Emmanuel Macron’s solid victory in France’s presidential election last Sunday gives the incumbent a second five-year term — something his two most recent predecessors, Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, were denied — along with a degree of momentum for his centre-left En Marche party in the run-up to June’s parliamentary elections.
A strong showing in the next round could cement Macron’s status as the most powerful head of state in Europe and give a boost to France’s — and Western Europe’s — move to renewable and low-carbon energy.
“Making France a great ecological nation is our project,” Macron declared as the results showed him racking up 58.5% of the votes cast to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s 41.5%.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Macron sought to bolster support from environmentally minded younger voters by promising to make France, as he said at a rally in Marseilles, the “first great nation to exit gas, oil and coal — it's possible, and we'll do it”.
Macron has vowed to build 50 new offshore wind farms by 2050 with a total 40 gigawatts of capacity, boost the country’s solar energy capacity to more than 100 GW and build six new nuclear energy plants by mid-century.
In a bid to shore up some support on the right, he pulled back on plans to expand onshore wind farms, saying in February that France would seek to double onshore wind capacity by 2050, from around 18.5 GW at the end of last year — a much less ambitious target than other European countries such as Germany, as reported in Upstream’s sister publication Recharge.
Macron’s victory is also a win for the European Union. He has called for a stronger, strategically independent EU and shares European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s vision of a “geopolitical commission”.
His re-election will bolster Von der Leyen’s mission “to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030, starting with gas, in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine”, as the EC announced in March.
Making France a great ecological nation is our project.
Before the invasion, Macron, 44, had sought closer ties with Russia as part of an effort to make Europe “strategically autonomous” and less dependent on the US for security.
“The principal objective of my approach to Russia is the improvement of the conditions and the stability of Europe. This process will take many years,” Macron said in a speech in early 2020, according to Politico.
His government supported US and EU sanctions imposed on Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea but the president himself was said to be less enthusiastic, believing the measures ineffective.
He has since courted controversy by not ruling out direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and by urging European countries to keep dialogue with Russia going to avoid an escalation of the conflict, a stance that has drawn fire from some central European countries.
If maintaining a cohesive front in Europe against Russian aggression and in other international matters is a challenge — France holds the presidency of the Council of the EU for two more months — a fractured political scene at home could pose a far more difficult task. Macron’s impressive winning margin masked the fact that 28% of voters decided to sit the election out, the lowest turnout since 1969.
Macron garnered just 28% of the vote in the election’s first round — a better indication of his popularity than the final tally, which included a good number of what the French call “beavers”, voters who want to build a dam against the far right but do not necessarily support the president’s centrist policies.
As Rama Yade, a director at the Atlantic Council and former French deputy minister for foreign affairs and human rights, pointed out, the number of supporters of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round who went on to vote for Macron declined by 10 percentage points from 2017, when Macron and Le Pen last squared off.
Le Pen’s share rose by the same amount, while many sat out the second round of voting.
“Once again, the ‘republican front’ — a coalition opposed to the far right — saved Macron, like all presidents elected against the nationalists, but this front is increasingly fragile… And more importantly, the country is frustrated and angry,” Yade wrote.
“Macron can cope with it just like last time and say only the victory matters. Or he can finally rise to the level that history demands. Because, more than ever, the country cannot afford to lose five years.”
Macron’s re-election marked a moment of political continuity in a fraught time for Europe, with war in the east and a massive transformation of its energy system in the works.
He will need to build on the fragile coalition that returned him to office if, over the next five years, France is to lay the groundwork to become the “great ecological nation” he has promised.