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Presidential election 2017

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Presidential elections 2017
  The About-France.com thematic guide to France   - French institutions, society, travel and tourism.

A guide to the French presidential election, 2017


Click here for an overview of political parties in France

On this page The electoral system Background Uncharted territory
UPDATE: 27th November.   François Fillon  has won the primary of the Centre and right, and will be their candidate in the 2017 election.
UPDATE:  2nd December.  François Hollande has announced that he will not stand for a second term in office.

WILL MARINE LE PEN BE THE NEXT FRENCH PRESIDENT ?

Short answer: NO !  She is expected to be one of the two candidates to make it through to the second round, but with a 71% disapproval rating (a large part of which could be called an abhorrence rating), there is no way that she could beat the other candidate who makes it into the runoff.  Unless..... No, there just isn't an "unless".  A majority of French voters would vote for anyone, even for Mickey Mouse, if he were the sole alternative to a candidate from the Front National.  
  UK Brexiteers who dream of the French electing a candidate who will implement a Frexit are just not in touch with the reality of the French political system, nor of the mindset of French voters.   Marine Le Pen is not Donald Trump, nor is she Brexit. Trump managed to win because he was the candidate of the conservative Republican Party... not an outsider; and in the UK people voted for Brexit because it was championed by big shots from the Conservative party, not just by UKIP. Marine le Pen is a different case altogether : she does not have the support of any mainstream political party in France, except her own party the Front National.
   It seems increasingly likely that the next French president will be François Fillon, who besides being an Anglophile, an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, and having a British wife, is also a neo-Gaullist who has pledged to make the French economy competitive again, taking the drastic measures required to do so. This will include cutting bureaucracy, cutting taxes and regulations on business, and making France "a good place to do business".  With the UK pledged to leave the EU, the opportunities for attracting business from London to Paris will be enormous. At present, in 2017, with the Socialist regime in France and the UK still in the EU, few international companies would consider moving their EU operations from London to Paris – as has been much remarked in the pro-Brexit UK media.  But in the course of 2017, the relative advantages and disadvantages of Britain and France for international companies are liable to be turned upside down.
  Come summer 2017 Marine le Pen will not be dragging France towards an inward-looking Frexit; quite the reverse – France will  probably be embarking on a deregulating "liberal" revolution... just when impending Brexit is making many international firms reconsider the extent of their operations in non-EU Britain.  No wonder many in France are saying that Brexit will be a golden opportunity.... for France ;  all other things being equal, there are many world business leaders who would love to live and work in Paris rather than London.

The electoral system:

   As for most elections in France, presidential elections are conducted in two stages.
The first round, which takes place on 23rd April, is open to any candidate who meets the requirements (which include the written support of five hundred elected representatives, including mayors and deputies) and has enough funding.
   Assuming, as is virtually certain to happen, that no single candidate acquires an absolute majority of votes on the first round, there is then a second round, a fortnight later, which is a  runoff between the two candidates with the most votes in the first round. The next President of France will be whoever gets a simple majority of the votes in the second round.
The current president, François Hollande, a socialist, was elected in 2012 . A president can serve no more than two five-year terms in office.

Background to the 2017 election

The 2017 Presidential election in France is likely to be the most significant for many years.
For the last two decades, candidates for the French presidency have been promising to make changes and get the French economy back and working properly again; but for the last two decades, the promises made at elections have not led to much fundamental change.
  President Sarkozy (a conservative) promised sweeping reforms when he became President in 2007, but little came of them, apart from a reform of the retirement age in France which was pushed through against a background of strident complaints from the political opposition and from the Unions. And even that reform was watered down.
  Sarkozy's unpopularity led to the victory of his Socialist opponent François Hollande in 2012. Hollande promised to cut France's endemically high unemployment rate, and get the economy growing again. But if he has just got the economy back into positive territory, he has failed dismally on the unemployment front, and the number of jobless in France today is far higher than it was when he took office.
  Hollande is now the most unpopular French president since the Second World War, with approval ratings hovering below the 20% mark. His Socialist party is now bitterly divided between the moderate reformers and the hard-line left; and by trying to please both wings of his party, Hollande has  managed to displease almost everyone.

