The French vote: relief or alarm

The year 2017 starts with the internationally interesting presidential election process. On 23rd April 2017, the citizens of France are called to cast their vote and determine who is going to be the President of the French Republic for the next five years.

The presidential elections have spurred three main political figures—Francois Fillon, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron—to join the battle for the presidency.

Let’s start with Francois Fillon, who represents the centre-right. Mr. Fillon was Prime Minister of France from 2007 to 2012, during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, and has also served as a Minister. He has a reputation for being a reformer and being honest, tipped to transform the economy and the tax system with his liberal approach. He has promised to cut public sector jobs (up to 500 thousand) and bureaucracy, to repeal the wealth tax and to abolish the 35-hour week. His policies are reminiscent of those of Margaret Thatcher; thus, he is criticized by a large portion of the population. However, his main focus on France’s Catholic roots puts him in a long tradition of French conservatism that has no real equivalent in Britain.

Concerning his foreign policy, Mr. Fillon wants to deprive jihadists returning from the wars in Iraq and Syria of their French citizenship and require parents who receive benefits to sign a “parental responsibility contract”, to tackle child truancy or behaviours “disrespectful of the values of the [French] republic”. He also advocates the tightening of relations with Russia by lifting the EU sanctions and by helping the Syrian President defeat ISIS. Finally, his views are summarized by this statement: “We have all the assets to be a modern, sovereign nation leading in Europe”.

The far-right sentiment is represented by Marine Le Pen and her political party, the Front National. Aiming to detoxify her party’s image, since taking over its leadership from her father in January 2011, Marine Le Pen is in the presidential elections as a tough but plausible favourite. Annual legal immigration has halved (from 200.000 to 100.000), while illegal migration has been tackled through deportation. As far as housing and jobs are concerned, Ms. Le Pen is giving high priority to French citizens and is thus advocating a national, independent state by rejecting the European Union as well as its currency, the Euro.

The increase in police powers and in prison places (40.000 new ones) are advocated by Ms. Le Pen as the key to ensure the protection and security of France. Concerning social issues, Marine Le Pen, a candidate known for her conservative Catholic roots, has run anti-gay marriage rallies favouring the “traditional family”. She has openly spoken of the “true French” identity, demanding that Muslims in France adopt values rooted in Christianity. One of her most significant statements, reflecting her political ideology, is the following: “French citizenship should be either inherited or merited”.

While the centre-left seems to be fragmented, Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old social-liberal, the centrist candidate and former Finance Minister presents an upward trend, showing that he can “leapfrog over” the Fillon-Le Pen duo. Being an independent candidate advocating change, Mr. Macron’s anti-system approach will either fragment the left-wing vote more or just take votes away from Marine Le Pen. After founding “En Marche!”, his political organization, Emmanuel Macron tried to become the voice of the French centre, which, according to him, France was not representing. Therefore, the Internet is this candidate’s tool to build his political movement and reinvent French politics.

Doing business and working independently is of paramount importance for Mr. Macron; thus; job market reforms are high up in his political agenda, which also aims at bolstering the single currency union. Moreover, he proposes the creation of a Eurozone budget to finance growth-oriented investments and provide struggling member states with the financial assistance they need. On EU affairs, Emmanuel Macron advocates the European Union’s preparedness and readiness in order to achieve the most effective domestic political scrutiny. As he states, “There can be no success without Europe” and “a roadmap for Europe” is needed, listing the actions that the countries want to implement in areas like defence, security, and fiscal governance. Macron’s political goal could be summarized in the following statement: “To be clear about the French momentum, we are accelerating”.

According to polls, Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen are likely to go through to the second round, while Emmanuel Macron is the alternative solution that might upset the apple cart. Of course, we should wait for the Socialist Party’s presidential primaries, which will be held from the 22nd to the 29th of January 2017, nominating either Manuel Valls, Arnaud Montebourg, or Jean-Luc Bennahmias, the top three most likely candidates.

By Symeon Christofyllidis

Master in Political Marketing

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