Analysis: There are many factors which could trip up Macron's return to the Élysée Palace in 2022, but it would be wrong to write him off

The most important event in the French political calendar will take place next year. The first round of the 2022 presidential election will be held on a Sunday between April 10th and 24th, with the second round held two weeks after the first. Recent opinion polls reveal a strong showing for Marine Le Pen, the far right leader of the Rassemblement National (RN) party, in next year’s election, with her candidacy garnering 47% against Emmanuel Macron's 53% of the vote.

However, it is always wise to view such opinion polls as a temperamental snapshot of a moment, particularly in this turbulent time of Covid-19. After all, no such poll conducted at a similar time before the 2017 election had foreseen Macron’s breakthrough and his eventual, and still enduring, disruption of the traditional right-left party duopoly that had reigned since de Gaulle's establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland in July 2019, Emmanuel Macron's announces plans for a French space force command

Macron had only created his centrist, liberal political party, En Marche! (now called La République en Marche! or LREM) in April 2016 and then faced a daunting path to the presidency. Nevertheless, the latest polls serve as a reminder of the formidable threat that Le Pen could pose to Macron’s re-election bid next year.

The incumbent has been viewed as veering more towards the right this past year. He appointed a hardline Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, who recently accused Le Pen of being 'almost a little soft’ in a televised debate.

Following three attacks carried out by radical Islamists late last year, including the beheading in October of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, Macron pushed forward an 'anti-separatism' bill in order to combat Islamist extremism. Approved by the French Parliament on February 16th, the bill expands the state’s powers as regards online hate speech, polygamy, religious-based education and funding. On April 15th, the parliament passed a security bill proposed by Macron’s party, which aimed to restrict the publication of police images on social media and extend the use of surveillance drones, amid other measures.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One in 2019, John Litchfield, reports on how France has been paralysed by a nationwide strike over President Macron's planned pension reforms

The Minister for Higher Education and Research Frédérique Vidal was criticised by senior management at universities, social scientists, student unions and left-wing parties in February after she called for a national inquiry on ‘Islamo-leftism’ in French academia during an interview with the right-wing C-News channel. The Elysée distanced itself from Vidal’s remarks and evoked the president’s absolute commitment to the independence of researchers, though Macron did not signal his intention to stop Vidal’s inquiry from going ahead. He had himself described post-colonial or anti-colonial discourse as a ‘form of self-hatred’ that is used to fuel Islamist separatism in his speech on the latter theme last October.

These moves would seem to point towards a strategy of siphoning off the RN voters as well those of the centre-right Les Républicains. However, as past elections have demonstrated, this strategy might bolster unintentionally Macron’s political rivals.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father and regular presidential candidate, used to state that people would always ‘prefer the original to a copy’. In 2002, the incumbent Gaullist President Jacques Chirac fought a security-focused election campaign in the wake of renewed violence in the Middle East, the September 11th attacks and a series of violent disturbances and murders in France. Jean-Marie Le Pen had always run his campaigns on the issues of insecurity, immigration and identity so the 2002 presidential campaign helped to legitimise his own candidacy.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland in 2015, Elaine Cobbe from CBS News on the expulsion of Jean-Marie Le Pen from the party he founded, the French National Front

Confident in the expectation that the context would play out in his favour, Le Pen toned down his usual demagogic style of campaigning and cultivated instead a low, discreet profile during that period. The general unenthusiastic expectation before and throughout the presidential campaign was that the second ballot would pit Chirac against the incumbent Socialist Prime Minister from his cohabitation government, Lionel Jospin.

Commentators and pollsters were stunned by the dramatic outcome or ‘séisme’ (earthquake) of the first round of that year's French presidential election, where Le Pen (16.86%) came second, behind Chirac (19.88%) but ahead of Jospin (16.18%). This led to a massive wave of protests and the comfortable re-election of Chirac as president at the second round two weeks later.

Chirac’s successor Nicolas Sarkozy effectively managed to woo Le Pen’s voters in the 2007 presidential election, and he needed to do the same again, this time with Marine Le Pen’s electorate, in order to ensure his re-election in 2012. He therefore ran an even more right-wing campaign with suggestions of strong links between immigration on the one side and socioeconomic adversity and a breakdown of law and order on the other.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ One's Nine News, former French president Nocolas Sarkozy found guilty of corruption

It was always going to be a huge challenge for an incumbent, particularly one with low approval ratings for his personalised and controversial presidency, to win an election during the difficult economic context of 2012. Sarkozy did manage to receive 27.18% of the vote in the first round and gain entry to the second round alongside the Socialist candidate François Hollande. However, Marine Le Pen’s strong first round result of 18.03% (compared with 10.44% for Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2007) and her declaration that she would spoil her ballot in the second round thwarted Sarkozy’s efforts to poach her voters and win re-election.

Macron faces many challenges on the road to the presidential election and cannot afford to rely on an anti-Le Pen republican front in the event of a run-off with the far right candidate. One major challenge is his handling of the pandemic. Macron, who prides himself on being efficient, has been criticised for not locking the country down fast enough this spring. The slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Europe could also make it difficult for him to promote strongly the European project, as he did in the 2017 election.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Paris correspondent with the Irish Times Lara Marlowe on the gilet jaunes' protests

Long viewed by many of the French as arrogant and haughty, Macron's reputation came to the fore in his initial response to the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) movement in November 2018. His vertical, centralised governing style has left little room for parliament to make its voice heard.

The upcoming regional and departmental elections do not look promising for his LREM party, a party that still lacks a strong network of local elected officials across France. A notable indication of the fraying of Macron’s electoral coalition can be seen in the hundreds of letters sent by left-wing voters to the left-leaning newspaper Libération in February. Their main message was that they would not vote for Macron against Le Pen again, in protest at his presidency. Factors such as these could trip Macron up along the way and help Marine Le Pen in her third bid for the presidency. But, as 2017 showed, it would be a mistake to write him off.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