With less than two months left before the First Round of the French Presidential Election, the race is looking harder and harder to predict. In a country which has been plagued by dissatisfaction during the term of François Hollande, it would appear that the people are turning to extreme options. The Republicans and Socialists have held power for almost 60 years together, since the Fifth Republic in 1958. However, the most shocking development in the current campaign has been that neither party has a candidate strong enough to challenge Marine Le Pen of the National Front or Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! Both of these candidates have policies of a completely different direction than the current government. Once again, there is a struggle between the extreme right and the extreme left.
At first glance, Le Pen seems to hauntingly echo the policies which brought Donald Trump to power in the United States.
At the start of the campaign, it was believed that the Republican candidate François Fillon would be the person to beat in the election. François Hollande’s policies, such as introducing a 75 per cent upper tax rate, have made him so unpopular in France that he chose not to run again. This has seen the decline of the Socialist Party, which would normally place the Republicans back in power. However, this rapidly fell apart. Fillon recently revealed that he is being formally investigated for paying his wife and children nearly €1 million of public money for what appear to be fake jobs. This led to his promise to withdraw, but more controversy developed as he has not done this. These developments have limited the prospects of the Republicans and Socialist Parties, leaving the political battle to Macron and Le Pen.
Probably the most controversial candidate, Marine Le Pen represents the Far-Right of French politics. Le Pen has brought the National Front into the political spotlight. The National Front was started by Le Pen’s father in 1972. However, in order to separate herself from the anti-Semitic history of the party, he was evicted by his daughter before her campaign. Jean-Marie Le Pen was nicknamed the ‘Devil in the republic’ by the media, and had been known for comments such as referring to Nazi Gas Chambers as a ‘point of detail’ in World War Two. In 2002 the Party had its first candidate in the Presidential run-off. However, they failed to achieve any real political influence. It is therefore quite remarkable how much support this campaign has obtained. In the past few days however, it appears that her current lead in the polls is slipping.
At first glance, Le Pen seems to hauntingly echo the policies which brought Donald Trump to power in the United States. She reflects the increasingly inwards-facing politics, capitalising on the fear felt in France after recent terror attacks. Her policies blame globalisation and the ‘outside’ for the problems facing France, arguing that immigration threatens French jobs and security. This viewpoint has also seen her criticise the European Union, claiming she would leave the shared currency and bring back the Franc, and that she would follow in the United Kingdom’s footsteps with an EU membership referendum. The implications of these policies could completely change the nature of Europe.
By contrast, Emmanuel Macron is offering the people of France a centrist, almost Blair-esque, manifesto. He promotes openness and believes that relationships with the rest of the world only allow France to become stronger. Macron’s manifesto is pro-trade, pro-EU, pro-competition and pro-immigration, embracing different and new cultures and cultural changes. He calls himself the ‘pro-globalisation revolutionary’, drawing on the country’s revolutionary past to suggest he will implement change. Interestingly, Mr Macron is not a newcomer to the political sphere in France, despite his Party En Marche! only being created last year. He previously held the title of Minister of the Economy for President Hollande.
Over the course of the campaign, many people have attempted to evaluate the state of France under each potential leader. The Economist concluded that “a victory to Macron would be evidence that liberalism still exists in Europe” and that “a victory for Le Penn would make France poorer, more insular and nastier”. This is based off economic analysis that if France were to leave the shared European currency, “it would trigger financial crisis and doom a union that has for all its flaws, promoted peace and prosperity in Europe for six decades.” This is, however, just one point of view.
With the polls constantly changing, it is certainly an election to be watched, especially due to the potential implications for Europe.
Unless there were to be an unexpected revival of Republican faith in Fillon, France has two clear options. Following the election, the country could become radically closed off to the world, dropping the euro, reducing immigration and isolating itself in extreme protectionism. Alternatively, Macron could lead them to further integration with other countries, opting for friendship and union, rather than hiding away in fear. With the polls constantly changing, it is certainly an election to be watched, especially due to the potential implications for Europe.