Posts Tagged ‘French presidential election’

Can Le Pen beat Macron in the French election, despite losing in the first round? “The odds are very long.”

April 26, 2017

Macron should beat Le Pen in the second round of voting

The first round is now over, and as the top two candidates with the highest vote share in the first round, Le Pen and Macron will now face off in a second-round run-off on May 7. 
Macron is still widely expected to be able to build a broader voting base than anti-establishment Marine Le Pen. This is due to the fact that many of the first-round supporters of conservative François Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who collectively attracted 39.5 per cent of the vote, are expected to now switch to Macron.
Le Pen’s Slim Shot at French Presidency Rests on Low Turnout
April 25, 2017, 6:00 PM EDT  — April 26, 2017, 5:08 AM EDT
  • Almost 11 million people abstained on April 23; biggest group
  • Macron leads Le Pen by 20 points ahead of May 7 runoff vote
Marine Le Pen.

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Marine Le Pen’s narrow chances of becoming president of France hinge on swathes of the electorate not showing up at the polls on May 7.

That’s the conclusion of analysts sifting through the numbers after she won 21 percent of the vote in the first round on April 23, trailing front-runner Emmanuel Macron by about 3 percentage points.

“The equation is rather simple: A voter who abstains, or casts a blank ballot, is a lost voter for Macron,” said Dominique Reynie, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris. “Le Pen has a strong, mobilized base, so what it takes for her to boost her chances is for those who say they’ll stay home to, well, stay home.”

A Le Pen win would at this point be a far greater shock than Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election in November. Polls have consistently shown her losing by around 20 percentage points.

But there are still millions of votes up for grabs. Of the 37 million people who voted in the first round, just under half backed Le Pen or Macron. Some 21 million voted for other candidates or cast defaced ballots, and another 10.6 million abstained. It’s already proved to be the most unpredictable French election in recent memory, marred by scandal and the shadow of terrorism.

“What I fear is a situation of widespread abstention if people think he’s won,” Socialist Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said on France2 television Wednesday morning. The party has endorsed Macron. “That would open the door to Le Pen.”

Energy Minister Segolene Royal warned of the risk of not mobilizing against Le Pen in an interview on Europe 1 radio.

Unpredictable Voters

In theory, the stars could align for Le Pen if she can pick up enough of the votes that were cast for Republican Francois Fillon, Socialist Benoit Hamon and Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, or if enough of them decided not to vote this time.

But it will be a tall order. Fillon and Hamon have already endorsed Macron. Only Melenchon has so far refused to tell his 7 million supporters what to do, though an online consultation only gave them the choice of abstaining or choosing Macron. A Harris Interactive survey conducted after the initial vote shows that more than a third of them plan to abstain. That said, 51 percent will support Macron and only 12 percent will back Le Pen.

Still, voters are in an unpredictable mood in the face of deep-seated unemployment, immigration and terrorism fears.

And so Le Pen must hope that voters who opted for the mainstream parties will take a bet on the unknown in round two.

“People will no longer be guilt-tripped or threatened by politicians into voting against Le Pen,” said Jeremie Mani, chief executive of Netino By Webhelp, a company that specializes in moderating online user comments. “There’s a new line of activists who are refusing to vote, to protest the way the government is run and the politicians on offer.”

‘Only 10 Little Points’

Le Pen is hopeful that she can erase her 20-point gap, saying she only needs a 10-percentage-point swing. Bloomberg’s composite index of second-round polls shows Macron would win by 61 percent to 39 percent.

“We can win, and I’ll tell you more, we will win,” she said on France 2 television on Monday. “Only 10 little points, trust me, it’s totally feasible.”

Another factor that could help her is the broad sense of dissatisfaction with all politicians. Some are already calling for a boycott of the entire political process via a social media campaign called #SansMoiLe7Mai, which means “Without Me on May 7.’

While Macron’s lead isn’t insurmountable, it should still be enough to see him through. Data compiled by Bloomberg show that even if the turnout drops to the 1969 low of 64 percent, Le Pen would need to more than double her party’s best showing. The average turnout since the first direct vote in 1965 is 78 percent.

