OPINION: A Le Pen presidency in France would be a bigger disaster than Brexit or Trump

A moribund and dull French election has woken up with a vengeance, to the point where a victory for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is now a possibility. John Lichfield looks at whether this is likely, and what it would mean for France.

OPINION: A Le Pen presidency in France would be a bigger disaster than Brexit or Trump
Rassemblement National candidate Marine Le Pen. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

The presidential election campaign fell asleep for many weeks. In the final days before this Sunday’s first round, it has not so much woken up as started to sleep-walk towards a calamity.

A Marine Le Pen victory in Round Two on April 24th is far from certain. I still believe that it is unlikely. It can no longer be discounted.

Arguably that would be a bigger disaster for France than Brexit has been for Britain or Donald Trump was for the United States.

Le Pen – let us recall – wants to make Vladimir Putin an ally, discriminate against foreigners, ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public, disobey EU rules and suspend some French EU payments. Her economic programme is incoherent and self-contradictory. No one in her near-bankrupt party could run a whelk stall, let alone a ministry.

The electoral arithmetic is strange. There is certainly a majority in the country which would like dump to President Emmanuel Macron.

I doubt that there is a majority which actually wants Marine Le Pen – pro-Putin, anti-European, politically sly but fundamentally lazy and incompetent – to become President of the Republic at a time when France and Europe face a deepening and lengthy military and economic crisis over Ukraine.

France is, in a sense, hoist on the fragility and dangers of its binary electoral system and its pathological tendency to hate whichever national politician that it last elected. No President has been re-elected for 20 years; no government has been rolled over by voters since 1978.

 A permanent “alternation” between soft Right and soft Left seemed harmless until the country became fed up with the serial failures of both. The old governing “families” of Left and Right currently command 10 percent of the national vote between them – 2 percent for the centre left Parti Socialiste and 8 percent for the centre-right Les Républicains.

Their demise has left a choice between an ill-understood and badly sold but partially successful attempt to reform the status quo and an ill-thought-out destruction of France’s tolerant, pro-European post-war consensus.

France will probably vote in Round Two on April 24th for either a) an incompetent extremist posing as the sympathetic, pragmatic mother-of-the-nation or b) a young President who is – wrongly in my view – widely detested as a puppet of International Big Business and the hated “rich”.

Macron made many mistakes in the last  five years but he has brought unemployment down to its lowest level in nearly two decades (7.4 percent). The response of French voters? Gratitude? Recognition?  Unemployment, once voters’ number one or number two concern, has slipped to 14th.   

There is just a possibility that the hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, will pip Le Pen for a place in the run-off. If so, all polls suggest that Macron would beat him easily.

Not so if he faces Le Pen. Not any more.  

One poll now gives Macron only a 2 point lead in Round Two. The average of all polls gives him an eight point lead – 54 percent to 46 percent. A month ago his lead over Le Pen was 12 points.

In Sunday’s first round, Macron’s average lead is now 5 points – 27 percent for him, 22 percent for Le Pen and 16 percent for Mélenchon. All the nine others are in single figures. A month ago Macron was at 30 percent and Le Pen on 16 percent.

What on earth happened?

In some ways the figures are misleading. The rival Putin-idolising far-right candidate Eric Zemmour has melted down since Russia invaded Ukraine. From 16 percent in January, Zemmour  is now down to 8-9 percent. His votes have gone back to Le Pen. Overall, the Far Right vote remains unchanged at 32-34 percent.

Macron has fallen from his post-invasion, rally-to-the-flag peak of 31percent. But he remains ahead of his long-term pre Ukraine average of 23-24 percent.

Le Pen’s “surge” is therefore partially an illusion but momentum is the greatest asset in electoral politics. Momentum creates momentum.

 The number of people saying that they will definitely vote on Sunday has crept up from 67 percent to 71 percent in some polls. The extra voters may well be weighted towards the younger, poorer, less educated social categories which turn out reluctantly but vote heavily for Le Pen if they do.