The 2017 election - uncharted territory

  The 2017 election will take place in a world that is very different from just a year ago. Right-wing populism has triumphed in the UK with Brexit, and in the USA with Donald Trump, and in France the right-wing populists of the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, are dreaming of power.
  The trouble for them is that France is not the UK nor the USA, and with its two rounds of voting,  the French electoral system has safeguards built into it to prevent populists and demagogues from sweeping to power.  Six months before a  momentous Presidential election, no-one in France would wager much money on who the next president will be; on the other hand, it is a pretty safe bet that it will not be Marine le Pen, even if she does make it into the runoff, as her father did in 2002.
   The reason?  Marine le Pen's personal popularity rating stands (mid-November 2016) at just 25% – and her unpopularity rate at 71%  (Ipsos / Le Point poll).  Even if she reaches the second round of the Presidential election, which she may well do, she cannot win, because a large majority of those 71% of French electors are so viscerally opposed to her and her party that they will vote for anyone but le Pen – just as happened in 2002.

  For the time being - mid Jan 2017 - pundits expect Marine le Pen to make it into the second round of the election; but even that is not certain, and who her opponent will be is anyone's guess.  The most likely situation is that her opponent in the second round, if she gets there, will be the winner of the Centre-right alliance primary election, François Fillon, who was Sarkozy's Prime Minister.  Nicolas Sarkozy  only take third place in the first round of the primary, and so has been eliminated.
    On the left, Hollande's decision not to stand for a second term has left the door open for his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, to throw his hat into the ring. But Valls will be up against at least three other candidates on the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Parti de Gauche,  Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, and a Green party candidate.
  Macron is the joker in the pack. A former Rothschilds banker, he was Hollande's economic advisor and then Minister of the economy, but he is not a party member. He is standing as a candidate for change, another anti-system  candidate; and he has supporters across the political spectrum. It is by no means clear if his candidacy will mainly just fragment the left-wing vote, or whether he could actually, as  another anti-system candidate, also drain votes away from Marine le Pen.
  Things will be clearer in February, after the Socialist party and their allies have had their primary elections, and designated their official candidates.
   Fillon  now seems to be the most likely person, along with Marine le Pen, to make it through to the second round of the Presidential election. Nonetheless if the left were to field one heavyweight candidate rather than three, he or she could make it to the second round... but at whose expense? And if Macron can take votes not just from his supporters on the left, but also from Marine le Pen, he too might make it to the second round.
   With so many candidates running in the first round, none is likely to take more than about 26% of the vote.... and the second-past-the-post could make it through to the second round with as little as 20% of the vote.
   We will probably have a much clearer view by mid March, as the polls in France tend to be a lot more effective in predicting results than those in the UK or the USA.
   The Presidential elections take place on  April 23rd and May 7th 2017.
    As of January 2017, the  bookies' favourite to become the next President of France has to be François Fillon.

Who is François Fillon ?

