Sunday 23rd of April, was the first round of the French election. For the first time ever, the competition was extremely tight between four candidates: the right candidate François Fillon, the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Emmanuel Macron and his independent movement ‘En Marche’ and finally the far-right candidate Marine le pen. All four candidates had both strong support from a part of the population, but are also despised by another part. No candidate had managed to attract a strong majority. Hence, polls were extremely tights and doubts were existent until the last minute.
‘No candidate had managed to attract a strong majority’
France is used to a traditional right-left opposition in the second turn, but for the first time neither won the first round. This normally includes a Socialist and Republican candidate. The results were very tight, which is also very uncommon. Macron was in the lead with 24% of the votes, followed by Le Pen with 21,3%. Fillon scored 20%, Mélenchon 19,6%, and Hamon the left candidate 6,4%.
Following the election, both François Fillon and Benoit Hamon, and many other French major political figures, such as the current president François Hollande and former president Nicolas Sarkozy have manifested their support for Macron. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who accepted with bitterness the results, first declared he would hear what his supporter are willing to do, before announcing for whom he should vote. On the 26th of April he announced he would not say before the second round who he would vote for.
If this result meant satisfaction for some, for others it was a huge disappointment, which can be felt in the people’s decision concerning the second round. Indeed, many candidates are ready to vote for the far-right party or have decided to vote blank considering that neither of the two candidates deserves their vote, both being viewed as deep-rooted in a flawed system. The blank vote for some is considered as a mean to express discontentment and a call for change. Even though, the blank vote in France is not taken into consideration. I strongly think that a blank vote is letting others decide for you and so can ultimately jeopardise democracy if it allows Le Pen to be in power.
It is the first time in French history that both extremes parties have been so popular. When Marine le Pen’s father was presiding over the far right party, he did once in 2002 gain 16,86% of the votes and so participated in the second turn. In 2002, the second turn was brilliantly won by the right candidate Jacques Chirac with 82,21% of the votes. However, the 2017 elections are different. Marine Le Pen has much more support than her father had in 2002; she has admirably taken distance from her father’s speech. Thus, nothing can be taken for granted concerning the second turn.
‘It is the first time in French history that both extremes parties have been so popular’
Marine Le pen and Emmanuel Macron have similarities concerning their economic policies. They both want to decreases the social and employer contribution of firms, and to reform the housing tax.
However, despite this similarity, their economic ideologies are quite contradictory. While Macron wants a liberal model, with minimal economic control from the state, Le Pen is a nationalist wanting protectionist measures to favour the French economy. Linked to this state of mind is their position on the European Union: the former wants to stay in the EU but wishes to build a new European project giving more means and power to the EU. For example, by creating a European security council or a euro zone parliament, as well as more funds for European defence. Le pen is fundamentally against the EU which she believes is too costly and a disadvantage for the French workers. She wants France out of European Union and wants a new currency. It will be interesting to see which policy the French people vote for.
‘Le pen is fundamentally against the EU which she believes is too costly and a disadvantage for the French workers’
Immigration is another issue where the pair contrast. Marine le Pen is widely opposed to immigration, which she believes is against the French people’s interest. To apply this she wants to tax companies that hire foreigners, suppress territorial principle and limit social insurance for foreigners that work in France for their first years of their residence. She wants out of the Schengen area, to have full control over French borders and wants to reduce immigration by 10 000 each year. On the other hand, Macron is more towards a European collaboration with for example more men to control European borders and a simplification of the administrative process for immigrants. He recognises that France has a responsibility towards immigration and insists on the importance of teaching the French language for better integration.
In terms of education, they also have very different priorities. Macron has centred his reforms on the priority educations zone which are schools facing more social difficulties. They intend to reduce social inequalities. He foresees to hire more teachers in those areas as well as divide the elementary classes in two so that one class is composed of twelve pupils. Le Pen, for her part, is more concerned about the lack of rigour in schools and wants more hours of French in elementary schools, impose ‘laïcité’ in schools and universities, and wants to make the wearing of the uniform compulsory. Laïcité encourages the absence of religion in public areas.
Ecology is not the main concern of both candidates which is an issue for many people. Both are for the prohibition of the shale gas and are against the shutdown of nuclear power in France. Macron has a few reforms in this area, such as an investment of 15 billion for energetic transition and doubling the number of wind turbine and solar panel by 2022, but apart from that, his programme is poor in ecological policy. Le Pen has centred her campaign on animal protection and wants to ban the use of GMO.
In terms of international relations, they are both mainly in opposition considering the France-Russia relationship. While Le Pen wishes to tighten relations between the two countries, especially in the fight against the Islamic State, Macron is less keen on this proposition. He advocates a good relationship, but insists on maintaining the sanctions against Russia, as long as they do not respect the Minsk Agreements.
In June, legislative elections will also be important in allowing people to decide if they want to counter balance French Presidential Power.
The policies of the remaining two candidates are both very different and two very different France’s are on offer in the Second round. These elections represent a challenge for both candidates who have never had a majority in the National Assembly. If they don’t have a majority reforms will be harder to implement and they will have to lead in what is called a ‘cohabitation’ (when the majority of the assembly is embodied by a different party than the president’s one). It certainly is all to play for in the next two weeks of campaigning.