The French Candidates

The French Candidates

Just two months before the French election, and after many twists during the past year, we finally have an (almost) definitive list of candidates. Five candidates are now polling at more than 10% and will be participating in next month’s debates just a few weeks before the first round:


Marine Le Pen will most likely get the most votes in the first round (though she is almost certain to lose the second round by a very large margin). She is the daughter of far-right politician and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, known for his extreme positions and many slip-ups about Jews and Arabs as he ran six times for the presidency. Since the 2012 election, when she first inherited the party’s leadership, she has been trying to normalise her image to widen her electorate. She has been distancing herself from her father, who she expelled from the party a few years ago, and has taken more moderate positions – in most of her campaign posters she uses only “Marine” and the National Front is nowhere to be found. In reality, she stays very conservative on social issues, advocating for the ban of all religious symbols in public space and the (almost) complete stop of immigration to France (from 200,000 to 10,000). She wants France to leave the EU and Eurozone and has a very protectionist approach to the economy.

Emmanuel Macron is currently considered the front runner. Former Economy Minister in Hollande’s government, “outsider” and founder of the “neither right-wing neither left-wing” party En Marche (“on the move”), he is running on a very vague liberal-progressive platform. Often criticised for lacking a real and articulated programme, he said of his propositions for the economy that were released in February that the proposed new spending (tax cuts, higher benefits, etc.) were only general guidelines for his future actions. He is very pro-European, even though his manifesto seldom mentions real propositions about Europe.  He seems to be benefiting from this lack of precision (he has attracted people from all political backgrounds) but leaves many to doubt what he will do if elected.

François Fillon is on the heels of Mr. Macron. Former front-runner, former Prime Minister and winner of the centre-right primary, he got caught up in the accusations of a fictive employment of his wife as Parliamentary Assistant. Those accusations have yet to be proven but have left Mr Fillon down in the polls (losing 6-8 points in two weeks) and he is now desperately trying to get his campaign back on track.  Self-identified as the “Thatcherite” candidate, he advocates the drastic reduction of the deficit through cuts in the wage bill of the state and for tax cuts for business and individuals. He wants to abolish the 35-hour maximum working time to both compensate the cut in public servants and create a more competitive economy. Seen as conservative yet pro-European, he tries to position himself as the experienced candidate with 30 years in Parliament, but has been strongly weakened.

Benoit Hamon, former Minister of National Education (fired in 2014 for opposing the Prime Minister) won the left-wing primary in January. He is seen as representing the far left of the socialist party, having centred his manifesto on the recently passed Labour Laws Reforms, the taxation of robots, the stopping of the nuclear industry and the creation of a universal basic income of a monthly 750€ per person. Those propositions are imagined to largely expand the deficit (the estimated cost for the basic income is 250 Bn€, two thirds of the actual French budget) –  good thing he does not plan on respecting the EU deficit obligation (maximum 3% of the GDP) which France is already violating. After trying to unite the left behind his candidacy (and getting the Green Party candidate to rally him), he still polls way behind the three big candidates.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, former MP and member of the Socialist Party, former presidential candidate in 2012 for the Left Front (a mix of the Communist Party, other small far-left parties and rebellious socialists), he is running for “Unsubmissive France” and has been for a long time the highest polling candidate on the left. His manifesto consists of wage cap, highest taxes, a new Republic, illiberalism and Euroscepticism – attracting parts of the far-left who are disappointed in the Hollande government. He refused to rally Benoit Hamon, who is slowly taking away his far left electorate, and has gone down in the polls but he still hopes to gather around 10% of the votes.

The left-wing candidates and Fillon’s scandal is leaving a gap for Emmanuel Macron to lead the polls. However, he has an unstable base – only 40% of his electorate is “certain” to vote for him, compared to 80% for Le pen and 70% for Fillon. Two months is an eternity in a French election – even polls are struggling to gauge the leanings of the electorate and predictions are difficult to make.


Featured Image: Remi Noyon via Flickr

Raphael Cario