Just weeks after the 2017 Dutch Election, Europe once again finds itself gripped with election fever, this time emanating from France.
The French Presidential Election will take place over April and May, and there are a diverse range of different candidates in the running. In our election focus, we’ll be taking a look at who’s who, which candidates are likely to win and what victory could mean for France and the value of the Euro.
The title of President is a key one, as unlike other ceremonial Presidents, the French President is widely considered the international representative of France and holds special powers to appoint ministers and even bypass parliament altogether.
While there are over ten candidates vying for victory, we’ll be focusing on the main five who have the greatest chance of claiming the French Presidency.
One of the ‘big three’ of the five main candidates, Marine Le Pen is a strong representative of France’s political right wing. With Eurosceptic policies and a staunch attitude towards migrants, Le Pen would certainly be a shock choice for President.
That said, recent polls place her head to head with Emmanuel Macron in joint first place, a testament to the rising levels of dissatisfaction with the status quo in France.
This stirring national sentiment is reflected in Le Pen’s manifesto pledges, which include plans to take France out of the EU Schengen zone, to set up solid borders and even to subject France to a ‘Frexit’ referendum on EU membership.
Putting this sentiment into perspective, Le Pen stated in 2014 that;
‘The EU is deeply harmful, it is an anti-democratic monster. Today, we are simply allowing our right to self-determination to be stolen from us’.
More recently (and more caustically) Le Pen declared;
‘The European Union will die because the people do not want it anymore…arrogant and hegemonic empires are destined to perish’.
Other proposals include reintroducing the French Franc, triggering a severe limitation on immigration into France and lessening economic sanctions with Russia.
If Le Pen were to be appointed President, she would likely have a stronger impact on the Euro than any of her rivals. Any movement following her victory is expected to be negative, given the implications of such an anti-EU figure taking a key French position.
Le Pen’s intentions to return France to economic and political independence put her on a collision course with the EU at large, so the Euro seems set for losses if she emerges victorious.
Widely seen as the antithesis of Marine Le Pen and currently tied in first place, Emmanuel Macron is decidedly the more pro-EU of the two candidates.
Macron is the only one of the five main candidates adopting a centrist stance and is also distinguished as being one of two who has founded the party they run for.
As former French Finance Minister, Macron’s manifesto pledges are economically-focused, with plans including a cut on income and corporation tax, as well as an intention to ‘liberate sectors of our economy, but at same time to provide protections for all’.
Macron is notably not a devout Europhile, recognising that there should be changes made;
‘To avoid the trap of Europe fragmenting on the [French] economy, security and identity, we have to return to the original promises of the European project: peace, prosperity and freedom. We should have a real, adult, democratic debate about the Europe we want’.
He does, however, remain focused on the bigger picture as opposed to throwing up hard borders;
‘The refugee crisis shows we can’t be isolated from the world’s geopolitical troubles. We’re not isolated from the world. The response can only be a European one, not a national one, with co-ordinated diplomacy and border controls’.
Should Macron’s ‘middle path’ carry him to being named President, the Euro could rise. This is mainly due to Macron’s unwavering central stance, as well as his focus on revitalising and rallying French economic growth. With recent support coming from even right-aligned officials, Macron has a definite chance of victory come the votes in April and May.
Another right-aligned candidate (but significantly less so than Marine Le Pen) Francois Fillon occupies the uncomfortable third place in the polls.
As former Prime Minister, Fillon had originally been tipped as a strong contender in the Presidential race, but a string of allegations and corruption investigations have significantly limited his popular appeal.
The main drag on Fillon’s reputation has been ‘Penelopegate’, a series of allegations that he used government money to pay family members for non-existent jobs. Evaluating the situation has been Sciences Po Professor Luc Rouban;
‘It’s dragging him down. A money scandal is never good in France’.
Putting the allegations aside, Fillon’s policies as President would be focused on establishing a clean slate, with plans covering heavy budget cuts and scrapping around 500,000 public sector positions.
On the EU, Fillon sees a tightening of the system as being in order, focusing on increasing security on borders and better responses to crime in France.
Fillon is not entirely opposed to the EU project, however; commenting on the subject of Greek debt;
‘We must do absolutely everything so that there is not a default by Greece, that would be dramatic for Greeks themselves and dramatic for Europeans. The Europeans must now honour their commitments [on debt]. That is the position that France is defending’.
If Fillon somehow shakes off his aspersions and surges ahead to take a Presidential win, then some Euro depreciation is possible given Fillon’s right-leaning outlook. It’s worth noting, however, that given the current polling figures, Fillon could be knocked out in the first round of voting.
Swinging over to the left side of the political spectrum, Benoit Hamon is running in clear contrast to Le Pen and Fillon.
Hamon is currently vying for joint fourth place with fellow left-aligned competitor Jean-Luc Melenchon.
A former Education Minister, Hamon is looking to cut the working week by 3 hours and has mused the idea of a universal basic income, something that has only been trialled previously in other countries. Hamon also seeks to boost investment in renewables and has proposed taxing companies that rely heavily on automation.
While certainly an idealist, Hamon also acknowledges that the situation has to change;
‘I have met French people all over France. The conviction that I’ve drawn from these many exchanges is that we have to finish with the old recipes, the old politics, the old solutions that no longer work’.
Hamon also sees immigration as less of an issue than other candidates;
‘The proportion of foreigners in France has been stable since the 1930’s. But even so, every year it is the object of debate, a debate aimed mainly at exploiting the issue of immigration for electoral gain’.
Hamon has a clear fight on his hands, coming from the same party as the acutely unpopular current President, Francois Hollande.
If Hamon clinches the Presidency then the Euro may dip, as despite Hamon’s good intentions, he still represents a new and unknown quantity. For a victory, Hamon will need to depend on the spirit of socialism remaining alive and well in the French Republic.
Last but certainly not least among the top contenders in the Presidential Election is another left-leaning candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon.
The founder of his party Unsubmissive France, Melenchon has shown his savviness by utilising social media and hologram technology to spread his message.
As well as being a veteran of French politics at the age of 65, Melenchon is a member of the European Parliament for France and was a delegate minister for Vocational Education. His policies put him as ‘lefter than left’, with plans to stop austerity in the EU and to raise the minimum wage.
Sharing a focus on the environment with Benoit Hamon, Melenchon has remained at loggerheads with the Socialist candidate, both of whom are trying to represent the ‘real’ left.
In this line, Melenchon can be considered ‘hard-left’, as he seeks to impose universal basic income of €1300 a month and heavily tax those earning over €33,000 a month.
In his own words, Melenchon believes;
‘We have a society that is disintegrating and we need this citizens’ revolution, not just in France but throughout Europe. I hope France will lead the way’.
Analysing the firebrand’s chances, Paris Match Political Editor Bruno Jeudy says;
‘The dynamic is on his side. Mélenchon is not at the moment in a position to qualify for the second round…but he is reaping those who are disappointed with the left and also those sick of politics altogether. His position as a candidate at war with the political system is paying off’.
As with Le Pen and Hamon, a Melenchon victory is likely to panic Euro traders and may lead to a sharp drop in the currency’s value, given the radical policies put forth by the socialist veteran.
These are the top contenders to watch out for in the 2017 French Presidential Election, but it remains all to play for, with another televised debate due on April 20th.
If no one candidate gets enough of the vote in round one on April 23rd, the top two contenders will be subject to a second vote on May 7th.
We’ll be keeping track of any significant developments in the French election as it continues, so stay tuned to the TorFX blog for any major political or currency developments.
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