Emmanuel Macron reelected: four key themes for his second term as president

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Emmanuel Macron has fended off the challenge from Marine Le Pen to secure a second term as president of France after taking 58.2% of the vote in the second round of the national election. He is one of only a very small number of French presidents to win reelection. And since the French constitution limits leaders to two terms, this will be Macron’s swan song, whether he likes it or not.

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That could be interpreted as a carte blanche for Macron to go hell for leather on his controversial reforms to the French state, which include raising the retirement age and making significant changes to labour laws. But some significant obstacles lie in his path. These are some of the key themes he will encounter in the months ahead.

The cost of living

Macron has quite an impressive record on the economy, having reduced stubborn unemployment levels to their lowest in 13 years. Macron also steered France through the unprecedented shock of COVID-19 lockdowns, with one of the most generous aid packages in Europe.

But he also stands accused of seeking to remake France in his own image and, given he is a relatively privileged former finance professional, this has alienated many. Macron faced a significant challenge from the left during this election, clearly indicating that there is distrust for his neoliberal economic leanings. It’s likely that the left will gain seats in the crucial legislative elections in June 2022, which will make it harder for Macron to pass reforms through parliament and force him to walk back on some of his more ambitious plans such as reforming labour laws and making welfare benefits more conditional.

The unprecedented cost of living crisis in France was a key battleground in this election – and Macron will be keenly aware of the potential for this to cause civil unrest.

It was a rise in fuel prices that triggered one of Macron’s most significant challenges during his first term – the yellow vest movement. Angry and at times violent protest unfolded across the country in the year leading up to the pandemic. With left and right both disaffected, that unrest is likely to return.

Macron, not worrying about further reelection may simply bulldoze through the dissent. This will be critical – the army already made an unprecedented foray into French politics during Macron’s first term, offering to step in if the violence continued. All eyes will be on them if trouble bubbles up once more.

France’s role in the world

Macron does not only face insecurity at home as he begins his new term. Combined with COVID-19, the war in Ukraine made his first term of the most unpredictable and historically significant presidencies in a generation.

Macron at first seemed out of step with other western nations when Putin invaded. He made several trips to Moscow and insisted for longer than others that dialogue must be maintained with the Kremlin. He has more recently accelerated France’s supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine, but the delay could cost him. If the conflict takes a turn for the worse and Ukraine is defeated, Macron – and the German chancellor Olaf Scholz – will face questions about why it took so long to supply the weapons needed to respond to the Russian threat.

In his first term, Macron made multiple unsuccessful attempts to put France back at the centre of global security. His anti-jihadist operations in Mali ended with Mali asking France to leave. His reportedly saying that Nato had become “brain dead” caused outrage and plans for an EU army don’t appear to have made much progress, despite regular interventions on the subject. With Germany stalling and Sweden and Finland set to join Nato, the EU army idea is dead. Macron would be wise to work closely with Nato and recognise that it is the preeminent organ of European security – improving France’s sometimes reluctant relationship) with it.

Brexit and immigration

Brexit has been a constant thorn in Macron’s side. He is highly critical of the more free-wheeling attitude taken by the government of Boris Johnson. But, years after the referendum, key matters remain unresolved. In particular, there is a lack of agreement about fishing rights for British and French vessels in the waters around the two countries.

The UK’s departure from the European Union also created a lack of clarity over how to deal with immigrants and asylum seekers crossing the Channel from France to England.

But all this is not to say that Macron’s term will be defined by coming up with solutions. There is very little incentive for Macron to tackle illegal migration across the channel, for example, given his need to put France first in the European migration debate.

Johnson, and whoever succeeds him, has a tough partner in Macron, who is likely to still push for both compliance on issues such as the Northern Ireland protocol – a key tenet of the Brexit settlement that remains and issue for the UK – and further concessions on symbolic populist issues such as fishing rights.

Identity, Islam and secularism

In 2017 Macron came to power on a reformist agenda, having little to say about identity, secularism and the more immediate structural socioeconomic segregation experienced in France’s suburban housing estates.

He is unlikely, however, to walk back the rhetoric on integration that has been so unpopular with French Muslims. His seperatism bill, which is designed to regulate Islam and gives the state the power to close NGOs and mosques, has been incredibly divisive – but has proved popular with centre right voters, among his core constituents.

It is nevertheless important for the French political establishment to get at the nuances and diversity of French Muslims and acknowledge that, not only is a “French Islam” possible but that various versions of French Islam have been practised for several decades.

No one could have seen in 2017, when Macron first came to power, that he would have to deal with so many events of historic importance. His second and final term will not be an easy one, even if he has shown himself capable of rising to unexpected challenges.

A larger question to consider for the next presidential election in 2027 is whether anyone can take over his political movement “Republique en Marche!” Perhaps even more concerning, with the collapse in both the centre right and centre left in France, is what kinds of parties, movements and political figures will emerge to challenge the movement after two stints in government.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Joseph Downing does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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