This article is authored by Marin Constantin-Alexandru, currently a 3rd year BA student in the English section of our Faculty. All ideas expressed belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect The Political Science Club’s opinion.
The trap of Euroscepticism could easily cover and oversimplify any analysis related to the 2017 French presidential elections. But this round of elections is not entirely about eurosceptic attitudes, that opinion makers insist on, after a tremendous period for politics, both, at the domestic and international levels. The European migrant crisis, Brexit, Trump’s election as president in U.S.A., the nationalistic wave on the continent and the last terrorist attacks could trippingly be encapsulated in any strategy of marketing and political communication. However, a cautious observer or a rational thinker are not blinded by this veil of fog. The French presidential elections are now, more than ever, a struggle for redefining the internal politics and the rigid ideological spectrum that is in place from the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958.
An eurosceptic would sum up the entire scenario in the following manner: ”left-wing euroscepticism – Macron – right-wing euroscepticism. Macron is between hammer and anvil. Macron will definitely loose.” The entire argumentation is more nuanced than it seems to be. But first, the political profiles and programmes of the main five candidates or ”The Big 5”, among the eleven inscribed in the electoral race, are of primary importance, in order to understand their positioning and intentions.
1. Benoît Hamon (Socialist Party) – centre-left
After defeating the former Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, in the second round of the party primary on January 29, 2017, Hamon became the official candidate for the 2017 French presidential election. He is critical to Holland uninspired social-liberal politics, promising:
– a basic income for all French citizens, as a consequence of automation and decrease of manual work;
– the legalization of cannabis and euthanasia;
– huge investments in renewable energy;
– a unique presidential mandate of 7 years;
2. François Fillon (The Republicans) – centre-right
Fillon is the nominee of the country’s largest centre-right political party, Les Républicains. He defeated Alain Juppé in the primary run-off on November 27, 2016. He described his platform as conservative. After Le Canard enchaîné published in January an article alleging that his wife, Penelope Fillon, was employed as a parliamentary assistant by him between 1998 and 2002 and later in 2012, with no evidence that she completed any substantial work, Fillon’s campaign started to decline. The Fillon affair or the ”Penelopegate” brought to him a formal charging in a widening embezzlement investigation. Thus, he fell out of the pan into the fire in a short period of time, losing important percentages in opinion polls and also the third position, after Le Pen and Macron. His interests are:
– radical ”Thatcherite” economic reforms;
– a strict security control at the external borders of Europe;
– to defend the traditional family values and France’s Catholic roots;
– to oppose multiculturalism;
– to remove the 35-working hours limit a week both, in the private and public sectors;
3. Marine Le Pen (National Front) – far right
Although, Marine Le Pen resents the ”extremist right-wing” labeling for her party, Le Front National, despite being a populist and nationalist political organization, has a prominent extremist orientation. At her second adventure at the presidential elections, after the 2012 experiment (almost 20% in the first round), Le Pen came now with a platform having as main points:
– to organize a referendum in which the nation would decide whether to withdrew from the European Union or not;
– to withdraw France from the Eurozone;
– the ban of religious imprints that are visible in public institutions;
– the tempering of the political relation with the Russian Federation;
4. Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) – social liberal
The former Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs founded En Marche! (or by its official name, L’Association pour le renouvellement de la vie politique) at the beginning of 2016 with the aim to be a progressive movement. Macron defines himself as a centrist and his party seeks to transcend traditional political boundaries to be a transpartisan organization. In his programme and ideology the following initiatives can be met:
– the reduction of nuclear energy;
– the introduction of an increased proportional representation based on the Mixed Members Representation model;
– decrease in firms taxation rates;
– the creation of a Parliament, Minister and budget for the Eurozone;
– the exclusion of Great Britain from the European Single Market;
5. Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France) – centre-left
The political movement, La France insoumise, launched by Mélenchon on February 10, 2016 has the aim to get him elected as President of the Republic at the presidential elections and to get deputies elected to the National Assembly, during the legislative elections of 2017. Their programme is L’Avenir en commun, tasked with writing the constitution of a Sixth Republic. At the Lille convention, the subsequent measures were voted:
– the repeal of the labor reform;
– the democratic re-founding of the European Union treaties;
– the implementation of an energy transition plan towards renewable energies;
– the separation of investment and retail banks;
– the withdrawal from free trade agreements such as TTIP and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement;
Although, Le Pen and Fillon led in first-round opinion polls between November 2016 and mid-January 2017, the polls tightened considerably in early February after the ”Penelopegate” scandal, and Macron overtook Fillon. More than that, in the recent weeks he has taken the lead ahead of Le Pen.
