It seems as if the French Presidential election has been placed at the back of our minds for a long time now. As Americans, most of us likely only hear whispers about the political happenings of France, but it seems as if yesterday those whispers became shouts as the first round of voting in the French Presidential Election had arrived.
Before we get into the juicy details of the election and its candidates, let’s very briefly describe the election’s most important rules.
In order to become a candidate in the election, one must first receive 500 signatures of support from elected officials within a three week period (it ended on March 17, 2017). The signatures “must be spread across at least 30 different departments, with no more than 50 signatures per department,” according to The Local.
On the actual night of the election, it is considered to be the first round of voting. The reason voting in France is described in ‘rounds’ is that, much like the Georgia Special Election, to win the French Presidential Election a candidate must have over 50% of the vote. If no candidate achieves over 50% of the vote, the top two candidates are placed in a runoff election (Round Two of Voting) where one will inevitably reach the majority vote. This second round will take place on May 7, 2017.
With 99.9% of polling places reporting at the time of this article’s submission, the portion of the vote each candidate has received are as follows:
Emmanuel Macron (EMA)- 23.8%
Marine Le Pen (FN)- 21.6%
Francois Fillon (LR)- 19.9%
Jean-Luc Melenchon (LFI)- 19.5%
Benoit Hamon (PS)- 6.3%
From these voting results, it is safe to say that candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will move on to the second round of voting.
It is indeed, regardless of who comes out on top in the second round of voting, a historic day in France. Both candidates who have proceeded to the runoff election, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, are a part of parties that have not been prominent in France until this election.
The usual suspects-or parties- are the French Socialist Party and Les Republicans. However, due to scandals and poor politics, the majority of French voters have abandoned these parties, at least in this election.
The French Socialist Party has suffered significant political blowback due to the current Hollande Administration. Hollande is reportedly one of the least-popular French leaders in the country’s history, with approval ratings hovering around 4%. Due to Hollande’s poor performance, he did not seek reelection. Though a new candidate, Benoit Hamon, was elected to run for the Socialist Party, even he could not shake the political stench left on the party by Hollande.
Francois Fillon has a more tragic tale, however. At one point in the campaign, Fillon was the political favorite, but his campaign was soon wracked by scandals and accusations of corruption which caused his numbers to sink to unrecoverable depths.
The first and largest allegation of Fillon’s corruption came from a French newspaper that alleged Fillon had paid his wife €500,000 using government funds over an eight-year period for an assistant job she had never actually done. Further allegations of corruption followed this and continued to dog Fillon’s chance to recover. According to The Guardian, “A stream of further allegations followed: that Fillon had set up similar, short-term work for his children; got a billionaire friend to pay Penelope for a non-job on his literary magazine; and accepted gifts of bespoke suits and watches worth tens of thousands of euros.” The non-stop flow of corruption allegations against Fillan rendered him unable to recover his credibility, which paved the way for the likes of Macron and Le Pen to be the nation’s front-runners.
The Candidates Proceeding to the Runoff: A Brief Summary
Emmanuel Macron- Emmanuel Macron has gone out of his way throughout the campaign to express two things; he’s not a part of the political establishment and he’s neither strictly left or right. Though claiming not to be an establishment pick may not benefit Macron much, as a quick search can tell you that he served as current President Francois Hollande’s economy minister from 2014-2016. But, to his credit, Macron has never held elected office.
He angered Hollande when he left his administration to start the En Marche movement. Macron is also a former member of the French Socialist Party.
Macron’s economic policy varies dramatically from that of his now main opponent, Marine Le Pen.
Unlike Le Pen, Macron is an avid defender of the EU. He also wishes to cut France’s government spending to 50% of GDP. However, according to Business Insider, he will not immediately seek to create a balanced budget. Macron has also made it a campaign promise to reduce corporate/wealth taxes, and, much like Donald Trump, has said he will cut various state jobs and positions.
On immigration, Macron wishes to keep France within the Schengen, an area in which 26 European countries have all but eliminated border control along their mutual borders.
Macron has expressed his want for the borders of the EU as a whole to be strengthened, though he seems to have a soft spot for refugees. Macron has stated in the past that he believes France’s immigration policies unfairly target Muslims and has said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “saved our collective dignity” with her open door refugee policy.
Marine Le Pen- Marine Le Pen has taken on an image of controversy throughout the campaign. A populistic nationalist, Le Pen holds a slew of opinions that have profoundly divided France.
Le Pen is running under the banner of the National Front Party, which she took control of from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011. When she took control of the party, she started a campaign of “de-démonisation,” according to The Telegraph. The campaign was an attempt to move the party away from its racist, anti-semitic past, which it saw under her father’s leadership. The final separation from the party’s dirty past was when Le Pen had her father kicked out of the party in 2015 for Holocaust denial. After his dramatic expulsion, Jean-Marie Le Pen publicly disowned his daughter and, according to The Guardian, they haven’t spoken since the incident.
Le Pen’s view on the EU seems to match that of Theresa May and the ‘Brexiters.’ She sees the EU as a hindrance to France and wishes to exit the Union in favor of “intelligent protectionism” and the establishment of a unique French national currency.
Economically, Le Pen is a protectionist. She wishes to place tariffs on foreign imports and has called on the French government to put a tax on hiring overseas workers. Le Pen has also, according to AlJazeera, “promised to protect state workers.” Additionally, she has also pledged to reduce the retirement age to 60.
Much like Macron, Le Pen also wishes to keep the 35-hour work week, a policy adopted by the French socialist government in 2000. French citizens, under this policy, are limited to a 35-hour work week. Any working by an individual employee past that marker is to be paid as overtime. Le Pen wants overtime pay to be untaxed.
Adversely, Macron wants to allow more flexible company-employee negotiation when it comes to the 35-hour work week.
On the issue of immigration, Le Pen’s views differ with Macron just as drastically as they do on economics. Le Pen has promised to promptly exit the Schengen zone, and with it, she will hire an additional 6,000 customs officers. Le Pen and the National Front Party have emphasized that there will be zero-tolerance for illegal immigration, and hope to cut down legal immigration to the point that France only accepts a maximum of 10,000 people as new citizens/nationals a year.
Who Will Be Victorious?
According to most polling data, Macron will likely defeat Le Pen in the runoff election. Though there is a chance Le Pen could bounce back, The Telegraph reports that available polling indicates that Macron will win the election with about 60% of the vote, well over the +50% majority needed.