Macron vs. Le Pen: EU on tenterhooks

With the run-off vote for the French presidency taking place on Sunday, Europe is watching France with bated breath: the latest polls put the liberal incumbent Macron ahead of his far-right rival Le Pen, but his victory is by no means certain. Undecided and left-leaning voters will be crucial for the outcome. Commentators see the vote as decisive for the EU's future.

Open/close all quotes
Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

A vote for democracy at least

For voters on the left, neither candidate is a real alternative, says Upsala Nya Tidning:

“Rumour has it that many left-wing voters in France will be casting blank ballots on Sunday. France is not an easy country to unite. But if there is one thing its citizens should be able to agree on, it is that they should not just cast a democratic vote, but vote for democracy in the world.”

El Periódico de España (ES) /

Frustrated with voting for the lesser evil

El Periódico de España sees difficult times ahead for the next five years - no matter who wins the French election:

“Citizens in general, in France and in all countries, seem to be tiring of having to vote against things and half-heartedly opting for the lesser evil. ... Regardless of the outcome, the key to the future is to gain an understanding of what is prompting a growing number of voters to opt for far-right candidates in a growing number of democratic countries. ... More and more French people believe that the situation will worsen both for the country and for themselves in the coming years. And eight out of ten citizens anticipate large-scale social protests over the next five years.”

Marianne (FR) /

Please no blank cheques for Macron's Europe

The weekly magazine Marianne sees the danger of Macron misinterpreting the significance of his victory should he win:

“Is it not rather cynical to prepare the interpretation of the results on Sunday by describing the vote as a referendum on the EU, if this argument is repeated over and over again? Will the reelected president not then conclude that his victory is also a green light for his stance on EU issues, when in fact it is really just a blockade against the far right, which was only put up between 11 April and the TV debate on 21 April? Linking his election victory with the fate of the EU will then constitute a very worrying blank cheque.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Breach of taboo justified this time

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his counterparts from Portugal and Spain, António Costa and Pedro Sánchez, have called on the people of France to vote for Macron. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung sees no reason to object to this intervention:

“The survival of the EU is at stake in the French presidential election. If citizens value 'plain talk' more than social conventions, then there is nothing wrong with being very clear to the French about Europe's fear of a President Le Pen. Scholz and co. won't be able to impress her supporters, but if even just a few leftists who are fed up with liberal Macron could be persuaded to vote, then this minor breach of taboo would have been worthwhile.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Make more space for the opposition in parliament

Jérôme Gautheret, Italy correspondent for Le Monde, advises France to reform its electoral law, as its neighbours have done:

“If the idea is to change the electoral law, the trade-off between stability and representation lies at the heart of Italian politicians' considerations, who opt for one or the other according to their interests. On the other side of the Alps the need to introduce a dose of proportional representation is often announced during the election campaign, but immediately banished to the shelf of unfulfilled promises after the vote - no government finds it easy to renounce its own room for manouevre once in power. But if Emmanuel Macron does get voted in again he would do well to give this issue priority if he doesn't want to experience another five years of social unrest.”

Le Courrier (CH) /

Continue the resistance

For France's voters on the left, the priority now must be to safeguard their means of protest, urges Le Courrier:

“Letting Marine Le Pen into the presidency means clearing the way for a fascist party that will move quickly to extend its influence across the entire administration, destroy the judiciary and attack any form of opposition. ... The Macron alternative is anything but rosy. It means repression of protest movements, tightened asylum policy and an inability to implement social and environmental projects. But it does not aim to raze the state apparatus. The existence of an opposition in parliament, and especially on the streets, remains possible. That is where the resistance must continue.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

No sign of a clear vision for France

Le Figaro found Macron and Le Pen too technocratic and unclear in the TV debate:

“Financial concepts and measures for specific demographics piled up without even a glimpse of a vision that might bring order to this great jumble of propositions. The fear is that a large section of the electorate will have felt overlooked in this debate. The immaterial strengths of the nation - its history, its institutions, its beauty, its language, its prestige, its culture and its schools - struggled not to go under in this sea of numbers. But politics cannot be reduced to technocracy.”