“The tipping point where there will be enough absentee voters for her to win is almost off limits,” said Jean-Daniel Levy, head of Paris-based pollster Harris Interactive. “We don’t believe that she can win.”


From CNN

(CNN) — French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Tuesday sought to broaden her appeal outside her party’s traditional base, declaring that she is “not the candidate” of the far-right National Front.


“I am the candidate who has been supported by the National Front,” she said in an interview with the French TF1 network.
Le Pen, 48, fresh off the highest-ever voting tally for the National Front, said she stepped aside from the party leadership this week to run on behalf of all French citizens.
“I am a presidential candidate as of today,” she said.
Observers see the move as a tactical one designed to earn her votes from people who might be disposed to vote for her but who find the fascist reputation of the National Front a step too far.
Le Pen said the final voting round on May 7 could bring a “very big surprise” — the result of “a revolt of the people against the elite,” as seen in Britain’s Brexit vote and in Trump’s election victory.
Voters snubbed the political establishment Sunday, sending Le Pen and political novice Emmanuel Macron, 39, through to the second round of the presidential election.

Le Pen: The people want to take back power

Responding to a question from CNN’s Melissa Bell, Le Pen acknowledged parallels between her nationalist policy stances on immigration and globalization and those that propelled President Donald Trump to the White House.
“The people are saying we want to take back power,” she said. “We want to be sovereign again.”
Like Trump, Le Pen has risen on populist politics rooted in anger over immigration policies, globalization and middle class economic disenfranchisement.
Many view her as a threat to the strength and unity of the political institutions that have underpinned Western countries for the past half century, notably in her opposition to the EU and pledge to leave NATO.
Echoing Trump’s “America first” mantra, Le Pen said Tuesday that she would not be influenced by the policies of other countries.
“The only question I would be worried about is, Is it good for France and the French people?” she said.
Le Pen has vowed to intensify the nationalist, anti-Islamist rhetoric that propelled her into the second round.
Sunday’s first round contest was held under tight security after a terror attack in Paris on Thursday night disrupted the final day of campaigning Friday. The Paris attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed, saw French President François Hollande’s popularity plunge.
Le Pen on Tuesday reiterated her pledge to impose a temporary ban on legal immigration to France — calling the nation’s immigration policies “the best kept secret of our republic.”

Who is Marine Le Pen?

Who is Marine Le Pen?01:47
She wants to slash legal immigration from 200,000 to 10,000 “entries” per year in France, and wants to see immigrants’ access to public services limited.
“How can we take care of them?” she asked. “How are we going to house them?”
On Sunday, the pro-European centrist Macron took first place with 24.01% of the first-round voting, while Le Pen came second on 21.30%, according to final results.

What to know about Emmanuel Macron

What to know about Emmanuel Macron 01:26
Opponents have argued that Le Pen’s economic and social programs would bankrupt the country, particularly if France dropped the euro as its currency, as she has threatened.
Le Pen’s advancement to the second round is not without precedent — her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to a runoff against then-incumbent Jacques Chirac in 2002, only to suffer a devastating loss when anti-extremist voters rallied against the National Front leader.
For many voters, the election was about a desire for change and disenchantment with a political class.
Read more:

Asian stocks near 2-year high, euro steady as French vote lifts mood — UK deficit falls to lowest level since 2008

April 25, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

A businessman looking at an electronic share indicator at the window of a securities company in Tokyo.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) – Asian equities hit a near two-year high on Tuesday (April 25), buoyed by a jump in risk appetite following the centrist victory in the first round of the French presidential election that also lifted the euro and pressured safe-haven assets.

The Canadian dollar slid after the US announced new duties averaging 20 per cent on Canadian softwood lumber imports. The US dollar strengthened 0.4 per cent to C$1.3549.

European stocks also look set for a strong start, with financial spreadbetter CMC Markets expecting Britain’s FTSE 100 to open up 0.2 per cent and Germany’s DAX to start the day 0.3 per cent higher. France’s CAC 40, which jumped 4.1 per cent to post its biggest one-day gain in almost five years on Monday, is set to open up 0.4 per cent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.6 per cent, hovering near the highest level since June 2015 hit earlier in the session, on its fourth straight day of gains.

