Sunday 24th April 2022 was a big day across Europe for elections. Not least because incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right Marine Le Pen in a repeat of the 2017 election. However, he was not the only candidate to defeat a far-right challenger, with right-wing populist Janez Jensa being defeated in Slovenia by a newly formed green-liberal Freedom Movement.
In France, Macron won by 58% to 42%, a greater margin than expected with polls having widened in his favour just days before the second round of the presidential election.
This follows a stronger than expected result in the first round, where Macron secured nearly 28% of the vote, increasing the share he won in the 2017 election. Macron has also become the first sitting French President to secure re-election in 20 years, with the last being Jacques Chirac in 2002.
Despite her loss, Marine Le Pen, said her significant vote share still marked a victory, achieving the highest share her party has ever recorded. Her 42% vote share was an increase on the 34% she achieved in 2017, and the 18% her father achieved in 2002; the only other times the National Rally (formerly National Front had made it to the runoff election).
Marine took over the National Front party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2011, before re-branding it as National Rally following her 2017 election defeat. She was attempting to make her far-right ideas – including a long history of Islamophobia – more palatable to the French electorate; her higher vote share shows some success in doing so.
Macron’s victory was met by jubilation through much of the west, as right-wing populism had failed to take power in one of Europe’s major economies.
It also marked a significant achievement, as he has become the first French President re-elected whilst their party maintained control of the French legislature. In both Chirac’s 2002 victory and Mitterrand’s 1988 re-election were preceded by their parties losing control of the legislature in mid-term elections. Macron might still lose control, with legislative elections coming up in a matter of weeks, but his re-election marks a historic moment for an incumbent president.
Following his victory, Macron said he would be “president for all” of France.
On the same day, Slovenians headed to the polls, seeking to select its next prime minister. Political newcomer liberal Robert Golob was aiming to defeat the incumbent Janez Jansa, who had served three terms as prime minister.
With echoes of Macron’s 2017 election victory, Golob – a Slovenian billionaire – had only founded his party in January 2022 but secured 35% of the vote, making Golob’s Freedom Movement the largest party in the parliament.
Golob ran on a liberal-green platform, and position the election as a referendum on democracy.
“Our objective has been reached: a victory that will enable us to take the country back to freedom.”
“People want changes and have expressed their confidence in us as the only ones who can bring those changes.”
The party has no government experience, and may opt to form a coalition government with the Social Democrats, who secured 6.7% of the vote but have several party figures with experience of government.
Both victories – Macron and Golob – appear to show a resounding rejection of far-right populism in Europe, although many will still be worried about the growing support for Le Pen’s party in France, with term limits meaning Macron is unable to run again in 2027.