Ethnos (GR) /

Right-wing populist dynamics

Commenting on Le Pen's high poll ratings in Ethnos, editor Timios Fakalis writes:

“We should not forget what Georgios Stephanidis, president of the Greek-French Scientific Institute, has stressed: namely that in the first round of the elections there was a party that was even more right-wing extremist, that of Eric Zemmour: 'This means that Le Pen was not presented as far right, but rather as 'reasonably' far right. When standing next to a more extreme party, you come across as less extreme.' ... Another element that has boosted Le Pen's ratings is that she has captured a large number of votes from the traditional right-wing base, which seemed divided and undecided in the first round.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Macron needs to mobilise voters on the left

Aftonbladet predicts that to win the presidential election Macron will have to secure left-wing votes, but fears that this will prove difficult:

“After the demonstrations of the yellow vest protest movement in 2018, the president was forced to back down on increasing climate taxes on fuel. Marine Le Pen's policies don't seem to appeal to many people on the left. The biggest threat to Macron on Sunday is that Mélenchon's voters will stay at home. The liberal president simply hasn't done enough to win them over. Since 2017 he has pursued right-wing policies. Now he has four days to veer to the left.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Frantic PR campaign backfiring

The Tages-Anzeiger examines Macron's new PR image in which he sports an open shirt revealing a hairy chest:

“There are now articles, books and sociological studies all trying to fathom the phenomenon of cross-class hatred of Macron. ... His wordy know-it-all attitude, his educated cosmopolitan posturing, combined with the overbearing youthfulness of a precocious class swot. ... Faced with this problematic image, Team Macron has evidently decided to send the message: the president doesn't spend all his time studying government files. ... The problem is that trying to correct an image by frantically staging its opposite in a hastily thrown-together campaign only serves to underline the alleged or real weaknesses.”

Falter (AT) /

Outcome of election unpredictable

Der Falter sees European integration teetering on the edge:

“[Le Pen's] election is unlikely, according to the polls, but it was also once considered unthinkable that Donald Trump would move into the White House. France today is just as unpredictable as the US. ... The incumbent needs to unite democrats on the right and left behind him if he is to prevent the nation from collapsing into an authoritarian-nationalist quagmire. What he pulled off five years ago will not be so easy this time. The people's fury has torn apart the conservative and social democratic establishment. Macron needs votes from the camp of left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who cannot bring himself to endorse the president.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The candidates have changed

La Stampa looks at how the starting positions of the candidates have changed since the last presidential election:

“They are the same contenders as five years ago, but they are no longer the same. Le Pen has worked on her 'de-demonisation', her normalisation, to free herself from her radical far-right image, and the candidacy of Éric Zemmour has unexpectedly contributed to this. Macron has five years of government behind him, marked by the bitter protests of the yellow vests, Covid, the war in Ukraine and an election campaign that, until the alarming polls that predicted he would win with just 51 percent, he did not take seriously enough.”

Público (PT) /

Le Pen's dangerous plans

If Le Pen wins on Sunday, Europe will face a profound crisis, writes Sandra Fernandes, a political scientist at the University of Minho, in Público:

“Marine is keeping open the possibility of holding a referendum on France leaving the EU. ... Her first measure as president would be a referendum on immigration and the status of foreigners, with the aim of criminalising and abolishing the jus solis principle that determines the granting of nationality. The 'blue tsunami' could mean populism and the circumvention of institutions, as Prime Minister Orbán has instigated in Hungary. Plus: a normalisation of relations with Russia and a deep rupture in Franco-German relations.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Will France go the way of Poland and Hungary?

Rzeczpospolita is convinced that

“a victory for Le Pen would deal a powerful, perhaps even fatal blow to the Western institutions that have guaranteed Polish security and prosperity over the last generation. ... The EU has been weakened for years by the conflict with Hungary and Poland. This could be one of the factors that Putin identified as having the potential to create a lack of unity in the West in the event of an invasion of Ukraine. But if France were to go down the Polish-Hungarian route, the consequences would be even more far-reaching. With a European Union built on the reconciliation between France and Germany, but Paris out of the game, would it be able to rely solely on Berlin's leadership? Historical experience certainly suggests otherwise.”

