By Campaign Agent William Fawcett
On the 7 May, the French electorate takes to the polls to choose who they believe is the best candidate to lead France. Traditionally, the two remaining winners from the first round have represented each side of the ideological spectrum: Left and Right. However, no sooner had 2016 thrown up its share of surprises, 2017 promises to continue this trend, as neither of the two candidates is truly on one side or the other. Moreover, with Macron leading his En Marche! (English: On our way) movement and Le Pen stepping down as leader of the Front National, for the first time, neither of the two candidates represents a mainstream political party.
Rather than a conventional vote along party lines, this time French voters will make their choice for the Presidential candidate themselves. However, what is on offer for France come the 7th May?
Emmanuel Macron, 39
Disillusioned with the Parti Socialiste under François Hollande, the former Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs relinquished his position in 2016 to set up a new movement to promote his presidential bid called ‘En Marche!’. Formerly an investment banker for Rothschild’s, Macron has nevertheless attempted to shake off his association with the political ‘elite’ under his candidacy and instead vows to sew the deep divisions exposed in French society.
Ideologically, Macron is neither left nor right, despite being part of Hollande’s outgoing socialist government. He defines himself as socially progressive while advocating free-market liberal economics, and is thus labelled by many as a centrist. This way of political stance is often called the third way (centrism) and was promoted by many former heads of government or state such as Tony Blair under New Labour and Bill Clinton during the 1990s.
Macron is an intelligible candidate for the presidency, and while his vision to appeal to all classes of society has seen him criticised as a ‘populist’, this is arguably not the case. Passionately pro-Europe, Macron favours even further economic and political integration in the European Union and stands firmly on the non-interventionist side on foreign policy. He supports cutting corporation tax to 25% from 33.3% and wishes to retain France’s long-held reliance on nuclear energy. A supporter of same-sex marriage and France’s many equality laws, Macron is self-described as a liberal in most senses of the word.
The 39-year-old also wishes to end the State of Emergency triggered all the way back in 2015 after the November Paris attacks, encourages open-door immigration policies and unsurprisingly for any French presidential candidate, avowedly supports the state remaining secular – La Laïcité. Much of the latter has been in stark contrast with his political adversary, also pledging to represent the ‘underrepresented’.
Marine Le Pen, 48
The eldest daughter of the deeply controversial Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen has been part of her father’s party - the Front National - since 1986, becoming the leader in 2011. Under her premiership, Le Pen has endeavoured to ‘detoxify’ the party and rid it of the legacy left behind by her predecessor, particularly through expelling many members who espoused controversial and offensive views, including her father in 2015.
It is reasonable to believe that she has succeeded in just that, and many of her political beliefs have struck a chord with the French population who feel left behind and disenfranchised with the status quo. Although she stepped down as FN leader just a day after her advance into the second round of voting, she still represents much of what the FN advocates. Her sound bite of ‘France First’ resonates well with almost all her political beliefs.
Le Pen believes that the FN’s immigration policy speaks for itself – suspend all legal and illegal immigration – and instead focuses on economic and social issues. Vehemently anti-Europe, Le Pen would hold an in/out referendum and restore all border controls. More radically, she proposes to completely abandon the Euro and bring back the franc, while also introducing protectionist policies to benefit French companies. Her stance on bringing back the franc has been left out of her campaign in the final weeks, as it is likely such a drastic measure would have severe implications for the French economy.
Although sharply critical of radical Islamism and linking the issue to open borders, Le Pen does not stoop so low as blaming the entire religion on a select minority. However, she would like to remove France from NATO’s command structure, increasing military expenditure, but like Macron she is rather non-interventionist in her foreign policy. On social issues, Le Pen disagrees with abortion, but would not repeal its legalisation, although she has declared herself against the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
It all boils down to the 7th May
Although Le Pen shares some of the same political views as Macron, particularly on energy, secularism, and political reform, the issue of Europe is one that clearly unmasks their differences. While our general election next month firmly centres on Brexit; many French voters would also like to see a ‘Frexit’. Eurosceptics come from both the Left and the Right, and Le Pen could well unite these two sides, particularly from the supporters of the far-left. However, the socialist Mélénchon, defeated in the first round, has instructed his supporters to either abstain or spoil their vote, which has considerably increased the unpredictability of this Sunday’s election. While the polls indicate a Macron win, we all know how 2016 has completely discredited these types of predictions.
The result of the election will also be firmly felt on our side of La Manche, and while Le Pen is towing the anti-EU line like the UK, a victory for the far-right candidate would not be all good news for Britain. Despite using Brexit as a catalyst for her aspirations, her attention is focused more on the EU’s demise than anything else. Likewise with Macron and his strong emotional attachment to the EU. It is unknown whether he would seek to punish the UK as various EU officials have vowed to do, but has called Brexit a ‘crime’ and that there can be no ‘caveat or waiver’ on the negotiating table.
The markets are wishing for and predicting a Macron win, which would result in more of the same for France, although Macron promises to unite the country in a different fashion to his predecessors. His next challenge would be how his nascent movement would fare in the June legislative elections. En Marche! is expected to field candidates in all 577 constituencies, however many of these aspiring députés are novices to the political arena. A disappointing outcome in June would result in a lame duck presidency and a return to the inefficiency to which France has often fallen victim.
However, an unexpected win for Le Pen if other parties fail to unify and rally around the centrist candidate would produce a huge shock in French politics and the future of Europe as we know it could be in jeopardy. Macron is currently polling around 60% while his opponent is hovering around 40% respectively, but these observations ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. Whatever happens, traditional French politics has seen its day, and we can look forward to a different form of politics playing its part in the future.