International reaction to the presidential election: is it a French revolution?

This Sunday 23rd April, French citizens voted in the first round of the presidential election. The very anticipated results were followed closely by media around the world. 

The French election is considered to be one of the most important political event of 2017 due to the consequences it could have on France, on the future of Europe and on the rest of the world, as said by The New-York Times « a lot is at stake — not just for the 67 million people of France, but also for the European Union, the United States and NATO. »

The international audience had been used to France’s political landscape opposing the Socialist party against the right-wing party Les Républicains, sometimes challenged by the Front National. It is safe to say that the absence of both major parties in the second round came as a shock for the media. It is seen as a significant change for the country, but also that the population has had enough.

A historical first round

The United-Kingdom is the country whose future is tied the most to the results of the election and the British media spent much time analysing the impact each candidate could have on Brexit. The audience was already familiar with Marine Le Pen who had been in the political landscape for a while, and so was her dad Jean-Marie Le Pen, and supports Nigel Farage and his party. Her strong score in the first round is seen as a victory for UKIP, as seen on The Times, and as a humiliation for the elite who were replaced by the outsiders. The Daily mail even qualified these unusual results as a new « French Revolution ».

The Economist sees the first round as « extraordinary results » and that « May 7th will be a crucial test for France’s democracy. Will it be able to fight against nationalist populism? »

In Switzerland, the newspaper Le Temps described the second round as an equation with two unknown factors. In the editorial, the journalist Stéphane Benoit-Godet writes that the results of the first round clearly show that French citizens want change and they are tired of their current political system.

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“French people confirmed that the feeling of disagreement that has been growing for years is not going to disappear with this election. (…) The tension created with the results shows that the political system of the Vth Republic is broken. There is rage against traditional parties and their corrupt politicians.”

Benoit-Godet attributes the victory of Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron to this growing feeling that pushed the voters to pick two outsiders.

In Austria, the newspaper Kurier sees Marine Le Pen’s victory as not so victorious. She did receive more votes than in 2012 but it was not enough to put her ahead of the competition.

Outside of Europe, the Australian Sydney Morning Herald titled « Trust the French to make things complicated. »

“The result in the first round of the presidential election is a political earthquake, that will most likely result in a win for the most status-quo candidate. It is a triumph for the far right, that will probably expose them as still fundamentally unelectable.”

In Israel, the journalist Anshel Pfeffer from the Haaretz newspaper writes that the results show a clear and defined change in western politics that is « not between right and left wing parties anymore ».

Finally, the New-York Times described the French results as a relief for mainstream Europe. The journalists Steven Erlanger and Alison Smale write:

“After other recent electoral setbacks for far-right populists, and the far right’s flagging momentum in Germany’s election campaign, some even suggested that the French election could represent the high-water mark of the populist surge that has voted Britain out of the European Union and Donald J. Trump into power in the United States. “

An election with three rounds

The Belgian newspaper Le Soir is showcasing Macron’s victory as a revolution but also considers that the future of France will be decided in June during the legislative election, considered as the “third round of the election”.

In fact, if Marine Le Pen is elected president, she could establish the fully proportional representation electoral system which would give more power to her party in the Assembly. The policy is in her programme and could drastically change the outcome of the legislative election.

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The Belgian newspaper titled “on the way to the Elysée” with candidate Emmanuel Macron

The Spanish newspaper El Pais also reminds its audience that the legislative election could change everything in June, even if Emmanuel Macron is the favorite candidate for the second round.

A positive outcome for Europe

In Italy, the Courier della Serra writes that Macron’s victory shows a sign of change and trust about the european project.

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In Italy, it will be a challenge between Macron and Le Pen.

A feeling shared by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that sees Macron’s victory as « great news for Europe ». In Poland, the Gazeta Wyborcza writes that Macron’s score is positive for the future of Europe already shaken by its divorce with the UK.

The sensation Emmanuel Macron

The majority of media focused not only on the rise of the Front National, but also on the rise of Emmanuel Macron, a young candidate who has never held office and who only created his movement En Marche! in 2016. He is seen as a new political sensation who has great chances of becoming president. His unusual career and sudden rise in politics but also his personal life make him an interesting subject to analyse for foreign media. The relationship with his wife Brigitte Macron, who is 24 years older than him and used to be his teacher in high school, has become a fascinating topic for journalists.

In Germany, Die Welt called Macron “a sensation”, at only 39 years old, he could become France’s youngest President.

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German newspaper Die Welt.

The historical results of the first round represent the atmosphere in France at the moment and the attitude of French citizens towards the political institutions. The absence of both the socialist and the right-wing parties in the second round is a clear sign that the population wants to step away from what they were used. The media described it as a “cleavage” and a “revolution”, resulting from a broken system of the Vth Republic.

© Photos: Getty Images. Photoillustration: Javier Zarracina/Vox

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