Graphical Summary 1 (Source: www.wikipedia.com) – Opinion polling for the French presidential election round 1 daily updated
After le Grand Débat on March 20, 2017, an important segment of the media declared that there was no clear winner. Nevertheless, most papers agree this first debate did what it was supposed to do, it focused on real policy issues and veered away from scandals that have plagued the campaign so far. On the other side, centrist Emmanuel Macron was judged the most convincing performer in a number of opinion polls following Monday night’s nearly three-and-a-half-hour long marathon. Also, En Marche! is attracting more and more support from leading figures from the left in France.
According to new polls, the French Communist-backed presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon is closing in on the frontrunners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. A rally held by Mélenchon drew tens of thousands of supporters last Sunday, underlining his surging popularity just two weeks from the election on 23 April and adding new drama to a rollercoaster campaign. Speaking in Marseille, Mélenchon said voters had a choice other than the extreme-right ”condemning our great multi-colored people to hate itself” and fans of the free market that ”transforms suffering, misery and abandonment into gold and money”.
In the second round of elections, polls further suggest that either Fillon or Macron would beat Le Pen and that Macron would definitely defeat Fillon. The recent ascendancy of Mélenchon (more than 20%) complicates the things, and he could easily replace Fillon in the second round, in the eventuality that he scores the second percentage. Another graphical summary that simulated the second round shows two scenarios:
Graphical Summary 2 constructed using the most recent pools updated on www.wikipedia.com
Graphical Summary 3 constructed using the most recent pools updated on www.wikipedia.com
From these graphs, the tendencies are evident, but an unexpected surprise could come in the second round, as was the case in the American presidential elections between Hillary and Trump. Apart from the ideological struggles, the present campaign is about reforming the political life in France, fact noticed from the cutting-edge platforms that almost all the candidates have. Notwithstanding, this transformation could be possible only if the candidate that wins these elections will also win those from 2022. In this perspective, the 2017 presidential elections are only a preparatory stage for the two-pillar metamorphosis of the French political system.
In the recent cavalcade of events, a few patterns can be mentioned:
⦁ Le Pen has to change his discourse if she wants to win, because the French people could not assume a Frexit, and Le Pen cannot follow the same model as Nigel Farage.
⦁ The euroscepticism is not a political weapon that will function forever. Its presence in the political rhetoric could easily make the eurosceptics involved in the campaign to cannibalize each other. Who’s more eurosceptic?
⦁ The extreme left will mobilize to make common front against the National Front.
⦁ Although in France had recently happened many terrorist attack, the populist and nationalist declamations will become obsolete, if they are not rationally used.
⦁ All in all, it is about internal reform, not external topics (Frexit, a rapprochement with Russia or a struggle with Merkel at the European level)
From this very nuanced political landscape, Emmanuel Macron is the most advantaged. He did his lessons, first as senior civil servant and now as a candidate for the presidency. Maybe he is not experienced enough, but Macron is conducting a brilliant political campaign. The simple fact that he put himself in the middle, as a centrist, brings him many advantages when all the other candidates are fluctuating in their policies on the old left-right line, disorienting their electorate from one day to another. It is not a coincidence that many French citizens are not yet decided, with only 2 weeks before the first round (April 23rd).
The median voter theorem explains why Macron has the biggest chances to win in France, by playing an intelligent card. The median voter theorem makes two key assumptions. First, the theorem assumes that voters can place all election alternatives along a one-dimensional political spectrum. It seems plausible that voters could do this if they can clearly place political candidates on a left-to-right continuum, but this is often not the case as each party will have its own policy on each of many different issues. Second, the theorem assumes that voters’ preferences are single-peaked, which means that voters choose the alternative closest to their own view. This assumption predicts that the further away the outcome is from the voter’s most preferred outcome, the less likely the voter is to select that alternative. It also assumes that voters always vote, regardless of how far the alternatives are from their own views. The median voter theorem implies that voters have an incentive to vote for their true preferences.
”Median Voter” Graph (Source: www.udel.edu/johnmack/frec406/govt_failure)
According to the figure above, Macron is in the middle (M) while the other candidates oscillate between L (left) and R (right), and having a belatedly inclination to converge to M, after manifesting their centripetal endeavors. All the tendencies identified in the article stress the fact that the 2017 French presidential elections will be the most challenging in the last few decades.