Explainer: Le Pen vs Macron - What do they stand for?

By Martyn Kreider
EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges

Political newcomer Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen will go head-to-head in the final vote of the presidential election on Sunday 7 May.

The most likely outcome, according to opinion polls, is that Macron will easily beat Le Pen.

But a lot depends on voter turnout in a race which, for the first time in the Fifth Republic’s 59-year history, features two candidates from outside the traditional left-right parties; and both have strikingly different visions for France.

Emmanuel Macron

Although Macron has experience in government (first as adviser to current president Fran├žois Hollande and later as his Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital affairs from 2014 – 2016), he has never held elected office. After resigning as minster he established the centrist political movement En Marche! in 2016.

Policy Positions

Like Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President Bill Clinton, Macron’s stances are often described as part of the “third way”, advocating for a merger of right-wing economic policies with social positions that lean towards the left.

Economy – An investment banker prior to serving in the Hollande administration, Macron favours free trade, embraces globalisation and is an avid supporter of the Eurozone. He has promised to gradually reduce corporate tax rates and cut public spending by 60 billion euro by streamlining government. Reforms to France’s 35-hour working week, unemployment benefits and labour laws will also be considered, with the aim to make France more business-friendly. Delivering on these promises will be a significant challenge for Macron.

Immigration – Macron has praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy on refugees and has stated “confusing terrorists with asylum seekers, refugees and migrants is a profound moral, historical and political error”. He has called immigrants an economic opportunity and would invest more to better help them integrate into French society.

The EUMacron is unabashedly pro-Europe and Brussels has taken notice. Macron advocates for further European integration and would work together with the EU to tackle common European challenges.

Climate Change and Energy – The implementation of the Paris Agreement is one of Macron’s top priorities in foreign policy and he has criticised US President Donald Trump’s threat to wind back  climate commitments. He proposes to ban fracking, finance the development of renewables, close coal plants and supports EU plans for a circular economy.

In February, Macron released a rare video in English in which he encouraged US climate scientists to move to France. It was widely interpreted as a response to the policies on climate change of newly-elected US President Donald Trump.

How he can win

All opinion polling shows Macron is the favourite to win the presidency, with about 60% of the vote. However, it’s possible that turnout will be low and he fails to win a resounding victory. Even if he wins, his ability to govern will be compromised by the reality that his En Marche! party is unlikely to win a parliamentary majority in legislative elections in June.

Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen, daughter of Front National founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has transformed the Front National from a fringe party laced with anti-Semitism and racism to a softer populist image, going as far to expel her father from the party after his views on the Holocaust became a political liability. She came in third place in the 2012 presidential election.

Policy Positions

Much like other right-wing populist leaders in Europe, Le Pen supports economic nationalism and protectionism, opposes globalisation and the EU, and proposes closing borders and significant limits to immigration.

Immigration – Le Pen’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim positions are the crux of her campaign. She claims that Islam and multiculturalism threaten French national identity and security.  Le Pen has promised to reduce net migration from 140,000 people a year to 10,000, and reinstall border controls (exit the Schengen area).

The EU – Ending France’s membership to the EU is the first priority in Le Pen’s 144-point manifesto and she has pledged to l call a referendum on whether France should remain in the EU – a so-called Frexit. As a member of the European Parliament, Le Pen has blamed Brussels from unemployment and offshoring to the decline of agriculture sectors. She would also like to see France leave NATO.

Economy – The centrepiece of Le Pen’s economic plan seems to be for France to leave the Eurozone and to switch back to the franc, although there have been inconsistent statements from her late in the campaign. She is against globalisation and wants to replace free trade with what she calls “intelligent protectionism” and “economic patriotism”, state-led re-industrialisation to “restore to the French the conduct of their own affairs”. Le Pen is also against the privatisation of state-owned companies, such as La Poste, France’s postal service company.

Climate Change and Energy – Mitigating climate change has not been a top priority for Le Pen, but she has differentiated herself from her climate-skeptic father by launching the New Ecology movement in 2014. Part of her platform includes reducing dependence on oil, but insists on an immediate moratorium on wind power.

How she can win

The French opinion polls were very accurate in the first round, and Le Pen is currently trailing at about 40%. Since the first round, Le Pen stepped down as leader of the Front National in an attempted to appeal to conservative supporters of Fran├žois Fillon and minor right-wing candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. She is also seeking the support of the far-left, courting voters of Jean-Luc Melenchon, who also campaigned against ‘elites’, globalisation and the EU.

Banner image credit: Macron: LEWeb/Flickr; Le Pen:Gilbert-Noel Sfeir Mont-Liban/Flickr. Original images have been altered.


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