So the polls were right. For a while there after the terrorist shooting in Paris, I was pretty convinced that we may end up looking at a contest between Fillon and Macron, both of whom have similarities in their plans for France (it’s just that Macron would phase his in a lot more slowly and is much more socially liberal). I wondered whether a heightened desire for increased security may make the French abandon their concern over the financial scandal and indeed for some, it did. Fillon ended up coming in third; Le Pen second and Macron first.
The losing politicians are now throwing their weight behind Macron and encouraging the electorate to vote for him in two weeks time on 7th May.
Let’s have a look at a few of France’s issues
Were there any similarities between Le Pen and Melenchon, the two extreme candidates?
Both listened to the unemployed and gave a voice to their concerns. They reached out to the growing sense of disenfranchisement. Both looked to protectionism and a France outside of the EU. Both wanted less involvement with NATO and closer ties with Russia, feeling that that would make France a safer place to live. Both believed that France would be more prosperous outside the EU.
I listened this morning to a Le Pen campaigner on Radio 4 and he said that he wasn’t against Europe per se, he just wanted to renegotiate the extent of France’s involvement in the same way that David Cameron did in the UK. And then put it to a people’s vote. He said that Europe now was not the Europe that France signed up to in its hey day and that Macron’s campaign was about Europe whereas Le Pen’s campaign was about France.
The rich people in France can all now rest easy as Melenchon came in 4th; not a bad result for a candidate of the far left and an embarrassing one for the Socialist party candidate Benoit Hamon. Melenchon had proposed spending an extra 170 billion euros of public money over the next five years had he become President. I’m not sure where he would got that from as with his tax proposals, all the people with money would have scuppered off. Vis a vis the protected 35 hour working week, Melenchon would have made it even shorter! A 4 day week is what he had put forward.
What does France need?
France has a vast array of worker protection rights which are a good thing for the worker but very restrictive when it comes to employers, thereby being one of the reasons that unemployment is so high. According to the Economist on 22 April, France ‘has never taken genuinely painful steps to free the labour market, trim the state and tighten benefits’. The Economist also points out that, when measured against France’s GDP, their public spending at 57% is higher even than Sweden’s. The only country with higher public spending than that is Finland. The UK’s public spending in 2016, by comparison, was 41% of the GDP.
Were there any similarities between Fillon and Macron, the two pro-business candidates?
The Fillon Agenda
He would have cut jobs in the civil service: 500,000, to be exact. He would have cut public spending by 100 billion euros over a five year period (figures taken from The Economist, 22.4.17). The protected 35 working week in France would have ended under his care and he would have raised the retirement age by 3 years to 65. The retirement age in France is low by most standards. He would also have jettisoned up to 95% of France’s labour code, or as the Economist puts it, ‘slash the 3,000 page labour code to just 350 pages’. This would ease up on some of the restrictions that employers currently face when hiring people. He would have been strict in this and he would have seen it through. The Economist points out that he was a big fan of Margaret Thatcher and she had no qualms in doing what she thought needed to be done, irrespective of how that affected many people. He was pro business and good for the economy. Fillon is also a former French Prime Minister.
Fillon would have imposed immigration sanctions and ended economic sanctions against Russia.
The Macron Agenda
Macron may never have held an elected office before but it’s not like he’s a total newcomer. He worked as the economy minister under Francois Holland, for which he took a massive cut from his salary as a banker at Rothschild’s. Prior to working as an appointed minister, he worked as a staffer for Hollande. So in total, he has 4 years experience in the Elysee Palace.
Macron would still adopt some Fillon-esque tactics but they would be less severe. For example, the Economist says that he would only cut 120,000 public jobs and in terms of spending, he aims to reduce it by 60 billion euros. Like Fillon he is pro-business. Rather than abolish the much loved 35 hour working week in France, he would help employers work around it so that if the worker wanted to, they could work longer hours. He wouldn’t raise the retirement age but he would take all of France’s current 35 pension schemes and put them all under one umbrella making it more transparent and easier to understand. This would make it much easier for a person to move from job to job which would be a benefit to the economy. Although Fillon and Macron are both pro Europe, Macron is more open to EU free trade deals than the more experienced, more conservative candidate has been; something which will not have gone beyond Angela Merkel’s notice. Former US President Obama likes him too as he called him on Tuesday last week to wish him good luck in yesterday’s elections. He didn’t ring any of the other candidates.
How does Macron fare with the younger electorate then?
Macron is more socially liberal than Fillon. Fillon is very Roman Catholic, against Sunday trading and has in the past opposed gay marriage and tried to limit gay adoption. Macron shares a sense of disillusionment with much of the French electorate when it comes to the established political institutions in France. He wants change and in so waiting, exploited the cavernous gap that had emerged between the far right Fillon and the far left Hamon; there was nothing in the middle and it left many people without an option.
