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Our Eyes on the French Election: Meet the Candidates

At a time when political analysts are shocked by seemingly impossible global patterns towards increased conservatism in politics, all eyes are on the upcoming April presidential election in France. The results of the election will not only have consequences for the country itself, but also has the potential to further shake the security of the European Union and is giving rise to concerns about international trends toward conservatism in the wake of  the immigration crisis spurred on by increasing unrest and the growth of extremist Islamic terrorism in the Arab world.

The French presidential election is conducted in two rounds of public voting. The first round will take place on April 23rd. Assuming that no candidate takes a majority of the votes, the two candidates with the most votes in the first round will proceed to a final round of voting. The majority winner of this second round will be elected President of France for a five-year term. The 2017 election is likely to be very significant for years to come, as previous presidents have promised to repair the French economy and lower unemployment without much success since 2002.

Politico Europe

Currently, five candidates qualify as top contenders for the Presidency, out of which three earn special consideration from a global perspective. The first is former prime minister François Fillon, a social conservative and pro-free market senior politician. At the core of his economic platform exists a call for extensive cuts in public spending coupled changes in the French workplace. Socially, Fillon has advocated for tighter controls on immigration into France and has suggested that Islam poses a threat to French values. Recently, however, Fillon has become entangled in a elitist political scandal regarding the hundreds of thousands of euros he paid to his wife and children from the public payroll for little or no work during his time as prime minister, greatly diminishing his chances of making it past the first round of the election.

On the other side of the political spectrum exists Marine Le Pen of the National Front, a far-right, nationalist and anti-immigration party. In the past year the National Front has won large victories in the European Parliament, and has greatly capitalized on recent episodes of violence and civil unrest in France to play up its criticism of Islam and provide evidence for the need for much tighter immigration controls and hardline measures against Muslims living in France. Despite the extremist flavour of much of the National Front’s platform, Le Pen has made a point of distancing herself and the party from Trump-style racist and xenophobic rhetoric, and the platform gives valid critiques of many flaws in fundamental European economic systems, especially with respect to Euro zone. On that note, Le Pen has promised to hold a referendum on a French exit from the euro similar to the UK referendum held in June of last year and raise protectionist tariffs, if elected. According to analysts from The Economist, she is leading in the polls and will certainly be a finalist in the second round. However, her overall victory is still not assured, given that mainstream parties often work together in the second round to defeat National Front candidates

Politico Europe

Given that Fillon, once the grand favorite as a contender to Le Pen, has come under such scrutiny, independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron has emerged to the forefront. Representing his own political movement, “En Marche!” (translates to “On Our Way!” or “Onward!”). Macron, the former economy minister, guided the government’s shift towards pro-business economic policies in the past. Macron presents himself as “forward-looking”, “socially progressive”, free-market and pro-Europe. He has done well in the polls, trailing Le Pen by only a few points and running neck-in-neck with Fillon, and has recently received an official endorsement from prominent centrist and three-time presidential candidate François Bayrou.

Analysts have described the atmosphere in France as one eager to elect from outside the current political establishment by breaking the grip of traditional left and right parties, and neither Le Pen nor Macron are associated with traditional parties or have ever held executive office. However, Le Pen descends from a long line of politicians, most notably her father, Jean-Marie, the founder of the National Front. She claims to speak for the people, yet does so from a mansion in one of the most fashionable suburbs of Paris. Additionally, Macron’s background includes graduating from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, an elite civil-service college, and extensive work first as an investment banker and later an adviser to current President François Hollande. Despite their questionable status as political outsiders, the candidate French voters want seems to need to break convention after two sequential lackluster presidencies, whether in a liberal-progressive or nationalist direction. It remains to be seen in the coming month whether Fillon or Macron will emerge to oppose Le Pen in the final round of the election.


Author’s note: not mentioned, but still considered moderately strong contenders for President are Benoît Hamon (Socialist, “Parti Socialiste”) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Leftist, “Parti de Gauche”). Read a brief overview of all five candidates here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/world/europe/france-presidential-candidates.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FFrance&_r=0


Sources and further reading:

  • On the French electoral system: Politico, “Everything You Need to Know About the Elections in France”
  • On the candidates (brief overview): New York Times, “French Election: The 5 Leading Presidential Candidates”
  • On Fillon Scandal: New York Times, “François Fillon, French Presidential Candidate, Vows to Run Despite Inquiry”
  • On Emmanuel Macron: The Economist, “Emmanuel Macron is edging closer to France’s presidency”
  • On Marine Le Pen and the National Front: New York Times, “Can Populism Take Paris?”

On the push for a political outsider as President: The Economist, “The urge to elect an insurgent is helping Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron in France”


Gabrielle Grifno is a JHU Biomedical Engineering major of the Class of 2020. Interests include: U.S. foreign and domestic policy, the 2016 Presidential Election, global economics, and feminism on college campuses and around the world. Loves comfy sweaters, hot chocolate and lively debate.
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