“Asian markets appear to be still lingering in the glow of relief after the French election,” said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore. “The jubilance in markets overnight has also added to the optimism.”

US President Donald Trump’s promise of an announcement on a tax reform plan on Wednesday could offer further impetus to markets, she added.

Japan’s Nikkei rose more than 1 per cent to a three-week high. South Korea’s KOSPI also advanced 0.7 per cent to the highest level since April 2015.

Chinese shares rose 0.1 per cent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.9 per cent. The Chinese index posted its worst day in 2017 on Monday amid signs Beijing will tolerate further market volatility as regulators clamp down on shadow banking and speculative trading.

Indonesian stocks opened at an all-time high, and Malaysian stocks hit their highest level since May 2015.

Australia and New Zealand are closed for the Anzac Day holiday.

“The risk-on sentiment is resulting in foreign inflows into Asia supporting asset prices, and investors are putting North Korean tensions to one side for now,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group.

North Korea conducted a massive live-fire drill on Tuesday on the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its army, media reports said on Tuesday. South Korea’s defence ministry could not immediately confirm the report.

Polls show Emmanuel Macron defeating anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen by as much as 30 percentage points in the second round of the French presidential election in two weeks.

Overnight, the MSCI World index surged 1.6 per cent to touch an all-time high, and holding near that level on Tuesday.

The pan-European STOXX 50 index soared 4 per cent, its best day in nearly two years.

On Wall Street, all three major indexes jumped more than 1 per cent, with the Nasdaq closing at a record high.

The euro was steady at US$1.08645, retaining most of Monday’s 1.3 per cent gain. On Monday, it posted its strongest one-day performance in 10-1/2 months, which lifted the common currency to a 5-1/2-month high.

The euro’s earlier gains had weighed on the dollar index, which touched a four-week low overnight. The index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, was marginally higher at 99.134, failing to make up most of Monday’s 0.9 per cent loss.

The dollar advanced 0.3 per cent to 110.05 yen on Tuesday, extending Monday’s 0.5 per cent jump as investors sold off the safe-haven yen.

A strong earnings season in the US has also lifted investors’ spirits, with 77 per cent of the 100 S&P 500 companies that have reported first-quarter results so far beating profit expectations.

This week is set to be the busiest in at least a decade, with over 190 S&P 500 companies reporting first-quarter results, including heavy weights Alphabet and Microsoft .

In commodities markets, oil prices crept higher after six straight sessions of losses, although gains were capped by fears that pledged output cuts by major producers may not be able to rein in oversupply.

US crude gained 0.5 per cent to US$49.47 a barrel, but hovered close to the lowest level in almost four weeks hit on Monday.

Global benchmark Brent climbed 0.5 per cent to US$51.84 after also hitting a four-week low overnight.

Gold slipped 0.15 per cent to US$1,273.22 an ounce, remaining near a two-week low touched overnight.

UK deficit falls to lowest level since 2008
  • FTSE 100: +0.28pc
  • DAX: -0.01pc
  • CAC 40: +0.38pc
  • IBEX: -0.13pc

 David Cheetham, of XTB, said: “After some sharp moves on the European open yesterday, this morning has seen a sense of calm restored as markets continue to digest the recent political events in France. The FTSE 100 has added to Monday’s gains and has now recovered most of the losses seen last week following the announcement of a snap general election in the UK. In an interesting divergence which reveals a shift in driving forces on the markets, the pound remains well supported and not far from 2017 highs seen last week against the US dollar with the inverse correlation between these two subsiding somewhat in recent trade.”


Resurgent euro keeps pound under pressure

The pound remains under pressure today at the hands of a resurgent euro, which rallied yesterday as markets began to price in a Macron presidency.

Although it regained some momentum in early trade, the pound remains down 0.04pc on the day at 1.1783 against the euro.

Yesterday, the pound suffered its worst day against the euro since early January, falling around 1.4pc.


