The 2017 French Presidential election will take place on 23 April 2017. Should no candidate win an outright majority (which seems likely), a second round of the election will take place, on 7 May 2017.
The 2017 French Presidential election will be influenced by the spate of terrorist attacks that have targeted Europe in the past two years, economic stagnation, unemployment, and the extended state of Emergency that has been in effect in the country since the November 2015 Paris Attacks. The rise of populism and Euroscepticism are also major players (especially since the victory of pro-Brexit groups in the United Kingdom and the Republican Party in the United States).
This year’s French Presidential election is unique for the massive interest it has generated and for the far-reaching implications it will have on Europe and the world.
Let us try to understand the French election process, the main candidates in the fray, and why the election will have enormous implications.
The French election process
France works on the two-round (runoff) voting system.
The election on 23 April is the first round. If no candidate wins with a majority, a runoff election will take place on 7 May. The run-off will only be between the top two vote winners in the first round.
Main parties and candidates
The main political parties contesting the election are:
- En Marche;
- The National Front;
- The Republicans;
- The Socialist Party;
- Unsubmissive France.
On 18 March 2017, it was announced that 11 candidates had fulfilled the requirements for running in the election.
The candidates of the four main parties are:
- En Marche – Emmanuel Macron;
- The National Front – Marine Le Pen;
- The Republicans – François Fillon;
- The Socialist Party – Benoît Hamon;
- Unsubmissive France – Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Incumbent President Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party dropped out of the race on 1 December 2015 due to low approval ratings. Therefore, this will be the first French election since 1958 in which a sitting president will not seek a second term
“I want to reconcile opinions. Our country is divided, by fear, and by the way some people play on fear. You are not the problem – the problem is that the established order is not the right one. I propose pragmatism, with zero tolerance. My project is one that will make France proud. Profound change, that’s our project. It’s a profound renewal of French politics. I want France, our country, to offer a chance – a chance for each and every one of you.” – Emmanuel Macron.
In the early stages of the campaign, François Fillon – who is a former Prime Minister – was a clear frontrunner. However, his numbers have dropped in the past few weeks after the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné published revelations that Fillon possibly employed family members in fictitious jobs as parliamentary assistants in what came to be known as “Penelopegate“.
Emmanuel Macron has since then been among the top two contenders. At 39, he is the youngest candidate in the race. A former economy minister who has never run for elected office, Macron describes himself as “neither of the right nor the left” and his rise has been momentous and despite any major party endorsements.
The reason why the French election has generated international interest, however, is because of the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front and who sent political shock waves in 2002 when he made it to the second round of the Presidential election. A former lawyer who ran in the 2012 French election and came in third, Le Pen is known for her far-right opinions on immigration, the European Union, and secularism.
Le Pen has often been compared with Donald Trump due to her controversial opinions, even been hailed as France’s Trump or the female Donald Trump. As James Traub wrote in Foreign Policy:
“Does it matter that France’s Donald Trump can demonise Muslims with a gracious smile instead of a vicious Twitter tirade? Politically it does: Le Pen has set out to detoxify the party she inherited from her crackpot anti-Semite of a father, and she seems to be doing it quite well. That makes her more far more dangerous to France than he was. Current polls indicate that she is still unlikely to be France’s next president, but it feels like a real possibility in a way that it never did with Jean-Marie Le Pen.”
As things currently stand, no candidate will win an outright majority in the first round of the election – which will be held on 23 April. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are the favourites to contest in the second round, the winner of which will become the next President of the French Republic.
Main issues in the French election
“Most of the promises you’ve heard tonight cannot be put into practice because the EU will prevent them. You, the French, have the right to decide. Uncontrolled globalisation has been a disaster for you. I will do nothing against your will. I will start negotiations with Europe, and I will organise a referendum. I call on you to vote for liberty. If you make the right political choices things will improve immediately.” – Marine Le Pen.
- Undoubtedly, the biggest debate during this election is the European Union. While Macron has been avowedly centrist and pro-European Union, Le Pen has been vocally advocating for a Brexit-styled referendum in France.
- Furthermore, with 10% unemployment and one of the slowest growth rates in the European Union, the country’s flagging economy is also a crucial issue.
- Terrorism is another debate. With the Islamic State controlling large swathes of territory in the Middle-east and the threat of lone-wolf terrorists a growing concern, the candidates have given different visions to tackle this problem.
- Immigration and refugees – while Macron is more liberal in his outlook on these topics, Le Pen has stated she will decrease annual immigrant intake and has been hawkish about France’s intake of refugees, praising US President’s (erstwhile) travel ban and criticising German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy.
Why is this a landmark election?
In many ways the 2017 French Presidential election is unique. French elections are never this divisive, involving extremist rhetoric and far-reaching consequences. The two main reasons why this election has generated global interest are:
- The Eurozone crisis: The Eurozone debt crisis led to mass unemployment and economic fallout since 2010. It also led to the rise in Euroscepticism and the rise of far-right political parties across Europe. This wave of Euroscepticism climaxed in the UK last year when the British people voted to leave the EU, enabling Brexit to become a reality. While the surge of the far-right has more or less ebbed – evident from the loss of far-right parties in the recent Dutch election. But in France, where the economy is still stagnant and unemployment still high, the far-right remains mainstream.
- Marine Le Pen: The National Front is not a new party. But the credit for mainstreaming the party’s message goes entirely to Le Pen, the 48-year-old firebrand who steered her father’s party away from anti-Semitism and bigotry to mould a message that was framed by the country’s economic and opposition to Islam. While the National Front’s rise has already shifted the French politics to the right-wing ideology, a Le Pen victory will invariably up-end European politics.
How does this election matter for Indians?
According to statistics provided by the European Commission:
- The EU is India’s number one trading partner (13.5% of India’s overall trade with the world in 2015-16), well ahead of China (10.8%), USA (9.3%), and Saudi Arabia (4.3%).
- India is the EU’s 9th trading partner in 2016 (2.2% of EU’s overall trade with the world).
- The value of EU exports to India grew from €24.2 billion in 2006 to €37.8 billion in 2016, with engineering goods, gems and jewellery, other manufactured goods and chemicals ranking at the top.
- The value of EU imports from India also increased from €22.6 billion in 2006 to €39.3 billion in 2016, with at the top textiles and clothing, chemicals and engineering goods.
- Trade in services almost tripled in the past decade, increasing from €10.5billion in 2005 to €28.1 billion in 2015.
- EU investment stocks in India amounted to €51.2 billion in 2015, increasing from €44.2 billion in the previous year.
The French election will determine the future of the European Union, with whom India has deep economic and bilateral ties.
Furthermore, the features of globalisation and macroeconomics will undoubtedly lead to effects of the French election sending ripples to India as well. These ripples could be particularly brutal in the case of a Le Pen victory.