Libération (FR) /

Young voters left without options

It's hardly surprising that many young French people are choosing not to vote, comments sociologist Didier Fassin in Libération:

“All those who have come of age in the last ten years have only had the choice between the conservatives and the far right in the presidential elections. Young people, many of whom traditionally vote left, can no longer express this preference. ... For [them], Thatcher's famous 'there is no alternative' has shifted from economics to politics. ... Young people are being condemned for their decision to abstain or cast an invalid ballot, yet to them it seems as if the politicians are forcing their hand.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Le Pen would be bad news for the Kremlin

For Russia it would be better if Macron wins this time round, writes Radio Kommersant FM:

“If five years ago in the analogous duel of the second round the Kremlin's sympathies were more on Le Pen's side (she was even received by Putin), things are not so clear today: Le Pen would rather forget about her Russian connections. After the Bucha tragedy she demanded that the French ambassador be recalled from Moscow - while Macron wasn't prepared to take such a radical step. She also maintains close contacts with the right-wing Polish government, which advocates maximum sanctions against Russia. Macron, on the other hand, insists on the need for dialogue with Putin - for which he has been sharply criticised by those same Poles.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

So much is at stake

The second round of voting will be a referendum on the future of the EU, Jutarnji list comments:

“We can no longer even count on traditional parties joining forces to prevent a dangerous election outcome. Because the two traditional parties, the Socialist Party and The Republicans, which belong to the two largest party families in the EU (the People's Party and the Socialists and Democrats), have suffered a total defeat. They didn't even clear the five percent hurdle and won't get money for their election campaigns, which is why their candidates are now facing personal bankruptcy. So the second round on 24 April will be a kind of referendum on the future of the EU.”

Contrepoints (FR) /

New divide between the people and the elites

After the first round of voting France seems to be divided into three camps represented by Macron, Le Pen and Mélenchon. The traditional parties, meanwhile, have become meaningless, Contrepoints notes:

“The left-right divide has been replaced by the split into elitist and popular camps. The popular bloc in turn consists of a nationalist and a communist wing, which gives an advantage to the elitist bloc represented by Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the elections. The old divide between PS [Parti Socialiste] and LR [Les Républicains] no longer exists. Between an Anne Hidalgo with 2 percent and a Valérie Pécresse with 4.7 percent, the old political class has failed to use the five years in opposition to renew itself.”

L'Obs (FR) /

Traditional parties no longer exist

French political life has changed fundamentally in the past five years, economist Daniel Cohen comments in L'Obs:

“First of all it must be said that the traditional political parties no longer play a role in France. What Macron, Le Pen, Mélenchon and Zemmour have in common is that they have not submitted to any real nomination process. All of them have founded a party in line with their own ideas (except Le Pen, who inherited hers), whose only candidates so far are themselves (together with Jean-Marie Le Pen). This transformation is due to two developments: a public that no longer tolerates established state bodies and the degeneration of the Fifth Republic, where everything revolves around the election of one person.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Don't forget Le Pen's Russian ties

Helsingin Sanomat is surprised that Le Pen continues to enjoy so much support:

“From a Finnish perspective it's amazing how quickly the French have forgotten Le Pen's links to Russia - or decided to ignore them. Let us hope that this issue will be raised in the debates before the second round of the elections. The images of the horrors of the war in Ukraine can be seen in France as we see them here, and they should not leave anyone indifferent. In free democracies citizens will of course vote as they see fit. But when they go to the voting booth to make their choice they should have a realistic picture of the candidates.”

