A “Who’s Who” of the French Election
Here's a cheatsheet to guide you through the five-horse race that is the upcoming presidential election in France
Marine Le Pen (Le Front National)
Marine Le Pen is no stranger to the French political world. Her family has long been engrained in the French political scene, starting with prominent millionaire and her father: Jean-Marie Le Pen who created le Front National in the 1970s. During his reign, the party was largely seen as an anti-semitic, neo-nazi revivalist movement and consequently wasn’t given much credence despite nearly taking the win for the party in 2002. Since then, Marine Le Pen has taken the reigns of the party, and in an effort to modernise it and rebuild its image, kicked out her own father.
Broadly speaking, she’s a right-wing populist; but still fairly on the left economically when comparing her to Farage or Trump due to her support of social welfare. Just last week, she released a nearly 150 page long programme for her presidential campaign, which included her ideals and future plans for the country. The most prominent section within the programme was about the European Union, which she plans to leave not only structurally, with a Frexit referendum, but economically as well, proposing the nationalisation of the Euro— the same applies to her plans for NATO. Second most important in her pamphlet is immigration, which she hopes to drastically reform and limit, insisting on “law and order”. In the same thread as that, she hopes to limit foreigner’s rights if and when they do get to France, such as forcing them to pay out of pocket for medical costs for the first two years of their stay in France, while also taxing the work they do. But amongst her right-wing policies, she maintains a policy on wage parity for women and a maintaining of the 35 hour work week, along with other things.
For the past few months, Le Pen has been leading in the polls, sitting at around the mid-twenty percent range. Much of her growth is the result of blue-collar workers in the far north and south coming from the socialist party and the left hoping to find an ally in Le Pen and her constituents (despite her and her family being extremely privileged). Her position in the polls generally isn’t predicted to change any time soon, given that she’s been a shoe-in to the second around for almost a year, but then again the presidential race has showed no mercy thus far in terms of bizarre shakeups.
Emmanuel Macron (En Marche)
The rising star of the French election, which given his relatively young age in terms of the French political world at 39, it’s not hard to see why. He’s also keen to play the outsider card, as neither he nor his movement, En Marche (roughly translated as “forward”) are loyal to any one party. Despite his claims however, Macron gained his wealth and prominence through rising up the ranks as an investment banker at the Rothschild bank, closing deals which would make him a millionaire. His position as a young and promising banker would later win him favour with François Hollande and his government garnering him a position as his economy minister in a last ditch attempt to “loosen up” France’s stagnating economy.
Macron, being a self proclaimed centrist, is a neoliberal reminiscent of Blair’s Third Way movement, preferring a liberal approach to both social issues and to the economy. His main campaign promise is to restructure the French economic system with a goal to make France more lucrative for business. In terms of global trade he’s just as liberal, notably being the only candidate to openly support the CETA (Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) with Canada, which many have described as an affront to French environmental standards and agriculture. Macron has also been positioning himself as France’s only Europhile candidate, expressing his interest in not only staying in the EU, but strengthening it, making him quite the oddball coming into the spring.
In previous weeks, Macron looked poised to pass through the first round of voting in April along with Marine Le Pen and later beat her in the second round the following month; however he slipped back to third place just this week, though he still has a lot of support behind him, not to mention the support of the prominent French centirst, François Bayrou. Though the polls have fluctuated, he's still managed to hold his own; however, given the vagueness of his campaign so far, that could always change.
François Fillon (Les Républicains)
Francois Fillon shook the entire French political scene when he jumped from an expected third place to the eventual winner of the centre-right Les Républicains’ primary last November. As par for the course in French politics, he’s certainly no stranger to the voting base, considering he’s been a part of the elite since the 90s, even becoming Prime Minister under Sarkozy’s term. not to mention holding numerous positions as a minister all throughout his career.
Keeping in the spirit of the presidential race thus far, he's quite an oddity. As an ardent Anglophile and Thatcherite, he’s very much an odd sight in France. His hard-right positioning has made him an illustrious catch for business leaders and investors along with some le Front National’s far-right sympathisers due to his “law and order” stance on immigration, not too far from Le Pen’s own. His main policy has been, like Macron, freeing up France’s economy by redistributing power in the owner-worker relationship to favour the owner and business. He wants to not only give businesses more flexibility with their wages, but lengthen the maximum workweek from the long-standing and much-prized 35 hours. Political opponents lambast this as being “working more, for less;” however Fillon holds that these reforms would in the long run, better the life of the workers and greatly increase a stagnating economy.