Fillon was Prime Minister of France from 2007 to 2012, during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.  He previously served as a minister in the governments of Edouard Balladur,  Alain Juppé and Jean-Pierre Raffarin. In this respect, he can hardly be seen as "new blood".  However he has a reputation as a reformer. In 2003 he made a first serious attempt to reform France's much-criticized retirement laws, by bringing public sector retirement rules in line with those governing the private sector.
  In 2004-2005, as education minister, he pushed through, in the face of considerable hostility, a reform of the French Baccalaureat.
  As Prime Minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, he was somewhat in the shadows of the man people described as the "hyper-president". Sarkozy was the conductor and the first violin of the orchestra of government; the role of Prime Minister became that of second fiddle. In 2010 he resigned as Prime Minister, but was promptly reappointed by Sarkozy who wanted to bring Alain Juppé back into the government. Juppé would not serve under those competing for Fillon's post, so to bring on board Juppé and his many supporters, Sarkozy had to reappoint Fillon.  
   In 2011, with France struggling to reduce its deficits, Fillon announced an exceptional tax on high incomes and more duty on alcohol cigarettes and sugary drinks.
   After Sarkozy lost the 2012 election, Fillon was favourite to become chairman of the conservative UMP party; but in an election marked by acrimony and accusation of fraud he lost. The narrow victory of Jean-François Copé was upheld, and the UMP became a machine designed ultimately to get Sarkozy reelected as president in 2017 – a mission in which it has failed.
  Copé's apparent involvement in shady party financing deals with a dubious company known as Bygmalion left many UMP members bitter. To try and forget the past, Sarkozy engineered a rebranding of the party under a new name, Les Républicains, and Fillon was largely a bystander.
  However he remained popular with grass-roots party members, and maintained a high popularity rating among French voters in general. When in 2013 he announced that he would stand in the 2016 primary of the Centre-right alliance (Les Républicains and their allies), few people thought he would stand a chance, given the power of the Sarkozy fighting machine ; but with Sarkozy still linked to accusations of shady party funding in 2012, and seen to be moving increasingly to the right, Fillon began to look like a stronger contender. There was just the problem of Juppé.
   71-year old Juppé remains popular too, and until a week before the first round of the centre-right primary, he seemed the clear front-runner in the race to secure a place in second round, for a runoff against Sarkozy. Then Fillon gave a very strong performance in the second candidates' debate on prime-time national TV, and he was in the race with a chance. Nobody however predicted that he would romp home in the first round of the primary with a lead of 16% over his closest rival Juppé.

  So why did he win ? And what does he offer?

  He won largely because he has a reputation as a reformer and as an honest politician (the two words are not always incompatible). The Centre-right primary was open to all voters, not just party members, so Fillon picked up a large proportion of the votes from ordinary moderate voters determined to ensure that the candidate of the Centre-right in the 2017 Presidential election was not Nicolas Sarkozy.
   As a candidate for the Presidency, he is promising major liberalising reforms to the French economy and tax system, more reform of pension rules, and the suppression of half a million public sector jobs. And on past showing, he has the determination to push them through.
   In France, one of the criticisms that has been much leveled at him in recent months is that he is an admirer of the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Now while in the UK there has been, with hindsight, a general consensus to the effect that the reforms of the Thatcher period were fundamentally instrumental in getting the British economy back on the rails, this is not the case in France. In France to this day "le thatcherisme" is still caricatured or condemned by a large part of the political class and the media as being a dictatorial doctrine rather similar to American neo-conservatism, and thus highly undesirable; Fillon has not jumped on this bandwaggon.
     In many ways he is politically on the same wavelength as David Cameron; and unlike some recent French PMs, he is an anglophile. Indeed, if Fillon becomes the next French president, France will get its first "British" French first lady. Fillon's wife, Penelope  was born in Llanover, Monmouthshire, of Welsh English parents.

After the poresidential elections.
  The new President will be sworn in and will announce his team. Then, on 11th and 18th June, come the two rounds of the legislative elections (parliamentary elections) to choose the Deputies who will sit in the National Assembly.
   If, as seems probable, the new President is the candidate of the conservative and centrist alliance,  François Fillon, voters are then likely to vote in a centre-right parliament, and the new President will be able to govern with little effective opposition. His government will then introduce fairly rapidly some of the radical reforms that France desperately needs : economic reforms,  labour law reforms, fiscal reforms, etc.
   If, on the other hand, the candidate of the conservative and centrist alliance were to be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election, then the future is much harder to predict. About the only prediction that can be made is that in this situation, the new President is likely to be a lame duck from day 1. Neither the Socialist party nor the National Front are currently in a position to win a parliamentary election, even if their man or woman were to win the Presidential race.  There just remains the joker in the pack, Emmanuel Macron. As a "non political" candidate, he might be able to work with a moderate parliamentary majority from either side of the house.  But we are getting now very much into the realms of politics fiction.


Archives:
The 2007 French presidential election.
The 2012 Fench presidential election 
   

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Photo top of page. 2012 - President Hollande takes over from President Sarkozy


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