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Marine, Emmanuel et le teneur de chandelle: A round-up of the French elections

April 3, 2017

 

In the previous article on French presidential elections I outlined a rather complex situation, in which the Partie Socialiste was struggling at the benefit of Les Republicaines and of the independent Mr Macron, with the far-right leader Marine Le Pen occupying the top position in polls.

In the recent months so many events have occurred and so many things have changed that a round-up article three weeks before the first electoral round is an absolute necessity.

But let’s proceed with order.

Mr Fillon, the candidate for Les Republicans and protagonist of an unexpected landslide victory in the primaries against Mr Juppé, has passed through a quite tough period as he was recently put under formal investigations [1] due to allegations of embezzlement. The right-wing candidate seems to have misused €880,000 in state funds by employing his wife and two of his children in fictitious parliamentary aides’ jobs.

The scandal exploded in January and caused Mr Fillon a great political damage, as he dropped to 18% of support in polls. Such a backlash may well be explained by the fact that he had always presented himself as an example of honesty and has fiercely attacked Mr Sarkozy during the primaries due to his past legal problems.

However, Mr Fillon is not the only candidate that is struggling. On the other side of the political spectrum, the Partie Socialiste is facing an even worse situation. In fact, after an unexpected victory of the left-wing hardliner Benoît Hamon in the party primaries against the former French Prime Minister Mr Valls, the situation has gotten worse and worse. In fact, facing a hard competition both from his left by the far-left candidate of France Insoumise Jean-Luc Mélenchon; and his right by the socialist liberal Macron, his support has eroded constantly. Moreover, some important party members, including Mr Valls, have recently decided to turn their back to him pledging support to Mr Macron, further decreasing the chances of the Socialists of getting to the second round. This situation risks transforming this presidential election in the greatest debacle of the Partie Socialiste of recent history, as last polls suggest that Mr Mélenchon has surpassed Mr Hamon. What was the triumphant party five years ago is now risking arriving fifth, emulating the poor results of the Dutch and English Labour Party.


Finally, we come to the two protagonists of these elections: Mr Macron and Mrs Le Pen. Benefitting from the defections in the Partie Socialiste and from Mr Fillon’s scandals, the leader of the independent movement “En Marche” has managed to become the most likely adversary of the Front National at the second round, with high probabilities of becoming president.

Mr Macron is characterised by a liberal economic program and a radical pro-Europe agenda that has attracted a lot of voters sceptics towards the extreme positions of Mr Fillon and Mr Hamon both on the right and on the left, thanks also to his vague political manifesto that fulfils the expectations of voters from both sides.

His lack of experience represents his main weakness, but the strategic behaviour of leftist voters, frightened by the possibility of a runoff between Mrs Le Pen and Mr Fillon may handle him the Élysée. As a matter of fact, he has already succeeded in taking the head in the polls (by a negligible, yet ever present, percentage point), moving the leader of the FN to the second place for the first time in this campaign.

Now you all may wonder: but what about the most discussed of the candidates?

For what concerns Mrs Le Pen, the turbulent far-right candidate has maintained her leading position although she had faced a big scandal too.

In fact, she has been accused by the European Parliament of misuse of EU funds for paying collaborators for her national campaign in France. Nevertheless, thanks to her anti-EU rhetoric, such a thing has had no effect at all on her approval rate, allowing her to remain at a stable 25% in polls.

A much more troublesome challenge for her is how to face the financial problems of her party. The Front National does not have the financial capabilities to sustain a nationwide campaign, and no big bank or company seems willing to support the anti-establishment candidate.

Moreover, many are puzzled by the relationship between Mrs Le Pen and Russia.

Vladimir Putin has a long story as a supporter of the FN, for example in 2014 Russia’s first Czech-Russian Bank provided a 9 million euro loan to the French party. On the other hand, Mrs Le Pen has never hidden her approval for the Russian leader and in her campaign, she has claimed more than once that Russian annexation of Crimea should be recognised and that European sanctions should be lifted.

Although after the right-wing primaries Mr Putin rallied behind Mr Fillon, another candidate with worrying Russian ties, in the aftermath of the abovementioned scandal he seems to have come back his traditional ally.

The renovated support has been shown during a meeting between Mrs Le Pen and Mr Putin at the Kremlin on 24th of March, while the French frontrunner was on a visit in Russia [2].

The interest shown by the Russian president for the result of French elections should ring an alarm bell in most of us, as the outcome would most likely affect the destiny of the entire Union.
 

What will happen next? Will Russia be able to affect significantly also the French vote? Is there the possibility that the continuous Russian interference in western politics might backlash against it?

The only thing that is somewhat certain until now is that Emmanuel Macron is the only candidate clearly advocating for a change in the EU aimed at fostering the development and integration of the Union and his success may revitalize the fight against populism and score a turning point in our history.

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/7f3d3894-08c6-11e7-ac5a-903b21361b43

 

[2] Financial Times, “Putin wades into French election battle by meeting Le Pen”, 24th of May

 

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