After his primary, Fillon was the favourite to beat Le Pen in the second round; however in January new reports released by Le Canard Echainé claimed that Fillon, during his work in parliament, payed his wife more than € 800,000 of public funds for work as his parliamentary assistant from 2002 to 2007. Though hiring a family member isn’t illegal in France, Le Canard claimed her role was fictitious with many sources claiming to never seen her. This sent the government into a larger investigation, raiding both the Senate and National Assembly for evidence of her work. “Penelopegate” finally boiled over this month with an interview dug up from 2007 to a British paper in which she claimed she’s “never been his assistant.” Despite Fillon insisting he will stay in the race, much to the dismay of many party leaders, it’s still unsure if he’ll ever regain the momentum he once had; yet despite a short fall in the polls, he's managed to keep his position in second.
Benoît Hamon (Le Parti Socialiste)
Hamon, like Fillon, was for most of the lead up to the Socialist primary going to come in a definitive third; however in January he shocked everyone by surpassing not only party favourite Montebourg, but the previous Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Since then, he’s been attempting to rebrand le Parti Socialiste, which has in recent times been closer to the centre-left than Hamon’s far-left, into the party of the future. Whether this comes to fruition or not is still to be seen.
The best descriptor for Hamon is “idealogical.” His ideals are founded less on pragmatic reform as seen under Hollande, but rather a sense of radical change. One of his more striking ideas, which shocked not only fellow party members, but voters, was the idea of a universal income for all citizens, employed or not. Amongst this he’s also proposed a tax on robots along with many optimistic solutions to fight climate change. Socially he is also on the left, proposing not only the legalisation of cannabis, but euthanasia practices as well. In line with his hard-left stance, he is also in favour of an open and welcoming society in terms of immigration and refugees. To his supporters, his ideas are as coherent as they are hopeful, but for his detractors he’s seen as a utopian dreamer above all else which could pose problems for growth past the voter base.
Hamon currently is coming in fourth in the most recent polls; however he is slowly on the rise. He’s made a call towards members of the left to unite under him in a “governmental majority” and this strategy seems to be working. According to insiders in the Green party, Yannick Jadot appears ready to sacrifice himself in favour of Hamon, though how much this matters has yet to be seen considering the historically low voter base for the Greens in general. It is clear though, that if he has any chance of winning, he’ll need to consolidate the left towards a singular candidate.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise)
Mélenchon, the former porte-parole of le Parti de Gauche, is the far-left firebrand of the French election. He’s managed to carve out quite the following for himself and his movement La France Insoumise (translated as “Unsubmissive France” ) over the years, being no stranger to what it’s like running for office. Though he’s an independent, he has like Macron, stood his ground. Being in the race since July 2015, he’s had time to not only get the support of le Parti Communiste, but a decent amount of blue-collar workers and young people. Despite all this, he still lags behind in a definite 5th place behind the Socialists and has failed to significantly gain much traction, especially since Hamon’s getting the Socialist’s ticket.
Mélenchon tends to represent an older and more classic form of left-wing populism, harkening back to the days of the French revolution. He’s proposed both a leaving of NATO and a renegotiating of the European treaties, with the caveat that a failure to do so would result in their exit from the bloc. With the support of many French Communists, it’s no surprise that economically he wants to strengthen workers rights and protect French industry, especially agriculture. Amongst all that, environmentally he’s even more radical, proposing an exit from Nuclear towards renewables in a 25 year period and reliance on those renewables to be at 100% 25 years after that. It should be noted though, that many of the ideas he’s proposed are meant for referendums rather than from the central government itself, as decentralisation back to the citizenry is another part of his platform, which he hopes to found a VIth republic under.
Much like Hamon, Mélenchon is in need of a solidified left behind him to beat the right. In response to Hamon’s calls to unite, he demanded that Hamon choose between him and the Socialist party, which he feels is no longer congruent to both their ideals. There is some credence to that claim, given that many Socialist party members have been jumping ship towards Macron. But whether or not Hamon will join him or he Hamon is still in the air.
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