President Emmanuel Macron may not have to wait long to learn how poorly his re-election has been received in some parts of France.
In Sunday’s presidential election, the French rallied behind the 44-year-old centrist to give him a second five-year term. However, many of them had to swallow their displeasure with his pro-business stance and perceived arrogance in order to prevent far-right leader Marine Le Pen from gaining power.
During Macron’s first year in office, he has faced violent protests against his plans to reform the pension system, as well as economic inequality and police brutality, all of which have thrown his economic overhaul off track. According to Philippe Martinez, the leader of the CGT, a driving force behind those protests, unions are targeting the traditional May 1 workers’ day demonstrations as a rallying point for those who want to show Macron that his victory does not give him a blank check.
“The streets are still vital,” he said. While the CFDT is holding an event in Paris, several other unions, including the Force Ouvriere, Unsa, and Solidaires, have said they will join in.
The economy performed well under Macron’s leadership, unemployment fell, and the country became more appealing to foreign investors. Many people, however, continue to feel abandoned, and Le Pen has stoked the perception that the former investment banker is so removed from their daily struggles that he will never understand them.
Many working-class voters believe this, from southern areas near Marseille to urban centers around Paris and the former steel and textile regions of the north, where support for Le Pen is particularly strong. Protests began on Sunday night in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, and Toulouse.
The team of the French president has promised to work to heal the country’s divisions. They promised to work more closely with civil society organizations as they work to make France more competitive by overhauling social policies such as pensions and improving the country’s economic fundamentals.
During his speech on Sunday night, Macron struck a solemn and humble tone, saying that the next five years will be different and that he will be “the president of all the French.”
In French politics, the feeling of working-class alienation that has fueled support for the far-right is nothing new.
In 1995, Jacques Chirac made “social fractures” a central theme of his presidential campaign. Long strikes, however, thwarted his plans to overhaul policies to help make that a reality. Macron is still attempting to address the same issues of low social mobility and a lack of good jobs for young people a generation later.
On election night, the president extended an olive branch to the left-wing voters who rallied around him, promising to put the environment at the center of his agenda. Macron, according to one minister, is eager to appoint a female prime minister. He also handed out 100-euro “inflation compensation” handouts to 38 million people in the run-up to the vote, and set aside around 25 billion euros ($27 billion) for measures to protect consumers from rising energy prices.
According to a recent Kanar poll, the French are among the most critical of the EU, have lower trust in institutions than the rest of Europe, and are less than half satisfied with the government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Voters who support Le Pen are more pessimistic about the future, concerned about law and order, and skeptical of democracy than voters who support any other party. She took advantage of rising living costs to persuade many people that Macron has done nothing for them, even in areas where unemployment has decreased.
Jerome Batret, a farmer near Lyon, said he voted for the nationalist because she recognizes that rising energy prices make life impossible for people like him. He foresees student and far-left blockades, and claims that many of his peers have never truly given up on the Yellow Vest protest movement that halted Macron’s agenda during his first term.