France has never seen such a flat election campaign with quite a predictable outcome, despite the dramatic scenarios of recent times (the violent Yellow Vest protests and the pandemic) and the current tragic backdrop of the war in Ukraine. Barring any last-minute surprises, Emmanuel Macron will remain at the Elysée almost without a fight. All he has to do is make the most of the divisions in the opposition ranks, on both the right and the left, and of the weakness of his challengers. Except, of course, for any last-minute surprises, which may emerge from the largely unseen and largely unexplored underground river of disappointed, angry France, worried about high petrol prices and gas bills. France is beginning to wonder how much and how the country and Europe will pay for the consequences of the war, given the impact of sanctions on Europe while they hardly touch the United States. These are sentiments that unite the extreme right and are felt across the extreme left, complicating polls and forecasts.
It is a fact that Macron, after dodging public confrontations and rallies, has run for cover. A week before the vote, he wanted to make a show of strength, with a glittering American-style election rally that fired up thirty thousand supporters for two hours.
In theory, however, the risks are contained. During his five-year term, the young president has appropriated the tenets of the Gaullist tradition and brought them up to date: a sense of state, France's role in Europe and the world, all-round diplomacy and defence of republican values. And he has managed to keep a balance between right-wing and left-wing sensibilities, gradually draining the support bases of both sides in his favour. Valérie Pécresse gave France the suggestion of a Gaullist female candidate, but her star only shone at the beginning of the campaign. It was indeed just a suggestion, not to mention that a few Gaullist representatives have betrayed their own camp to move to Macron's court. The June legislative elections will be another decisive appointment, where the seat often counts more than loyalty.
The final challenge for the Elysée Palace will most likely reproduce the anomaly of previous elections: the candidate of republican values against the "best enemy", Jean Marie Le Pen yesterday, Marine Le Pen today, as in 2017. Le Pen has moderated her tone, hoping among other things to win over the free-flowing Gaullist electorate, but her image as a champion of national sovereignty and Eurosceptic leader, moreover in trouble due to her known relations with Vladimir Putin, is difficult to correct in the runup to the election.
Macron is also lucky, a characteristic that counts beyond merits and qualities, as Napoleon claimed. His results in domestic politics are not exciting. Some reforms, such as pension reform, have remained on paper. But his main success is his leading role (with Angela Merkel) at the forefront of European solidarity (with the launch of the Recovery Fund) and of Europe's current newfound unity in the face of Moscow's threats.
The pandemic and war emergency is playing into the hands of the incumbent leadership, and not only in France. We only have to look at the rise in popularity of Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, as well as that of Olaf Scholz, which is dispelling any lingering nostalgia for Angela Merkel. This is also clearly the case in Italy. The emergency enhanced the responsibility of the country's political forces, leading to the re-election of Sergio Mattarella and giving continuity to Mario Draghi's government.
In this context, the war emergency gives even more meaning and content to relations between Italy and France. Relations were relaunched by the recent Quirinal Treaty, after the misunderstandings and snubs of recent years. Energy autonomy, European defence, the Stability Pact and immigration are issues that require common strategic visions and operational choices, some of which still have to be put to the test. A note of caution: the signing of the treaty sealed the strong personal relationship between Macron, Draghi and Mattarella, which is an assurance of rediscovered harmony. However, the Treaty remains a permanent "consultation forum", which will be all the more useful and fruitful the more in tune with each other its interpreters are in the future. Mattarella has been re-elected for seven years, Macron will probably be re-elected for the next five. But Draghi's mandate expires naturally with the 2023 elections. Sometimes for instrumental reasons, sometimes due to conflicts of interest and divergent ambitions, the misunderstandings between Rome and Paris could re-emerge, especially if sovereignism and populism prevail again in Italy.