France at the crossroads – Election 2017

For France, 2017 is a year of anticipation, hope, and worry. One major event, among others, is the presidential election. Francois Hollande, the very unpopular Socialist President, has decided not to represent himself, the first single term president to take such a decision, and the country’s fate is yet to be determined.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, has already been eliminated from the Republican primaries, and his former Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, has taken his place. Fillon is a very traditional and austere individual, in stark contrast with Sarkozy, who is considered flashy and grandiose. He is one of few candidates who aren’t shying away from religion, which is a taboo subject in France, and is an outspoken Catholic. Often depicted as a French version of Margaret Thatcher, he wishes to conduct severe economic reform to reduce French debt and turn the deficit into a surplus.

The current favorite of the divided and unpopular Socialist Party is Manuel Valls, Francois Hollande’s most recent Prime Minister. But the path to being the next Socialist candidate to the presidency is rocky and unsure, many other socialist candidates have presented themselves. Although few have as much experience as Manuel Valls (which is already not very much), Valls has to carry the weight of Francois Hollande’s less than successful term. In the eventuality that he is chosen, he is still very far from winning the actual presidential election, as the Socialist popularity is at an all time low, and many more popular parties have presented their own candidate.

While the presidency is traditionally left to the Republicans or the Socialists, this year outsiders have invited themselves to the fray. First is Emmanuel Macron, a charismatic and young independent candidate who used to be Francois Hollande’s Minister of the Economy. He shocked the French public with his rhetoric and daring attitude, declaring himself as “not a Socialist” while being a member in that political party and government. He later left the party to form his own movement, En Marche (“Forward” or “Walk On” in English). Macron does not see himself as either left or right, and wants to unite the different parties in a single common interest, France.

Second is Marine Le Pen, the only woman out of the four female candidates, with a real shot at the presidency. She is the leader of a populist and a radical right party, Le Front National (“The National Front”). Famous for kicking the founder of Le Front National, her own father Jean-Marie Le Pen, out of the party, she takes a very xenophobic and anti-European approach to almost any question. She is also famous for claiming for years that immigrants from Africa and the Middle-East stole French citizens’ jobs, yet was recently very outraged about how “immigrants don’t work.” This contradiction is just one example of her many unclear ideas. She also proposed the idea of building a wall, as American president-elect Donald Trump might do, and celebrated Trump’s electoral victory as “a victory for democracy.”

Other parties which have candidates in the running are Le Front de Gauche (“The Left Front”) and the French Communist Party, who selected Jean-Luc Melenchon. Francois Bayrou is the MODEM president and candidate (center party), and Dominique Voynet represents the Green Party. While these candidates will collect up to 5% of votes on the first round of the election, they are unlikely to get the the second, and their chances of actually winning are very slim.

This election year definitely promises a lot of suspense, as France is at a critical point in its history. Although it is not currently in a crisis, it is at a crossroads as to whether it can return to its former glory or fall as a minor first world nation. France is barely holding onto the title of third economic power in the European Union after Germany and the UK. On April 23rd, the people will decide which candidate has the right plan to make France a better, healthier, and stronger country.

-by PA Le Ber