Institute of Chartered Accountants: Significant amount of work to do to repair public finances

Commenting on UK public finances, Ross Campbell from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales said: “Whatever the outcome on June 8, it’s important to recognise there is still a significant amount of work to be done to repair the public finances – which are projected to stay in deficit for years to come.

“Whoever is Chancellor after the election will need to employ robust fiscal measures to tackle the massive level of public indebtedness we currently see today.

“While Brexit may dominate the pre-election narrative, it is equally important that all party manifestos tackle structural problems that plague the UK’s economy – including the longstanding problems of Government spending more that it earns and a lack of incentives to drive economic growth.”

Most of the larger UK March Public Finances deficit was higher debt interest presumably on RPI Index Linked Bonds.

He suggested that extra investment in infrastructure projects was needed “to spearhead the UK’s economic reboot in a post-Brexit landscape”.

Read the full report by Tim Wallace here


IHS Markit: UK public finances figures ‘pleasing and welcome news’ for Chancellor Hammond

Weighing in on the UK public finances data, economist Howard Archer, of IHS Markit, said the figures were both “pleasing and welcome news” for Chancellor Philip Hammond as he essentially met the markedly lowered 2016/17 fiscal target contained in the March budget.

Go to The Telegraph:

France: Marine Le Pen steps down as Front National leader to widen appeal, concentrate on presidential bid

April 25, 2017

The move appears to be a way of embracing a wider range of voters

By Shehab Khan

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has announced she is temporarily stepping down as leader of the Front National (FN) to concentrate on her presidential bid

French presidential election candidate Marine Le Pen 

 French presidential election candidate Marine Le Pen  CREDIT: AFP

Ms Le Pen said  she was taking “a leave of absence” from leading the FN to focus on campaigning, in a move that appeared to be a mere formality that changes nothing in her campaign platform.The move does seem aimed as a way of embracing a wider range of voters ahead of her runoff against centrist Emmanuel Macron.

She told France 2 television: “I will feel more free and above all, above party politics, which I think is important.”

Ms Le Pen has said for months she is not, strictly speaking, an FN candidate but a candidate backed by the FN. She has long distanced herself from her maverick father Jean-Marie, the former FN leader, and in the election campaign has put neither her party’s name nor its trademark flame logo on her posters.

She has repeatedly said the policy platform on which she has stood is hers and not reflective of the FN.

“Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate,” Ms Le Pen said on French public television news.

Ms Le Pen had previously attempted to clean up the party’s racist and anti-Semitic image as she tried to appeal to voters on both the left and the right. 

Final results from the French presidential election’s first round showed that Mr Macron got nearly one million more votes than Ms Le Pen. Mr Macron collected 8.66 million votes, or 24.01 per cent, while Ms Le Pen garnered 7.68 million votes, or 21.30 per cent, according to the official final count published by the Interior Ministry.

For Ms Le Pen, it is the best result ever achieved by her FN party in a French presidential election.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon got 20.01 per cent, and left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, 19.58 percent of the vote. The other seven candidates were far behind.

The final round of voting for the French Presidency will take place on 7 May, and Mr Macron is currently thought to be the favourite.

Opening the battle for second-round votes, Ms Le Pen highlighted the continuing threat of Islamist militancy, which has claimed more than 230 lives in France since 2015, saying the 39-year-old Mr Macron was “to say the least, weak” on the issue.

She also said she wanted to talk to sovereignist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who won nearly five per cent of the first-round vote and has not said which side he would take in the next.

“His platform is extremely close to ours. Patriots should come together to fight those who promote unbridled globalisation,” she said.

Ms Le Pen has promised to suspend the EU’s open-border agreement on France’s frontiers and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services.

Mr Macron’s internal security programme calls for 10,000 more police officers, and 15,000 new prison places, and he has recruited a number of security experts to his entourage.

However, opinion polls over the course of the campaign have consistently found voters were more concerned about the economy and the trustworthiness of politicians.

Ms Le Pen’s campaign took aim on Monday at what they see as further weak spots: Mr Macron’s previous job as an investment banker and his role as a deregulating economy minister under outgoing President Francois Hollande.

