In 2017, Emmanuel Macron came to power as France’s eighth president and the youngest leader ever to occupy the Elysee Palace, his political rise in a matter of months from a rank outsider who had never contested an election to head of state nothing but dazzling.
But as he seeks a second mandate, Macron has transitioned from a maverick to a target of dissent who is bankable in Europe but widely disagreed with at home.
After delaying his bid for reelection until the last moment, he grabbed the highest tally with 27.8% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 10, ahead of 11 other candidates. He will once again clash with his old rival Marine Le Pen of the National Front – against whom he won the final round in 2017 – on April 24.
Five years ago, he offered an alternative to French politics by positioning himself as a liberal centrist -- neither on the left nor on the right of the political spectrum. With a banking and finance background and a pro-business mindset, he promised to overhaul the economy from its sluggish pace.
The Macron government got off to a shaky start following massive demonstrations by the Yellow Vest movement against a proposed fuel tax. In the following years, corporate-friendly labor laws, hardened security laws, stagnant social benefits, pandemics and terrorist attacks kept the anti-government protests raging. His aggressive language fanning Islamophobia and discrimination together with economic failures have further divided the nation and fueled anti-Macron sentiment.
Notwithstanding the dissent at home, Macron has emerged as a popular leader in Europe and the international arena. A staunch pro-Europe leader, he has advocated for stronger European integration, reducing military dependency on the US via NATO for Europe’s defense. His blunt remarks on NATO even caused a public tiff and showdown with then-US President Donald Trump.
He has been at the forefront of multilateral diplomacy, engaging with the US, UK and the European Union on matters of urgent international security, whether it is to revive the stalled Iran-nuclear deal or fight for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Macron has continued the clamorous diplomacy between Moscow and Kyiv, visiting on the ground in a bid to avert war and holding lengthy unpleasant phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to persuade him to establish a cease-fire.
Colonialism: Awkward road
As the first-generation president born after the end of colonialism, Macron is one of the only heads of state to frankly address the taboo subject of France’s history of colonialism. He condemned colonization as a "crime against humanity" and "a grave mistake and a fault of the Republic,” acknowledged the torture and civilian atrocities committed by the French army and police against Algerians and Africans, returned looted historic artifacts and heritage to their original countries and declassified sensitive military archives on the Algerian and Indochina wars.
While Macron ordered a probe into France's historical crimes in Algeria and Rwanda and admitted serious errors, he refused to issue an official apology for the past actions of the Republic. Also, his insistence on a forward-looking approach hasn't gone over well with former colonies, particularly Algeria, where relations are frayed, and Mali, where efforts to combat extremism have backfired on the French military.
Promises to the future
At a time when Europe faces grave security challenges due to the Russian threat, Macron has emphasized it is the European Union that is working to protect everyone and promote peace. He has assured France will follow the EU positions to reduce dependency on Russian energy and jointly respond to future security crises.
Macron has linked the fate of this election as a “referendum on Europe” reminding the French that his manifesto defends the idea of Europe and dismantles “the extreme right” agenda of his Euro-sceptic opponent Marine Le Pen.
On the domestic front, he has promised to boost employment, reduce nuclear power dependency, increase renewable sources of energy, cut taxes for businesses and households, hire additional nurses for health care of the elderly and recruit 10,000 police and gendarmes. His proposals to raise the minimum pension and retirement age from 62 to 65, reduce social contributions for independent workers and introduce labor law reforms are deemed unpopular.
Polls predict Macron is likely to win the elections against Le Pen in the second round. However, demonstrations proclaiming “No to Macron, no to Le Pen,” mass abstention and public anger against him could jeopardize his chances. If he succeeds, Macron will make history by being the first president in 20 years to be re-elected, but his loss against right-wing candidate Le Pen could also be consequential, pulling France down in a grave setback that would alter the political, social and economic course of the country./aa