French Presidential Elections: First Round April 2017; Second Round May 2017
How does the French Presidential Election work?
Centre Right Republican Party Candidate:
Francois Fillon. (This party was formerly headed by Nicolas Sarkozy, French President who is married to Italian model/actor/singer Carla Bruni and is notably taller than him).
Age, 62. The wife: Penelope Fillon, 60, who is Welsh; her younger sister is married to his younger brother (Guardian 21.11.16). Children: 5. Religion: Catholic. Politically, Fillon has been described as a Gallic Thatcher, a conservative with a capital “C” and Catholic with a small “c” (Guardian 21.11.16).
Beat Alain Juppe (71) who came second (28% to Fillon’s 44%), in the Republican party primaries in November last year an in so doing, ousted the other contender, former President Nicolas Sarkozy (briefly mentioned above). Served as Prime Minister under Sarkozy from 2007-2012. In favour of ending sanctions against Russia and restoring relations with Putin. (His opponent Alain Juppe was critical of this stance). Fillon and Putin were prime ministers during the Medvedev presidency in Russia and they would have had a relationship. However, Fillon places greater importance on Franco-German relations and is unlikely to pull out of Russian sanctions if Germany does not.
Ideas: €100bn in government spending cuts over five years, with the loss of 500,000 public sector jobs. Would also raise VAT by two percentage points, scrap the 35-hour working week in the public sector and gradually increase the retirement age to 65. €50bn in tax breaks for companies. Wants to raise France’s economic and international profile. Has been critical of Angela Merkel for her policies on the Greek debt crisis, Russia’s assault on Ukraine and Europe’s refugee and migrant emergency (FT.27.11.16). Fillon is for a military alliance with Russia and was critical of Obama’s lack of military intervention, leaving Russia to take the lead.
Hollande, on the other hand, has been critical of Russia’s pro-Assad stance vis a vis Syria and has said that the Russian bombings of civilians in Aleppo were tantamount to war crimes.
Strength: More conservative than his former opponent Juppe, taking a tougher line on immigrants; thereby playing to the French population’s current fear of terrorist attacks. Appeals very much to the well off, conservative elite who crave a more authoritative and traditional stance and a tougher view on imposing law and order. As such, this is a stance that contrasts with that of current President Hollande who has, unfortunately, been criticised for being ineffective and weak.
Weakness: Voted against gay marriage in 2012. Also opposes adoption rights for gays. May not be popular amongst the working class as he could be considered as being out of touch with them.
Socialist Party Candidate: TBC
Francois Hollande is the current Socialist Party leader and French President. Due to his unpopularity, he will be the first President since the 5th Republic was established 60 years ago not to seek a second term.
The most high profile contender is former Prime Minister Manuel Valls but this has not yet been decided. Primaries are due this month; (first election on 22nd with the runoff on the 29th).
Valls is considered to be further to the right of Macron, who is running as an independent (see below). Should he lose the Socialist primaries later this month to a ‘left wing hardliner’ (FT 19.1.17), the Socialist party may lose some of their centre-left voters to Macron’s party.
Age: 54. The wife: glamorous French concert violinist, Anne Gravoin. Children: 4, with previous spouse Nathalie Soulie. Born in Barcelona to a Spanish artist father (from Barcelona) and Swiss Italian mother. His parents met and married in Paris and gave birth to him whilst on holiday in Barcelona. Valls was brought up in France and became a naturalised French citizen in 1982, age 20.
Ideas: Has ‘blended a social democratic economic platform with a tough stance on security and immigration’ (FT 5.12.16). Valls’s hardline stance on immigration, crime and security have alienated him from many in the party, who see him as too far to the right. He suggested that the Muslim headscarf should be banned from universities and considered Islam to be incompatible with the values of the French Republic (Guardian, 5.12.16). He is quoted in the New Statesman as having said: “Marianne [the French symbol] has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!”.
Not unlike Macron, he sees himself as representing something of a ‘third way’ in politics (New Statesman).
Strength: in tune with the centre left electorate that has shifted more to the right in recent years as a result of Hollande’s perceived inability to grow the economy, decrease unemployment and deal with the onslaught of Islamic extremism.
Of no political merit but in terms of feminine appeal, a recent French poll showed that many French women fancied him and wouldn’t say ‘no’, something that his violinist wife was said to have been quite chuffed about (see New Statesman article below).
Weakness: has strict secular views on women wearing the hijab, which contravenes the French constitutional doctrine of ‘liberte, egalite, fraternity’. Made a name for himself whilst mayor or a Parisian suburb by campaigning against halal supermarkets. Dubbed a ‘closet right winger’ by many on the left due to his previous stance on immigrants being sent back to their country of origin if unable to assimilate. He disagrees with the socialist party views on a maximum 35 hour week which could lose him some favour (Telegraph, 3.3.14).
Some on the Left see him as a ‘loyalist-turned-traitor who forced Hollande to scrap his bid for re-election’ (Politico, 2.12.16).
Emmanuel Macron. Created his own party (En Marche! – ‘Going Forward’) in April 2016, stepping down from politics in August the same year.
“What’s at stake for me is not to unite the Left, it’s not to unite the Right, it’s to unite the French,” (Politico, 16.11.16).
Age: 39. The Wife: Former teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, 20 years his senior. Married 2007. The former girlfriend: French Environment Minister Segolene Royal, who has ‘sung his praises’ (FT 19.1.17). Children: None. Unknown to the public until 3 years ago, when he was appointed minister in the Socialist government. Ex-banker turned economy minister (formerly Associate Director at Rothschild). Excelled at school. One of 3 children. Parents (in the medical field) both left wing, as were grandparents. Worked for Hollande who brought him in in 2014 as deputy chief of staff to replace Arnaud Montebourg, another contender for socialist presidential candidate.
