‘..one can only imagine the upheaval that would be caused if France left the European Union, which Le Pen has compared to a “system of the oppression of peoples”’
In light of Brexit and the recent election of Donald Trump, many people fear that a right-wing populism is sweeping across the globe and all eyes are turned to the upcoming French presidential elections to see if this trend will continue.
In the past fifty-nine years, France has only elected two presidents from the socialist party, François Mitterand in 1995 and the current president, François Hollande. Hollande was the first French president in recent history not to seek re-election and is also the most unpopular president of in the history of the Fifth Republic. According to polls in November 2016, Hollande’s approval rating was at 4% and it was predicted that were he to run for re-election he would be defeated in the first round. Hollande is set to finish his term in May 2017.
The first round of voting for the presidential election takes place on April 23 and if no majority vote is obtained by any candidate, the top two candidates will proceed to the next and final round of voting on May 7. As of now, there are four presidential candidates announced. Emmanuel Macron, leader of the newly founded centralist party En Marche, announced his presidency on November 16. The Republican Presidential Primary took place on November 20 and then again on November 27 because no candidate obtained a 50% majority in the first round. This was the first time that on Open Primary was held for the Republicans. François Fillon obtained a 66.5% majority in the second round and was selected as the presidential candidate for the Republican Party for 2017.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing, nationalist and populist party le Front National announced her second presidential campaign in September. She ran in 2012 but lost, failed to make it to the second, run-off round, coming third overall, achieving 17.9% of votes. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, founder of the new political movement Unsubmissive France is also a presidential candidate. Mélenchon also ran against Marine Le Pen and François Hollande in the 2012 elections and came in fourth place with 11.1% of the votes. The Socialist Party Presidential Primary will determine whether Manuel Valls or Benoit Hamon will be representing their party as the fifth presidential candidate; the first round of voting was held today.
The Front National
‘[Le Pen] visited Trump Tower in New York and has consistently praised Donald Trump throughout his campaign, calling his election, ‘‘an additional stone in the building of a new world’’’
In recent years, Marine Le Pen has tried to reform and soften the image of the Front National in a process entitled ‘de-demonization’. When her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was head of the party it faced frequent criticism for the controversial views of its members. However, since Marine Le Pen’s election as leader of the party in 2011 there’s been large increases in support for the party. She notably expelled her father in 2015 after he repeatedly referred to Nazi gas chambers as: ‘‘a point of detail of the history of the Second World War’’. Le Pen has focused on Hollande’s staid policies, contrasting them with her own party to further an image of the Front National as a party for change. In December 2016 the Front National was supposedly the most popular political party for people between the ages of 18-34 according to an Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting Poll; however, the mood among the French youth is one of anger and disgust towards the presidential candidates.
Since 1984, the Front National has been a significant force for French nationalism. Marine Le Pen promised to hold a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union within six months if she were elected president, saying that she wished to ‘‘stop the erosion of national borders’’, and has hinted that she would resign as president if the vote failed. Le Pen won’t officially launch her campaign until February 2017, following the Socialist Party Presidential Primary, however the Front National is known for its anti-EU stance and its strong criticism of open borders and globalisation. Marine Le Pen has said that she would like to reinstate the French franc, at parity with the Euro, and desires that in ‘‘any area of public provisions should go to the French before foreigners’’. Last week, she visited Trump Tower in New York and has consistently praised Donald Trump throughout his campaign, calling his election, ‘‘an additional stone in the building of a new world’’ on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show in November 2016”.
A radically right-wing France?
“Although the Front National has had a candidate running in the presidential election since 2002, they haven’t yet won and it’s likely that this is the best year yet for them”
As of January 19, Marine Le Pen is polling at between 25-26% in the first round of the presidential election, according to the poll conducted by Ipsos Sopra Steria for Le Monde, a French daily newspaper, and François Fillon is polling at about 1% behind her. It is unclear whether or not Le Pen will win the election. However, one can only imagine the upheaval that would be caused if France left the European Union, which Le Pen has compared to a “system of the oppression of peoples”. Guido Lombardi, a friend and neighbour of Donald Trump, has gone so far as to call Le Pen ‘The French Trump’ during Le Pen’s visit to Trump Tower.
It is clear from the polls that the real race is between François Fillon and Marine Le Pen. One very important point is that of the three main candidates — Emmanuel Macron, Francois Fillon, and Marie Le Pen — Le Pen is the only one not to have previously been in government, and it’s likely that voters will remember that. Macron was Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs until 30 August 2016 and François Fillon was Prime Minister to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007-2012. France is deeply dissatisfied and there’s no doubt that this presidential election is one of the most important France has seen in a long time, particularly since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice.
Although the Front National has had a candidate running in the presidential election since 2002, they haven’t yet won and it’s likely that this is the best year yet for them. Either way, the next president of the Fifth Republic will have many difficult and divisive issues to tackle, and furthermore they’ll have to regain the trust and respect of the French. Whether or not France will remain in the EU is a question that can only be answered with time; however if the polls continue the way they are, France could be the next to feel the wave of right-wing populism with a Front National president leading them.