Contributors (RO) /

Disappointed left-wing voters

The incumbent will not be able to count on the votes of the left in the run-off vote this time, as he did in 2017, writes political scientist Alexandru Bussi in Contributors:

“Five years ago, Macron himself ran a populist but pro-European anti-system campaign - there was talk of an extremism of the centre that was directed against politicians. This has left its mark, Macron has disappointed many - above all his voters who came from the left and who, as the voter analysis shows us, have now switched to Mélenchon. Only a few will return to Macron on 24 April. The frustration of Macron's left-wing voters is all the greater because his promise five years ago was precisely to stem the advance of the far right.” (DE) /

France needs a stronger parliament

The best offer Macron can make to the disappointed voters would be a far-reaching reform of electoral law, writes ARD's Paris correspondent Julia Borutta in

“Move away from the presidential republic model with an almost omnipotent president behind whom everyone must rally and towards a strengthened parliament with proportional representation. This would mean that the political convictions of the French people would finally be adequately represented in the National Assembly, including the extreme ones - integrated into parliamentary control. For Macron, who once evoked Jupiter to describe his political role, this would be a painful step. But in the end, it is the only way to ensure that a duel like the one France is facing once again now never happens again.”

Slate (FR) /

Frexit or leadership?

The choice the French make in the second round of voting will have significant implications for their country's role in the world, Slate warns:

“The key point is: do we want to stay in Europe and continue to claim the leadership role that other Europeans, more often than not, acknowledge? Or do we want to lead France down the disastrous path that Boris Johnson has taken - toward a Frexit that pretends not to be one? Do we want to turn our backs on our alliances while dictator Putin is bringing war back to the heart of Europe and rallying European far-right movements around him? The vote on 24 April will be a way of telling the rest of the world who we want to be.”

El Mundo (ES) /

France cannot be Hungary

El Mundo pins its hopes on the reasonableness of the electorate:

“With a record 26 percent at the time of going to press, abstention is back in the spotlight, and several observers put it down to Le Pen's good chances. It should be noted, however, that the main losers, from Mélenchon's left - which received a whopping 20 percent of the vote - to Pécresse, Jadot and Hidalgo, have called on voters not to vote for Le Pen. They still associate her with an anti-European and xenophobic project even if she has toned down her discourse and focused on the economy. Voters must take responsibility in the second round: France cannot be Hungary. Such an experiment cannot be permitted.”

Documento (GR) /

No walk in the park for Macron

The weekly Documento writes that the incumbent president has less chance of winning the race against Le Pen than he did in 2017:

“Macron's term in office has taken its toll in terms of PR, because in the eyes of the average Frenchman he's the 'president of the rich'. This means he is counting more on the votes of the urban middle class, unlike Le Pen, who is trying to reach out to the lower classes in rural areas with populist rhetoric. To put it simply, Macron can't say 'Vote for me to stop Le Pen', because the French are not afraid of a Le Pen presidency.”

Sme (SK) /

Le Pen only seemingly transformed

Marine Le Pen as president would be bad news for Europe, Sme fears:

“Le Pen is still a destructive force who, if she wins, would jeopardise what democratic Europe needs most right now - unity and cooperation on the conflict in Ukraine, on economic recovery after a pandemic and on the transition to a green economy. ... Never before has the far right been so close to winning the French presidential election. And that is not a pleasant statement in times of crisis. Because the fact that Le Pen is trying to soften her image as a pro-Russian and anti-Islamic politician doesn't mean that her political nature has changed.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Anti-systemic forces are strong

Corriere della Sera warns:

“The sovereignist voice roars louder than ever. And this in the capital of the Enlightenment, reason, universal human rights and planetary brotherhood. ... The overwhelming 24 percent that Marine Le Pen secured yesterday in the first round of the presidential elections is worth more than the two-thirds majority garnered by her friend Viktor Orbán. Not least because to Marine Len Pen's supporters one must add those of Éric Zemmour's far right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon's radical left, which together with the Trotskyist and royalist groups push the anti-system electorate over the fateful 50-percent threshold.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

The country must face difficult questions

Macron's re-election would not banish the prospect of a Le Pen presidency for good, Rzeczpospolita comments:

“Even if Macron emerges victorious, France will have to face difficult questions. The president himself said at the beginning of his term that Le Pen would come to power 'in five or ten years' if he did not succeed in profoundly transforming the country. The left must also unite: if it had managed to do so before the current round of voting, Le Pen would not have made it to the second round. Because the danger still exists: in 2027, the leader of the far right still won't even be 60 years old.”