As for Mr Hollande, he has urged people to back Mr Macron, saying Ms Le Pen, represented a “risk” for France.

Opinion polls indicate that the business-friendly Mr Macron, who has never held elected office, will take at least 61 percent of the vote against Ms Le Pen after two defeated rivals pledged to back him to thwart her eurosceptic, anti-immigrant platform.

Mr Hollande, a Socialist nearing the end of five years of unpopular rule, threw his weight behind his former economy minister in a televised address, saying Ms Le Pen’s policies were divisive and stigmatised sections of the population.

“The presence of the far right in the second round is a risk for the country,” he said. “What is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.”

Agencies contributed to this report


From the BBC

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has announced that she is stepping aside as leader of her National Front (FN) party.

The move comes just a day after she reached the second round of the French election, where she will face centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Ms Le Pen told French TV she needed to be above partisan considerations.

Opinion polls suggest Mr Macron is firm favourite for the second round but Ms Le Pen said: “We can win, we will win.”

The French term she used signalled that the move to step aside would be temporary.

She told France 2 that France was approaching a “decisive moment”.

Read more:

Ms Le Pen said her decision had been made out of the “profound conviction” that the president must bring together all of the French people.

“So, this evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the candidate for the French presidency,” she said.


Ms Le Pen had already airbrushed out her party’s name, and her own surname, from campaign posters in a bid to woo voters from the Left and Right, as well as in recent years “detoxifying”  her party’s racist, anti-Semitic image.

Sunday’s first round upturned France’s political landscape as candidates from the mainstream Left and Right were eliminated and the two finalists both claimed to be “anti-system” champions.

See map of where Le Pen votes came from in France:

The final results saw Mr Macron, an independent centrist who created his movement En Marche! (Onwards) only a year ago, take pole position on 
 24.01 per cent, with Ms Le Pen of the far-Right Front National second on 21.3 per cent.

François Fillon, the conservative runner, was a close third on 20.01 per cent, just ahead of Communist-backed Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 19.58 per cent, while Benoît Hamon, the official candidate of the ruling Socialist Party, came fifth on just 6.36 per cent.

French election 2017: Marine Le Pen leading the race as polls open but victory far from assured

April 23, 2017

Fox News

As voting starts in the French Presidential Election,  Marine Le Pen — who has built her campaign on the populist anger that helped President Trump get elected — is seeing a similar boost in support.

Marine Le Pen goes into today's first round of the French election in the lead

Marine Le Pen goes into today’s first round of the French election in the lead

An opinion poll released Friday by Odoxa shows her nearly neck-and-neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, a jump in the past week. Analysts point out that the latest attack in Paris, which killed a police officer and left three other people wounded Thursday, may have contributed to her surge in support.


Still, the race is far from decided. As many as one-third of voters had not settled on a candidate this week, Newsweek reported. President Trump said he believed the Champs-Elysees attack would help Le Pen, while former President Barack Obama offered Macron his best wishes in a phone call Thursday. Both Trump and Obama stopped short of full endorsements.

Election stations opened Saturday in French overseas territories voting first — one day earlier than on the mainland.

Newsweek found many voters across France saying they were leaning toward Le Pen — which would parallel the surge for Trump last year among undecided voters and supporters who chose to lay low.


André Robert, 56, said her tough stance on terror convinced him. “I’m voting for the candidate who’ll keep us safe.”

“Marine gets me shaking,” 65-year-old Monique Zaouchkevitch said, adding that she’d stayed out of politics until she heard Le Pen speak. “Marine, she’s close to the people.”

In another parallel to the U.S., some voters seemed to suffer from election fatigue and weren’t blown away by any of the candidates. Gabriel Roberoir, a 61-year-old former public servant, called the election a “circus,” adding, “I don’t even know why any of them are running.”

Sunday’s vote is the first round in the French elections, with the top two candidates advancing to a winner-take-all runoff on May 7. The high-stakes contest is viewed as something of a vote on the future of the European Union, with Le Pen calling for a referendum on France’s membership in the bloc.

In a sign of how tense the country has become, a man holding a knife caused widespread panic Saturday at Paris’ Gare du Nord train station. He was arrested and no one was hurt.

Conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, whose campaign was initially derailed by corruption allegations that his wife was paid as his parliamentary aide, also appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-leftist, Jean-Luc Melenchon. Campaigning by the 11 presidential candidates got off to a slow start, bogged down by corruption charges around once-top candidate Fillon before belatedly switching focus to France’s biggest fear: a new attack.

Le Pen has also echoed some of Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on immigration, calling for hardening French borders to stanch what she describes as an out-of-control flow of immigrants.

She has spoken of radical Muslims trying to supplant France’s Judeo-Christian heritage and, among other measures, has called for foreigners suspected of extremism to be expelled from the country.

Le Pen, a 48-year-old mother of three, has distanced herself from her father, National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of crimes related to anti-Semitism and mocked the Holocaust as a “detail” of history.

Nevertheless, earlier this month she denied the French state was responsible for the roundup of Jews during World War II, drawing condemnation from other presidential candidates and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

A victory for Macron would be a vote of confidence in France staying in the EU. Obama, when he was in office, encouraged Britain not to leave, though it ultimately voted to do so anyway.

Trump backed Britain’s decision to exit from the EU and has also predicted that other countries would make similar decisions. Yet during a White House news conference Thursday, the president said he believed in a strong Europe.

“A strong Europe is very, very important to me as president of the United States,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

See also from The Telegraph:

French election 2017: Marine Le Pen leading the race as polls open


France: Polls open in Presidential Election that could have a dramatic effect on the shape of the European Union

April 23, 2017

Amid heightened security fears following a terror attack in Paris, the French will elect a new president in two rounds of voting on April 23 and May 7—the result could reshape the European Union. WSJ’s Niki Blasina explains who the top candidates are, how they could win, and what might happen next. Photo: Getty Images.

PARIS—French voters headed to the polls Sunday for the first round of a closely contested presidential election that has turned into a referendum on the future of France’s generous entitlement system and on the nation’s place in the European Union, amid heightened security days after a terror attack in the capital.

Uncertainty is running high as polls show the four candidates leading the race are within striking distance of one another. The quartet comprises two mainstream contenders and two antiestablishment candidates seeking to pull apart the political and economic order that has governed France and Europe for the past 60 years.

The top two finishers from a field of 11 will proceed to a runoff on May 7, unless any one candidate garners more than 50% of the vote Sunday.

Adding further tension, voters are casting their ballots amid heightened security following a spate of terror attacks. An additional 50,000 police and gendarmes will be deployed to secure polling stations around the country, where some 10,000 soldiers are already patrolling the streets as part of an antiterror mission.

Photos: Voting Begins in France

French voters cast their ballots in the first round of that country’s election Sunday

Expatriate French voters line up at a polling station in Hong Kong.
Expatriate French voters line up at a polling station in Hong Kong. ALEX HOFFORD/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
A voter casts his ballot at a Paris polling station in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday.
A voter casts his ballot at a Paris polling station in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday. CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS

French people were reminded of the threat Thursday when a police officer was gunned down on Paris’s Champs-Élysées. Two days earlier, police detained two men in the southern city of Marseille suspected of planning an imminent terror attack.

Polling firms say many voters planning to cast a ballot still hadn’t picked a first-round candidate at the end of the week. According to a poll by BVA Thursday and Friday, 23% of people intending to vote say they could still change their mind.

Leading among the anti-EU candidates is Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader who has pledged to halt immigration, and wants France to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and ditch the euro. Left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon is also threatening to pull out of NATO and the EU, unless the bloc bends to his demands to scrap treaties that rein in excessive spending.

Coming to the defense of Europe are Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker who has never run for office, and François Fillon, a social and fiscal conservative who has publicly apologized after news reports showed he had put his family on the public payroll.

Also at stake in Sunday’s vote is the fate of France’s big-hearted state. Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon are promising to reinforce pension and holiday entitlements. Messrs. Fillon and Macron say the time has come to bring benefits in line with France’s debt-laden public finances.

Second-Round Matchups

The six most realistic scenarios for the May 7 presidential runoff and their predicted outcomes.