Out of the other candidates, Le Pen, Melenchon and Fillon, Macron is the least pro-Russian. Perhaps this is why the Russian online news site ‘Sputnik’ revelled in the allegations that Macron’s marriage to his former teacher who is 64 is actually a cover up for being gay. No matter as he still won.
Where Fillon and Le Pen would have kept France’s door shut to Syrian refugees, Macron would keep it open. Like Angela Merkel, he sees refugees as an economic boost to France in the long term; not as an impediment (see the Foreign Policy article, 17.1.17).
What Macron does have to watch is that he pays heed to the unemployed, the less well educated and the older generation. A large part of his supporter base is well educated and metropolitan. Le Pen meanwhile has managed to gain a large section of the under 25 vote with her focus on youth unemployment.
After May, are there any more elections?
Not amongst the public, no. There are elections for the National Assembly to form a government and usually, the elected President would have a majority. Macron has to work at this as his party ‘En Marche’ is still in its infancy and so he needs to find candidates. However, although it is less than a year old, it already has 250,000 members (which, according to the Economist, is twice as many as the Socialist party have). Not bad for less than a year’s work. It helps that Francois Bayrou, another centrist politician in France who has stood in Presidential race more than once in the past, offered his support a couple of months back. Other fans, the Economist says, are ‘Alain Madelin, a liberal ex-finance minster; Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a 1968 rebel-turned Green politician; and Manuel Valls, a Socialist ex-prime minister who was beaten by Mr Hamon in his party’s primary’ (Economist, ‘La lutte’, 22.4.17). Add to that the support he has now received from Hamon and Fillon since yesterday, he’s not doing too badly. Alain Juppe, mayor of Bordeaux and one time presidential candidate who lost to Fillon (in fact there was some speculation whether he would replace Fillon after the public spending scandal), also offered Macron his support following his win yesterday.
Had Fillon been elected, he would have had an easier job than Macron or Le Pen at securing a parliamentary majority in the June elections. Macron may well end up having to look at working in a cross-party coalition come June.
France has 577 constituencies and Macron plans to put up candidates for each one.
Has anyone else ever tried to set up an independent party in France?
Valery Giscard d’Estaing did it with the Independent Republicans in 1966 but not with this measure of success. It took him 8 years to become President and by that stage, he had been in parliament ‘off and on, for almost two decades’ (The Economist, ‘La lutte’, 22.4.17).
A few more interesting facts
I also heard on Radio 4 this morning that if elected President, Macron will be the youngest leader of France since Napoleon Bonaparte. He is 39 to Le Pen’s 48. He hails from Amiens, in the Somme region of northern France.
If you click on the link below, you will see a colour coded map of the vote by sector in France produced by French newspaper Les Echos. Pretty scary when you look at it as it shows how massive the support for Le Pen has become. Macron is in yellow, Le Pen in grey.
At the time of writing, opinion polls put the voting intention for the second round of elections on 7th May in Macron’s favour with him predicted to gain 61% of the vote to Le Pen’s 39%.
I rather like Anne Applebaum’s article for the Washington Post. In it, she refers to Macron as someone who ’embraces markets’ but believes in the ‘collective solidarity’ of France. For the second round, she describes the run off between Macron and Le Pen as follows:
Open -v- Closed
Integrationist -v- Isolationist
Future -v- Past
Nice one Anne.
Sources and further reading:
Obama rings Macron, RT 21.4.17:
Les Echos, Macron’s 10 proposed measures for France, 20.4.17. In French I’m afraid:
Les Echos, Le Pen’s 10 proposed measures for France, 20.4.17. Also in French:
Opinion Polls for 7th May:
Politico EU, 24.4.17, Financial markets cheer Macron’s win:
Politico EU, 24.4.17, How the populist vote can win without having to be extreme:
Politico EU, 23.4.17, Fillon calls on supporters to vote for Macron in the second round:
A bit more background on Macron from Foreign Policy, 17.1.17. Reveals his openness towards Germany:
In the aftermath of the elections, Foreign Policy highlights some of the differences between Le Pen and Macron, 23.4.17:
Anne Applebaum for The Washington Post comments on the differences between Le Pen and Macron, 23.4.17:
The Washington Post, 24.4.17, a look at how the traditional parties of the left and right have dominated in the past:
The Times, 24.4.17, Financial markets breathe a sigh of relief:
Le Pen supporters criticise Macron for celebrating in a fancy restaurant with French celebrities in a glitzy restaurant after Sunday’s win, The Times, 24.4.17:
Macron says he was celebrating with security members and secretaries in the bistro last night, not bankers and celebrities:
Articles from the Economist, 22.4.17, referred to within the article:
Time to Decide:
The Financial Times, 24.4.17, Euro and French equities surge as speculators price in a Macron victory in the second round:
Further FT coverage of the win, 24.7.17. Also gives a regional map by colour showing who won and where:
The Telegraph, 24.4.17, European Commission back Macron:
For the gossips out there, a background to when Macron met his wife (at the age of 15), Daily Mail (it’s just a bit of fun), 24.4.17:
Featured image source:
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