As battle lines begin to be drawn ahead of the French Presidential elections next year, Dr William Rispin argues that, far from posing a major threat to his presidency, Emmanuel Macron should be relieved Marine Le Pen is his closest rival.

The French presidential elections will be held in April next year. Polls have consistently predicted that the second round will be a contest between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. This has led commentators, particularly on this side of the Channel, to argue that the outgoing president faces a tough battle to secure re-election. But just how real is the threat from Le Pen?

It is true that she has brought the party she took over from her father closer to power than he ever managed. In 2002, his appearance in the second round (partly as a result of complacency on the part of the left) sent a shockwave through French society. It shows how much the French political scene has changed that there was little surprise when his daughter was present in the second round in 2017, and she is expected to be so again in 2022.

Although Marine Le Pen was comfortably defeated in the second round in 2017, she gained almost double the vote that her father had in 2002. Should she face Macron again next year, some polls predict that she will receive the support of around 45 per cent of the electorate.

A factor that is expected to work in Le Pen's favour is the continued lack of enthusiasm for Emmanuel Macron. A major reason for his victory in 2017 was because he was 'none of the above'. He was not the Socialist Party, whose outgoing president, François Hollande, had been seen as a failure, particularly in his attempts to significantly reduce unemployment. Unlike the candidate of the centre-right, François Fillon, Macron was not tarnished by scandal. Nor was he linked to the political extremes. Many from across the political spectrum voted for him because they believed he symbolised change, although they disagreed over exactly what change he represented.

The French have not warmed to Macron since he has been in power. He has often come across as aloof and arrogant, and insensitive to the problems of those struggling to get by. He has also had to face significant protests from beyond the political establishment – first by the Gilets Jaunes, and now by those who oppose the new vaccine passport, the passe sanitaire (although it should be noted that there is more opposition from the public to the current protests than there was towards the Gilets Jaunes).

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This has led to speculation that Le Pen could pose a serious threat to Macron's hopes of remaining in the Elysée Palace. However, a careful analysis of the situation shows that it remains unlikely that she will become the next president.

A major problem that she faces is that, despite her attempts to soften her party's reputation, it is still not seen as a party like any other. The traditional practice, whereby in the second round of elections where the Rassemblement National is present, the other parties stand down and urge their supporters to choose the candidate best placed to prevent an RN victory, is still respected, particularly by the left. Many voters who would otherwise have abstained will vote simply to block Le Pen.

This was seen in June's regional elections. In the first round, Le Pen's party received the largest share of the vote in the South Eastern PACA region, but was defeated in the second round, following the decision of the Green candidate, who had received 17% of the vote in the first round, to withdraw and call on his voters to defeat the far right.

The regional elections also suggested that there may be a tendency for pollsters to overestimate its performance in elections. The RN had been predicted to receive the largest share of the vote in the first round in six regions, but achieved this in only one of them. Polls that suggest a particularly tight contest in the second round of the presidential elections should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Indeed, Macron's party appears content that the biggest threat to their candidate's re-election is from the far right. In July, the Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, told the Right-wing newspaper Le Figaro that Le Pen was the president's most serious opponent for the 2022 elections. This was not a compliment, but a cynical political ploy to persuade voters that the traditional parties will be incapable of mounting a serious challenge and should be ignored, as Macron is the only protection against the far right.

Far from being a threat to him, Le Pen's presence in the second round would almost certainly assure Macron's re-election. A credible alternative from the centre-right or centre-left is yet to emerge. However, there is still time for this to happen, and this would be something that the president would really be worried about.

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