2017 is already shaping up to be a pivotal year for French politics as well as for the future of the European Union, with the Republican candidate, François Fillon, and Marine Le Pen of the Front National, preparing to go to battle to be France’s new president.
As we all know, 2016 was a pretty tumultuous and destabilizing year in European and international politics and 2017 looks set to follow in the same suit with EU members keeping a close eye on the result of May’s election.
“Fillon is a very good candidate for me… his job losses policy is the worst that has ever existed”
Marine Le Pen, November 2016
It was back in November that Fillon caused a shock by coming from nowhere to win the Republican primary ahead of the previous favourite, Alain Juppé, who is also the Mayor of Bordeaux. The controversial figurehead of the far-right Front National, Le Pen, admitted that it was a huge surprise that the former had usurped Juppé. France is therefore now left with 2 major right-wing candidates, with Fillon representing the so-called Thatcherite option and Le Pen trying to broaden her appeal beyond her far right support base.
On one hand, the Republican presidential candidate picked up a surge of popularity. This was surprising as he had served as France’s prime minister for 5 years under former president, Nicolas Sarkozy and is proposing several radical reforms, such as ending the 35 hour week in France, cutting 500,000 public sector jobs, raising the retirement age and strengthening ties with Russia. The 62-year-old Fillon has also caused controversy over his views on abortion and gay marriage.
Le Pen, on the other hand, has aimed to detoxify the brand of the National Front, which has been perceived as the more extreme right-wing option for its anti-immigration rhetoric. Her father, Jean-Marie, allegedly denied the events of the Holocaust but she has sought to appeal to more mainstream voters whilst underlining policies such as restoring sovereignty, strengthening border controls and reintroducing the franc by leaving the Euro. She also wants to hold a Brexit-style referendum in order to leave the European Union and she will have gained confidence from both the UK’s decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s unlikely election stateside.
France’s political system is very different to that of the UK. The President as the head of the French state, or “La République”, deals with matters of foreign policy and security and elects the Prime Minister. Both the President and the Government are responsible for governing the state. The French Parliament includes the National Assembly whose members are all directly-elected representatives of their regional constituencies and it can overthrow the Prime Minister.
France is already reeling from the deeply unpopular François Hollande’s tenure as president, who is regarded to have been too indecisive in addressing concerns over national security, immigration and rising levels of unemployment. Hollande incidentally will not be standing for re-election this time around.
Whatever the result come May 2017, the election is bound to herald a new era and direction for France’s domestic and foreign policy. If Le Pen causes a Trump-like shock and is elected into the Elysée Palace, would she be able to convince voters to follow our lead in leaving the EU? How would this affect issues surrounding unemployment and of course immigration? Even if François Fillon is elected, it will be a departure from the unpopular more moderate left-wing governing Socialist party. What is certain is that the result in May will have far-reaching consequences for all of Europe.