 A couple of weeks ago, when Macron was far ahead, they saw no reason to vote. Now they do.

It also has to be said that Le Pen has fought a skilful campaign and Macron has lacked energy and focus since he belatedly tore himself away from the Ukraine crisis and formally entered the race.

Le Pen chose high prices and low wages as her battleground long before the Ukraine crisis sent fuel and some food prices soaring. Unlike Zemmour, she has suffered only briefly (so far) from the Russian savagery in Ukraine and her long-standing Putin-idolatry.

She had originally wanted to make her friendship with dear Vladimir a selling point. There was a Putin photo feature in a Le Pen campaign leaflet which has had to be shredded by the thousand.

The Macron campaign is only just starting to remind voters of the Le Pen-Putin axis and that, even now, she disapproves of strong sanctions on Russia and arms shipments to Ukraine.  

Macron, until the last couple of days, has misjudged his campaign, either from over-confidence and exhaustion or a combination of both. He is finally showing some appetite for the fight.

That is one reason to believe that the two-week-long, second round campaign will have a different mood and a different dynamic. Le Pen’s Putin baggage will resurface. The incoherence of her economic programme will become clearer.

Despite talk of the demise of the “Republican Front” to  freeze out the Far Right, leaders of both Left and Right (with some exceptions) will pile in behind Macron and against Le Pen in the second round.

In the first round French voters indulge themselves. In the second round they choose the person who seems best equipped to be head of state (who can then be hated for the next five years).

Much depends on the first-round scores. If Le Pen is close behind Macron or snatches first place, her momentum will be maintained. If he is 3 or 4 points ahead, her momentum may be checked.

Prediction: I think Macron will be re-elected but it will be depressingly close.

To hear more election analysis from John, check out the Talking France podcast.

Member comments

  1. Please do NOT publish hate-fueled “opinion” in The Local. It is inappropriate, unnecessary, and will cause you to lose subscribers, like me.

  2. I do not think it matters who wins, all the candidates are anti-foreigner and slightly fascist.
    They all want to make life harder for both those who are here and those who want to move here.
    Le Pen is no angel, but Macron is no saviour.
    Personally – I do not think it will make much difference who gets elected.
    To be honest – 1 term in office is not really long enough to drive change, as Macron has discovered.
    But it is time that the other parties put up new candidates, how many times does it take to get the message no one wants them? some are standing for the 4th time and have not been close to being elected

  3. Nothing wrong with Brexit, Johnny. Don’t forget 51% of Britain wanted it.
    Nothing wrong with Trump either. He was voted in by the Americans too.
    Macron needs to leave, he is a total disaster.

  4. you guys are so left, it’s insane . You never care for French history or language. You left wing nuts

  5. When someone writes “Arguably that would be a bigger disaster for France than Brexit has been for Britain” it hardly inspires much confidence in what else he writes as it is clearly written by a biased person. I expect Mr Lichfield wants Brexit to be a disaster for Britain, and that he is willing it to be so to justify his personal feelings on the matter. Shouldn’t The Local be more neutral in its commentaries on political life?

  6. When a historian looks back in 2100 on Trump in the US, Brexit/Johnson in the UK and potentially Le Pen in France, my bet is that Brexit will for the UK be much more significant relatively speaking than the other 2 for their own countries.
    Because Trumps term was 4 years (or max 8 years, if he win re-election), Le Pen may be for 5 (max 10 years – heaven forbid) – but Brexit for 75+years.
    No one in living memory is going to vote for accepting perfidious UK back into the EU – it only takes one Member State to block the entry with another “Non” (hint).

  7. If The Local continues to be a vehicle for hateful articles like this, I will cancel my paying subscription. I trust that threatening to cancel my subscription is considered a constructive comment.

    I subscribe to The Local to learn about France, not to be subjected to leftist political demagoguery. This is not the first time that Mr. Lichfield has engaged in this sort of leftist/woke propaganda. I think that it is high time for The Local to put and end to his ranting. The Local is not, or was not, a political publication.

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France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.