Ideas: cross-party/transpartisan. Under Hollande, was criticised for the constraints of the socialist 35 hour maximum working week and challenged shops being open on a Sunday. Has encouraged the young to ‘want to become billionaires’ (Guardian article, see below). Accused, (in same article), of being a ‘right wing wolf in socialist clothing’, or indeed some form of New Labour, like Tony Blair. When criticised by socialists as a former banker, it is important to note that he took a massive decrease in salary when he started to work for Hollande.
Le Monde (French equivalent of ‘The Guardian’) say he provokes ‘irony from the left and curiosity from the right’; whilst Le Figaro (French equivalent of ‘The Telegraph’) questions whether he is ‘the last joker in Hollande’s hand’ (Observer profile, The Guardian, 10.4.16). Same article also suggests that Macron is pro-free market with the social values of the egalitarian left (no doubt stemming from his family background).
Macron was critical of Hollande’s proposals to introduce a 75% rate of tax for the super rich which fuelled the departure of some of the wealthy French, more famously the actor Gerard Depardieu who is now resident in Belgium, (see Telegraph article below). On these proposed tax reforms, Macron is quoted as comparing France to ‘Cuba without the sun’ (see Observer/Guardian article below).
Today’s FT says that with his focus on the economy and France’s social mobility, he has become the ‘3rd man’ in the contest behind Le Pen and Fillon.
Strength: Comes from the left and pleases the right. An outsider. Critical of the left in so far as he has said ‘a left who does nothing achieves nothing’. Excellent speaker. One strength is that he is young at 39, but this could also be perceived a weakness.
Weakness: Unknown. Ideas are a bit vague. Another weakness, was one of Hollande’s right hand men so could also be seen as a bit of a traitor, although it is rumoured that Hollande may lean more towards backing him than Valls, which may not work in Macron’s favour as he is standing as an outsider. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the foreign minister and Hollande loyalist, has also said that he may not back the winner of his own party’s primary (FT 20.1.17).
Lack of political experience and in times of uncertainty, people crave experience. Not being of one party or the other, could be seen as without conviction.
The ‘Other’ One/The (Not So) Wild Card
Marine Le Pen, Front National. Right wing populist. Age: 48. Two previous marriages and has 3 children with the first husband. Now has a long term partner. Came to prominence as her father set up the party initially and the two had a very public disagreement when it came to their political views.
Ideas: Doesn’t echo the homophobic rhetoric of her father. Has steered away from his xenophobic ideas and concentrates on economic protectionism. She opposes the euro and being part of the EU.
Attempting to tilt more to the left and secure the vote of the white working class; the same vote that Trump successfully capitalised on, under the guise that they have been exploited, ridiculed and ignored by decades of political elites who leave them feeling institutionally detached and powerless. (Hillary Clinton’s reference to those who voted for Trump as a basket of deplorables was a bad political manoeuvre that may have cost her the election).
Strength: Plays very much to the disenfranchised electorate and their disillusionment with the status quo. The populist message is one of the people versus the elite. Hones in on an increasing sense of economic nationalism/protectionism and the increasing voice of the discontented disconnected few who are in favour of leaving the EU. Le Pen could attract votes by promising to defend jobs (FT 22.11.16).
Le Pen was very pro-Brexit and was one of the first to congratulate Trump on his victory; a victory that could encourage French voters to follow suit. Like Trump, she wants to re-impose tariffs and re-establish national borders that patrol people and goods entering the country. Her anti-immigration stance plugs into the fears of those who feel themselves vulnerable to further terrorist attacks.
Despite her right wing stance, Le Pen cites some socialist ideals and is in favour of bringing the retirement age down to 60. In many respects, she claims to speak the language of the working class and the unemployed whilst her conservative counterpart, Fillon, speaks largely to a bourgeois elite.
Weakness: Despite the public spat, she is still associated by many with her father who spent much of his time inciting racial hatred.
Further, she is unlikely to have a good working relationship with Angela Merkel who believes that openness brings more security than isolation.
Many in France still carry the memory of the Vichy regime in the 1940s; their last experience of an extreme right wing government.
Le Pen’s voters are largely supportive of Russia whilst the majority of the French electorate are not. Like Trump, she is anti-NATO, (although Trump is recently quoted as saying that it is outdated and just needs reform).
Whoever succeeds in the socialist primaries later this month, it is certain that their candidate cannot afford to let Le Pen emerge as the main defender of the working class. Many think that both the left and the right have forgotten what life is really like. It is estimated that whilst Le Pen may do well in the first round of presidential elections, she is likely to be defeated in the second. Presently she tops the polls with Fillon coming a close second, although this may change once the Socialist candidate has been selected. There are other contenders for the role: Arnaud Montebourg (former Minister of Industrial Renewal) and Benoit Haman, (former Minister of Education).
And so we wait and see. The party really gets started in a couple of months when all 4 contenders will really begin their campaigns for the French presidential elections in April 2017.
In the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman talks of a nightmare 2017: one with the collective triumvirate of Le Pen, Putin and Trump, (22.11.16). In today’s political climate, none of us have any clue.
The poll referred to in the conclusion above was carried out by Ipsos Sopra Steria and was commissioned by Le Monde and Cevipof. The survey was carried out amongst over 18s in January 2017.
Amos Biderman for Haaretz
Profile on Macron:
Profile on Fillon:
Profile on Marine Le Pen:
New Statesman, profile on Valls:
Profile on Valls:
On Depardieu’s move to Belgium:
More on Republican Primaries and the other contenders from The Economist:
Emmanuel Macron declares his candidacy — now for the hard part
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