The real danger to Emmanuel Macron's hopes of re-election may not come from Marine Le Pen, but from his former prime minister, argues Dr William Rispin.

With a year to go until the next French presidential elections, polls predict that the second round will see a repeat of 2017, with Emmanuel Macron facing Marine Le Pen.

The leader of the Rassemblement National is expected to offer a greater challenge this time. In the 2019 European elections, her party came top with 23% of the vote. The 'republican front', whereby in the second round of elections supporters of the traditional parties vote for the candidate best capable of defeating Le Pen, seems to be weakening. One survey regarding the 2022 presidential elections found that she might receive 46% of the vote, a significant increase from her score of 34% in 2017.

However, there are reasons to doubt that Le Pen will be the next president of France.

The European elections and presidential elections follow different voting systems. MEPs are selected after only one round, whereas in the presidential elections, the two highest scoring candidates in the first round face each other in a run off. Voters will choose their favourite candidate first, but then select whichever of the two that remain they dislike the least.

Participation is much higher in presidential elections. While voters are becoming more disillusioned with politics, they will still turn out to choose their head of state. For example, in 2014, around 50% abstained in the European elections, but only 25% did so in the second round of the presidential elections of 2017.

Polls may currently overestimate support for Le Pen in the second round. The political scientist, Jérôme Jaffré, explained in Le Figaro that it is easy for Left-wing voters to tell a pollster today that they would abstain rather than choose between Le Pen and Macron. If this scenario arises, many are likely to reluctantly go to the polls to stop the Rassemblement National coming to power.

Should Macron should lose in 2022, it will probably be against someone other than Le Pen.

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It currently seems unlikely that the challenge will come from the divided Left. Despite talk of parties working together, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the Far Left, La France Insoumise, has said he will not join any union. Without him, an alliance would be doomed to failure.

The Centre Right is also in difficulty, as Les Républicains have no obvious presidential candidate. One of its former representatives, Xavier Bertrand will stand as an independent. Polls predict that he could receive around 15% of the vote in the presidential elections, insufficient to be present in the second round.

There is another possibility; the candidate who defeats Macron in 2022 will be none other than his former prime minister, Edouard Philippe. Polls show that he is the most popular politician in France. Many believe that he was sacked as PM in 2020 because he had become more popular than his boss.

Although Philippe left Les Républicains to become prime minister, he remains highly regarded amongst his former colleagues. Jean-François Copé, has argued that Philippe could unite the Centre Right. Gérard Larcher, who has been given the role of deciding how the party will select its representative for the next presidential elections, has lunched with Philippe.

There are still many obstacles on Philippe's road to the presidency, should he stand. Firstly, he currently lacks the backing of a party. This did not prevent Macron being elected in 2017, but this is more the exception than the rule.

Philippe also faces competition from several figures seeking the votes of the same electorate.

As president, Macron has adopted many policies of the Centre Right. This is particularly the case as regards economics. The electorate he targets has therefore changed. In 2017, nearly half of those who called themselves Socialist Party supporters backed him. Since coming to power, his support has come mainly from the electorate of the traditional Right. Just last week, it was announced that Renaud Muselier, the Les Républicains president of the South Eastern PACA region, had agreed an alliance with Macron's party ahead of June's regional elections.

There will be also other representatives from the Right. As mentioned above, Xavier Bertrand has already declared that he will stand. There might also be a candidate from Les Républicains. This would fatally split the Centre Right vote, leading to all its representatives being eliminated.

There is still a year to go before the elections. History suggests that there will be several twists and turns before then. But do not be too surprised to see Edouard Philippe climbing the steps of the Elysée Palace in May 2022.

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