about most deeply — especially inflation, now passing 4.5%, more than triple the level a year ago.
Still, Le Pen has been burdened by her long-standing flirtations with Putin’s regime and campaign loans from Russian banks, not to mention by her suggestions that France might do better outside the European Union or even NATO. While French voters are certainly concerned about Russian atrocities in Ukraine, these are, in the mind of most French, still a distant second behind “purchasing power.” Still, in the end, France, Europe and the free world have survived a substantial challenge to their collective well-being. The Russian president has ultimately suffered a profound blow as Macron defeated far-right challenger Le Pen, a Putin ally, to become the first French President in a generation to win reelection. The size of Macron’s margin, despite the high abstention rate — the highest in at least two decades — could give him a substantial boost toward a definitive majority in the National Assembly when elections are held in June.
Many French voters were clearly dismayed at the prospect of Le Pen-let France that would have sought a path toward accommodation with a Russia that is a pariah to much of the free world, and looked inward, pulling back from Europe. At the same time, Le Pen would have likely enforced a ban on headscarves for women or yarmulkes for men and staged referendums to disempower a legislature and judiciary she has never succeeded in dominating. While congratulations came flooding in from across Europe and the world, including from Putin himself, Macron faces many challenges ahead, as he seeks to govern a deeply divided country. Macron acknowledged that many people voted for him simply to counter Le Pen, while commending their “sense of duty” and “attachment to the Republic.” Macron’s priorities during his second term will focus on the continuing support for the EU, his trademark policy ever since he first came to power in 2017, as well as on defense, energy, climate, migration and digital autonomy within the EU.

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