Macron v Le Pen: France’s two tribes face off

Showdown: The winner will replace François Hollande, who did not take part in this election.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are in the final round of France’s presidential election. Macron, who is pro-globalisation, is tipped to win. Will he reverse the nationalist tide of 2016?

He is the centrist pro-globalisation candidate; she is the nationalists’ favourite on the far right.

Emmanuel Macron says he wants to “rebuild the European dream” and strengthen the EU single currency, the euro. He plans to cut business taxes and make it easier to work longer hours.

He says that his country’s security would “not be better served by closing national borders,” and: “No religion is a problem in France today.”

Marine Le Pen wants to take her country out of the EU and euro. She says workers should retire at 60 and keep a strict 35-hour week. She plans a crackdown on immigration, and has taken a tough line on Islamism.

In two weeks’ time, one of them will become the president of France. Last night, they topped the polls in the first round of the French presidential election. They will now face each other in a run-off on May 7th.

Both have presented themselves as outsiders. But two moments last week effectively summarised the difference between them. Macron received a supportive phone call from former President Obama; President Trump said Le Pen was the “strongest” candidate in the race.

Macron’s message is optimistic: last night he said he would carry the “voice of hope for our country and Europe”. In contrast Le Pen said she would “free French people from arrogant elites”.

Macron is a former banker, whose support largely comes from successful urban voters. Le Pen attracts support from workers in northern France’s former mining towns and middle class voters worried by loss of status in the south.

In 2016 Le Pen celebrated the UK vote for Brexit and Trump’s victory in the US election. Some pundits said those results were the beginning of a nationalist uprising which would sweep her to the Elysée palace.

But last night polls suggested Macron would win easily. Bookmakers made him the heavy favourite. Stock markets reacted positively. Almost all the defeated candidates, and mainstream politicians across Europe, urged voters to elect Macron. So has the tide turned?

Le Pen is mightier?

Yes, say some. Le Pen’s challenge will now fizzle out, as her father’s did in 2002. Macron will win comfortably and his confident agenda will make France feel good about itself again. He has managed to summon the spirit of insurgency for the pro-globalisation cause. And centrist politicians around the world are learning from him.

Not at all, others respond. Le Pen will be competitive in the second round. Even if she loses, she is just 48: she will run again. Macron’s centrism will prove vacuous. And just last week France suffered its latest terrorist attack; last night riots greeted the result. This divided country, and perhaps others, will soon turn to nationalism.

You Decide

  1. Would you vote for Emmanuel Macron?
  2. Has Macron turned the nationalist tide?


  1. Work in pairs. You are in charge of a debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen this week. Write down 10 questions you would ask them and explain your choices.
  2. Research and write an interesting two-page guide to the French election, aimed at someone three years younger than you.

Some People Say...

“Election results depend more on people’s mood than what politicians stand for.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Macron will face Le Pen. The candidate who gains more than 50% of the vote will become president. Many polls suggested Le Pen would finish top in the first round of voting, but yesterday Macron was slightly ahead of her.
What do we not know?
What the final result will be, and what it will mean for the future of France and the world.
What do people believe?
Polls suggest Macron will win by a margin of 20–25 points. But even that would mean Le Pen getting a lot more votes than her father, who got just 18% in the run-off in 2002. Le Pen is expected to stand again. She has already improved on her performance in 2012. But some suggest Front National’s support is limited, and she cannot become president as too many voters will refuse to vote for her under any circumstances.

Word Watch

Le Pen has proposed expelling illegal immigrants, temporarily banning immigration and then capping it at just 10,000 people per year.
With 80% of votes counted last night, Macron had gained 24% and Le Pen 22%.
Macron founded his own party, En Marche. Le Pen is the head of the Front National.
Le Pen has attracted a lot of support from the young — unlike Brexit or Trump. Front National is also supported by some white supremacists.
A set of ideas which puts commitment to a nation above concerns such as freedom or equality.
The latest Ipsos survey suggests Macron will get 62% of the vote and Le Pen 38%.
“I am making a distinction between my campaign rival and an enemy of the Republic,” said socialist Benoît Hamon. “Extremism can only bring woe and division to France,” said conservative François Fillon. But far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to endorse Macron.
In 2002 Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, who founded Front National, finished second in the first round. He was then heavily beaten by Jacques Chirac.

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