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Why we need to pay attention to the upcoming French elections

A man looks at campaign posters of the 11 candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, France April 19, 2017.

A man looks at campaign posters of the 11 candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, France April 19, 2017.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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The 2017 French elections may be a game-changer, not only for France, but for the rest of the European Union as well. Here's why.

France has a bicameral legislature, much like India, with an Upper House (Senate) and a Lower House (National Assembly). Elections are held every five years for 577 seats in the National Assembly, with the majority that is needed to form government requiring 289 seats. There are two rounds of voting.

The first round of the 2017 French presidential election is scheduled to be held on April 23, and the second round on May 7. There are a total of 11 candidates in the race for the post of President.

France’s former President Francois Hollande is not running for a second term because of low approval ratings, even though he was eligible to run. Instead, former Minister for National Education Benoit Hamon is campaigning from Hollande’s party, the Socialist Party.

Why is this election important?

The 2017 French election has been described in the media as the “most unpredictable election in decades” and “too close to call”. Its verdict, more importantly, is considered to be a landmark one in that it would herald the direction Europe will be looking towards — a nationalistic, anti-immigrant, anti-EU, ‘me-first’ outlook or an inclusive, pro-European Union one. The Netherlands election was also similarly poised — the country’s far-Right candidate, Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom, was known for his anti-Islam and anti-European Union rhetoric. He, however, lost the election.

Will the French election go the same way? It’s hard to tell. There have been radical promises by candidates to tighten immigration laws and expel refugees. Far-right candidate from the National Front Marine Le Pen, for whom support and approval ratings have rapidly risen, has gone as far as to propose withdrawing from the European Union and scrapping the Euro. “If Marine Le Pen wins the election, the European Union as we know it ceases to exist,” one senior EU diplomat who formerly served in Paris told Reuters.“Then we have to think about other models ... There is no Plan B,” the diplomat said.

Amid all the nationalist fervour, there has been a terrorist attack and an arrest of two bomb-makers in the span of two days. A policeman was killed and two others were wounded in an attack that the Islamic State claimed to have perpetrated on April 20, just three days before the election. And two days before that, on April 19, two Frenchmen were arrested on suspicion of planning an attack, with bomb-making materials and guns found in searches. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), security concerns are the forefront of this election.

And finally, the winner of this election could influence France in wildly different ways. In the Top-Five candidates list, there is a Leftist, a Socialist, a centrist who is also an Independent candidate, a Conservative and a far-right populist — pretty much the entire spectrum of political ideology.

Who are these five contenders and what are their promises?

Marine Le Pen — National Front (FN)

The far-right candidate running on an anti-EU anti-immigrant platform is a veteran lawyer who joined her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party at the age of 18. Her campaign strongly echoes that of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’, promising to put France first and bringing the issue of French identity to the forefront. “The French have been dispossessed of their patriotism. They are suffering in silence from not being allowed to love their country … The divide is no longer between the left and the right, but between the patriots and the globalists,” The Guardian has quoted Ms. Le Pen as saying.

Marine Le Pen, the French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election.

Marine Le Pen, the French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

What does she promise?

Suspending the Schengen agreements and reinstating border controls

Scrapping the Euro

Expelling all foreign nationals on the Intelligence Services' watchlist

Suspending medical aid for “illegal immigrants”

Lowering retirement age

Benoit Hamon — Socialist Party (SP)

Benoit Hamon, called the “French Bernie Sanders”, was an education minister in Francois Hollande’s Cabinet who joined the Socialist Party in 1982. He came out on top as the party’s Presidential candidate after a tightly-contested primary between him and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who then defected from the party.

Benoit Hamon, the Socialist Party presidential candidate for the 2017 presidential election.

Benoit Hamon, the Socialist Party presidential candidate for the 2017 presidential election.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

Mr. Hamon’s rise to popularity was fast, but according to France 24, his descent has been just as rapid. An analysis by the French news organisation says that Mr. Hamon is “likely to finish the race in an embarrassing fifth place” and that “his career — and the Socialist Party itself — may not recover for decades”.

What does he promise?

To gradually introduce a universal basic income

Taxing automated machines

Scrapping labour law that was passed recently

Legalising cannabis

Emmanuel Macron — En Marche! (EM!)

The centrist in the line-up here, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron would become the youngest French leader since Napolean Bonaparte if elected. He was an investment banker before becoming Francois Hollande’s chief advisor and then Minister for economy in 2014. Fun fact: he has never been elected but is the current favourite to win the election. He is seen as pro-EU and business-friendly.

Emmanuel Macron, former French economy minister and head of the political movement "En Marche" or "Forward”.

Emmanuel Macron, former French economy minister and head of the political movement "En Marche" or "Forward”.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

According to Institut français d'opinion publique’s ‘rolling’ barometer, as of April 21, Mr. Macron is set to get 24% of the vote share as opposed to Ms. Le Pen’s 22.5%. The BBC has dubbed him France’s “man on the move” and he has been gathering steady support from those even within the Socialist Party like Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

What does he promise?

Tax exemptions for local housing

Processing refugee asylum requests within six months

Secular public lives; no ban on Muslim veils

Keeping budget deficit low

Francois Fillon — The Republicans (LR)

Conservative Francois Fillon, once the candidate leading the polls, suffered a jolt to his ratings following a formal investigation into numerous scandals.

Francois Fillon, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 French presidential election candidate of the French centre-right.

Francois Fillon, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 French presidential election candidate of the French centre-right.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

He has been accused of paying his wife and children public money for jobs that they allegedly never performed. His wife Penelope was also accused of receiving a ‘salary’ from a magazine owned by a millionaire friend, according to France 24. Mr. Fillon, for his part, has claimed that he is a victim of “political assassination”. However, Mr. Fillon seems to be back in the reckoning, coming in behind Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen.

Mr. Fillon has promised to bring some radical “Thatcherite” reforms to France and is pushing for a better relationship with Russia, much to the dismay of other EU countries. He is pro-EU, but wants Britain out of the bloc “fast” if they don’t want to stay, and is not a friend to the LGBTQ community.

What does he promise?

Scrapping the 35-hour work-week

Cutting public-sector jobs

Extending the retirement age

Tougher rules for non-EU citizens

Jean-Luc Melenchon — Unsubmissive France (FI)

If Marine Le Pen is at one end of the political spectrum, Unsubmissive France’s Jean-Luc Melenchon is at the exact opposite. The far-Leftist has been described in the French media as the “French Chavez”, “French Risk” and “the colourful, cultured and cantankerous far-leftist” who “has the frontrunners on the defensive”.The 68-year-old’s first brush with politics happened with the Socialist Party, which he quit in 2008. He was France’s youngest senator.

Jean-Luc Melenchon of the French far left Parti de Gauche and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election.

Jean-Luc Melenchon of the French far left Parti de Gauche and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

Mr. Melenchon seems to have plucked a leaf out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s book, to address multiple rallies simultaneously via hologram. He has been known to sympathise with migrants but he has also been accused, like Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Fillon, of having a soft spot for Russia and Vladimir Putin.

What does he promise?

Slashing the already short 35-hour work week to 32

Dropping retirement age to 60

Renegotiating EU treaties

Quitting NATO

Raising public spending

(An earlier version of this article stated inaccurately that Marine Le Pen intended to expel all foreign nationals in France.)

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 10:22:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/why-we-need-to-pay-attention-to-the-upcoming-french-elections/article18189949.ece

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