On the 24th April 2022, Emmanuel Macron was re-elected as President of the French Republic for a second five year term, beating candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Rally in a rematch of their 2017 contest. This week, we ask four members of the European Leadership Network to reflect on what this might mean for France’s foreign policy in the months and years ahead.
In Foreign affairs, Macron’s re-election means that continuity will prevail. Building a stronger and more independent Europe will remain the main objective of French diplomacy. Le Pen’s victory would have led to a disruption in France’s alliances.
However, we should speak of continuity in inspiration, not necessarily in policy, because of the challenges stemming from the conflict in Ukraine.
In the new context, President Macron will have to help Europeans maintain their political unity, reinforce their defence capabilities, and completely review their energy policies while becoming more resilient in other strategic fields. He will need to deploy pragmatism, considering that European defence can be less separate from NATO than ever, and dialogue with Moscow will be hazardous for a long time.
Macron will also be sensitive to the risk of Europe becoming more provincial in a more fragmented world and will strive to avoid that. The imperative to meet the Russian threat should not prevent Europe and France from playing a part in Africa or the Indopacific or in the multilateral fora. The President will also insist that Europe must help fight against a North-South polarisation. These aims could play in favour of renewed strategic Franco-British cooperation.
Michel Duclos, Former Ambassador; Special Adviser to Institut Montaigne, Paris (Senior Network)
In theory, President Macron’s re-election should mean continuity in foreign policy – especially in the French system, as the President of the Republic directs this arena. Nonetheless, this assessment will hinge on the results of the second round of parliamentary elections on June 19th: Macron’s ability to muster a majority, as he did in 2017, is a risky bet. We need to consider the possibility of cohabitation (a parliamentary majority antagonistic to the President) – a condition the country has not seen for two decades.
As the presidential election made clear, French society is deeply divided. Macron’s need to devote increasing attention to internal affairs will mean that the areas of foreign policy with the greatest overlap will be affected the most. In the President’s eyes (but not necessarily in the eyes of his citizens), this includes EU policy and, to a lesser degree, relations with the UK. In the event of a divided government, Macron’s ability to shape the country’s foreign policy – or any policy, for that matter – would be consequently weakened.
Ana Palacio, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Spain (Senior Network)
Macron’s decisive election victory gives him new authority as Europe’s most experienced statesman. The war in Ukraine will define his immediate international priorities. He will continue to give strong support to Zelensky. But he has not paid a political price in France for maintaining a dialogue with Putin, and he will want to be at the centre of any ceasefire negotiations. He will capitalise on the sea change in EU, and especially German, attitudes to hard power in order to push his longstanding objective of European strategic autonomy while also ensuring that he is Joe Biden’s key interlocutor in Europe.
Re-setting the deeply troubled relationship with Britain will not be high on Macron’s list. He has lost confidence in Johnson as a serious partner and will see no point in declarations of good intent. Repairing the damage will need actions, not words: practical cooperation on Ukraine and some shared new projects in defence or energy. Crucially, the British Government has to demonstrate that its word can be trusted. If London were to unilaterally suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol, especially at a time of such deep crisis in Europe, that would destroy any chance of improving UK-French relations for the foreseeable future.
Peter Ricketts, Former Ambassador to France; Former National Security Advisor, United Kingdom (Senior Network)
There was a sigh of relief in Helsinki, also in conservative political circles, when president Macron secured his new term in Elysée on April 24th. There are two reasons for this, and both stem from Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.
First and foremost, Finland’s soon-to-be NATO application and hopes of a short transition period from candidate to member could be jeopardised. Negative surprises, especially from a powerful NATO and EU country such as France, are not needed if (and when) Finland is embarking on its path to NATO membership. Unsurprisingly, opposition from the Finnish far-right to a Le Pen victory relates to the country’s increasingly precarious geopolitical position, despite its seemingly shared dislike of immigrants (from the Middle East and Africa, but not Ukraine), EU integration, and liberal values.
President Macron is expected to support Finland’s NATO process, but he will also need to appease the less globalist and more EU critical part of the French population during his new term, which could mean less attention to deeper EU integration. A position likely to be welcomed in Finland’s Parliament, where many are suspicious of plans for shared debt between EU states – a widespread criticism raised against the EU in Finland.
Moreover, Marine Le Pen’s past pro-Putin remarks and funding arrangements from Russia raised fears of serious cracks in the EU’s alliance against Russia, primarily related to sanctions – A view finding unity across the political spectrum from the Greens to the True Finns (two typically arch-enemy parties). In the past, Finnish leaders, almost regardless of party, held relatively careful and polite approaches to Moscow. Today, there is a rare and placid consensus among Finnish parliamentary fractions for tougher sanctions against Russia, more weapons to Ukraine, and a strong and united EU (but only toward Russia!). This unity would have been harder to achieve with Mrs Le Pen in power and could have meant more dangerous times for Finland.
Sinikka Parviainen, Senior Analyst, East Office of Finnish Industries (YGLN)
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or all of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.