French President Emmanuel Macron, 2021. (Faces Of The World/Flickr)
On April 24, Emmanuel Macron was re-elected as the French president, making him the first French leader to win a re-election in decades. President Macron once again faced off with Marine Le Pen, a rematch after Le Pen lost to Macron in 2017. Though this race was much closer than the previous, Macron managed to win once again.
The Role of the French President
Unlike many other countries, the French President is solely elected by the people and can only be relieved of their duties by the nation’s parliament. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), “French Presidents have more power than the leaders of most other advanced democracies including Germany, the United Kingdom and, arguably, the United States.” French presidents “not only command the executive apparatus, including the armed forces, but tend to drive the national policy making agenda with little parliamentary oversight.” The President serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, head of diplomacy, head of the executive branch, and shares many powers with the Prime Minister.
The President has the power to deploy nuclear forces independently, although they are not allowed to declare war by themselves. When it comes to deploying forces abroad, the President can deploy armed forces without informing the parliament in advance. The parliament then can decide if they would like to extend deployment past five months.
As the head of France’s diplomacy, the President meets with foreign heads of states and negotiates or ratifies treaties with other countries. The President also ensures that France is represented abroad, and is empowered to name and accredit a French ambassador to do so.
Similar to other democracies, the French President shares power with other government officials. The President shares some powers with the Prime Minister, while having the power to appoint a Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has the legislative initiative in the Parliament ultimately meaning that he can propose a new law, they are mainly in charge of the organization and functioning of the Government of France. One of the Prime Minister’s most significant responsibilities is nominating individuals for important positions: school district chiefs, councilors of the Council of States, and councilors of the Court of Audit. Together, the President and Prime Minister are able to grant pardons to incarcerated individuals.
Voting in France
French presidential elections take place in two rounds, each on a Sunday. This year, voters voted on April 10 and 24. Having two rounds of voting is popular in Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South America, and most of Africa.
The system was created by General Charles de Gualle, the founding father of France’s Fifth Republic and the 1958 constitution. General de Gualle became the first President in France’s modern political era. He created the election system to minimize the influence of the government and preserve the power of the people. In this system, people with different political views can be included in the first ballot. In 2002, a record 16 candidates were on the ballot for the first round.
Though it is possible to be elected as President in the first round by gaining more than 50 percent of the votes, it has never been done before. In the first round, voters are able to vote for any one of the candidates, and the top two candidates then proceed to the second round. In order to vote in France, one must be at least 18 years old and registered to vote by the eve of the first round.
Once registered to vote, voters receive an envelope in the mail containing every official candidate’s platform and ballots. On the two voting days, voters proceed to their assigned polling station. At the polling station, identities are checked and voters step behind the curtain with an official envelope. A single candidate’s name is placed in the envelope and brought to the polling chief. The polling chief confirms the identity of the voter and assures that there is only one name inside the envelope. To complete the process, the polling chief exclaims “A voté,” which means “voted,” and the voter signs their name on a list.
Who is qualified to run for President?
In order to run for President, one must be of French nationality, 18 years of age or older, and registered to vote. The potential candidate must not have been deprived of rights to stand for office in a court of law, be under guardianship, or have national service obligations. The potential candidate must also have “moral dignity,” although this has not been defined.
One of the biggest obstacles for presidential candidates, which has been a requirement since 1976, is obtaining the signatures of 500 elected representatives before applying to France’s Constitutional Council. By doing this, many candidates are weeded out of the process early on in the election. Signatures must be gathered from at least 30 French départments, but no more than 50 from the same départment; an elected official can only support one candidate no matter what happens to that candidate. France is divided into 101 départments, which allows the government to keep track of the growing population. Since 2016, all these signatures have been made public, which may be one reason why it can be hard to gather them. In addition to all of the signatures, a candidate’s financial status and business interests are also made public. Once all of these requirements are fulfilled, a candidate can run for office.
The government has set several laws for candidates during the campaigning period to ensure that the playing field is fair and to prevent election corruption. One such law is that a candidate is restricted on how much they can spend on their campaign. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy surpassed the cap and was sentenced to one year in jail. Candidates must be privately financed by political parties or individual donors who can only donate about $4,800 (U.S. dollars), and no companies are allowed to financially support a candidate. Candidates are able to receive loans, but they must be taken from a political party or a bank that is headquartered within the European Economic Area. Beginning this past election, candidates are no longer allowed to accept loans from foreign states or from non-European banks. This law was added to prevent outside interference in French presidential elections. All spendings must be filed within two months after the election to the National Commission for Campaign Funds and Political Financing. During the first round, a candidate can spend no more than about $18.5 million USD. In round two, the cap is raised to about $23.7 million USD. In comparison, several candidates from the U.S. have spent $10 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial.
With the growing campaigning resources, the government has also placed restrictions on radio and TV networks. Once campaigning officially begins, a candidate must be given the same amount of airtime and a similar number of listeners as other candidates on every network or radio. Banned activities on voting weekends include openly campaigning in front of polling stations, publishing opinion polls, and publishing early results.
2022 Election Results
In the first round, Macron won close to 28 percent of the votes. In a close race, Le Pen garnered almost 23 percent of the votes, just barely beating Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Macron and Le Pen moved onto the second round. 45 percent of those who voted for Mélenchon in the first round stated that they chose not to vote in the second round. 42 percent of those who voted for Mélenchon chose to vote for Macron. Between all candidates that gained more than 4 percent in the first round, 15 percent of those voters chose not to vote in the second round. Despite large numbers of people choosing not to vote, it seemed that Macron would win the election comfortably. However, in the last weeks leading up to the second round of votes, there was a surge in Le Pen’s polling.
In the end, Emmanuel Macron was re-elected as the President of France. Several European leaders proceeded to congratulate President Macron, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Despite the fact that Macron won the election, Le Pen still considers her loss as “a striking victory” as many ideas have been brought to the attention of the government. During her loss, Le Pen’s far-right party recorded a historic 13 million votes.
On the evening of April 24, 2022, Macron made a speech at the base of the Eiffel Tower. In his speech, Macron vowed to respond “efficiently” to the “anger and disagreement” of the divided people of France and called on his supporters to be “kind and respectful” as the country is filled with “doubt and division.” Macron also recognized that many voted for him to prevent Le Pen from becoming President. That same evening, protestors took to the streets of Paris, Lyon, and the western cities of Rennes. Law enforcement groups were forced to use tear gas to break up the crowds.
What happens now?
Now that the presidential elections are over, the elections for representatives in the National Assembly, a powerful house of Parliament, will be held on June 12 and 19. By holding these elections after the presidential elections, the likelihood that elected officials will back the new head of state are raised. It also decreases the likelihood of internal party turmoil and allows France to not have midterm elections.
Macron will now work to fulfill the promises he made during campaigns. Current issues include the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. Macron plans to place a cap on gas and energy prices to fulfill his promise to reduce the cost of living before summer. He has also promised to appoint a Prime Minister who is devoted to addressing climate change. Although we have yet to see how he will fulfill his promise of full employment, many await his plans to resolve the country’s decades of mass unemployment.
Sources & Further Reading