Emmanuel Macron | François Fillon

A contest between two pro-Europeans that shifts the debate to taxation, spending and how to fix the French economy.

Emmanuel Macron | Marine Le Pen

A staunch EU defender takes on one of the economic bloc’s most committed adversaries.

Emmanuel Macron | Jean-Luc Mélenchon

A referendum on the role of France in the EU and NATO, laying bare divisions on the French left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon | François Fillon

A soak-the-rich crusader of the far-left squares off with a conservative proponent of austerity.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon | Marine Le Pen

The second round investors fear most, because it guarantees France will have a deeply euroskeptic president.

François Fillon | Marine Le Pen

This matchup with the scandal-plagued Mr. Fillon, polls say, is Ms. Le Pen’s best shot at the presidency.

Sources: Staff reports; CEVIPOF poll conducted between Apr. 16–17 by Ipsos-Sopra Steria of 11,601 people registered on the electoral rolls (polling)

The BVA poll showed Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Macron each on track to garner 23% of the vote, with Mr. Mélenchon on 19.5% and Mr. Fillon half a point behind the left-wing candidate. The projections, the poll says, have a 2.5-percentage-point margin of error.

Those razor-thin margins are testing the longstanding practice in France of casting ballots for those candidates voters consider to be lesser evils—what is known locally as a “vote utile,” or “useful vote.”

“It was already complicated before,” said Florence Pilon, 43 years old, who is now leaning toward voting for Mr. Macron. “We haven’t had a very reassuring campaign.”

At the start of the year, Mr. Fillon and Ms. Le Pen held a comfortable lead in polls, which projected him beating her in the second round as voters rallied against the National Front leader.

But Mr. Fillon’s campaign suffered a blow after a newspaper reported he had hired his wife and two children as parliamentary assistants, paying them hundreds of thousands of euros in state funds. In March, an investigative magistrate notified Mr. Fillon he was suspected of embezzlement for providing his family with fake jobs. Mr. Fillon has apologized for hiring relatives but denied allegations the jobs were fake.

Mr. Fillon’s ensuing collapse in opinion polls thrust Mr. Macron, a pro-business former economy minister, into pole position.

In recent weeks, however, Mr. Macron’s left flank has come under attack from Mr. Mélenchon, a fiery, Mao jacket-wearing leftist who has cast himself as the champion of the working class.

Mr. Mélenchon’s surge scrambled the voting math once again, as polls showed many on the left were tempted to abandon Mr. Macron.

The Interior Ministry will publish the first turnout figures at noon local time and again at 5 p.m.

The first estimations based on a partial count the vote will be calculated by polling companies for the main TV channels and broadcast at 8 p.m.

Polling companies expect to have firmer projections by 10 p.m., though there is an outside chance the race could still be too close to call. If that is the case, the first round may not be called until the government completes the vote count on Monday morning.

Write to William Horobin at and Joshua Robinson at


France votes amid political turmoil — “This is a deep institutional crisis.”

April 23, 2017

Today’s first round of voting in France’s presidential elections is the culmination of the country’s very surprising campaign. Lisa Louis reports from Paris.

Frankreich Wahlen (Reuters/P.Rossignol)

France has seen its most extraordinary presidential election campaign in recent history. Beyond politics as usual, it points to a deep institutional crisis.

The French are going to the polls today to vote in the first round of the presidential elections. About a third of them still don’t know who to vote for according to polls. And can you really blame them?

French presidential election campaigns normally produce two clear front runners – often from the main center-right and center-left parties. In 2012, the center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy was facing current Socialist President Francois Hollande. Admittedly, far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of voting in 2002. But that had been undetected by the polls.

This time around though, four candidates could potentially reach the decisive run-off vote on May 7. The gaps between their projected tallies are so small that they lie within the margin of error. That’s unheard of and hasn’t occurred since the beginning of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958.

“This is the first time that the media’s projections published at [1800 UTC] on the first day of voting will probably not give us the names of the two candidates that’ll get into the second round – the vote will just be too close,” said Nicolas Lebourg, political historian at Montpellier University.

“It’s extraordinary – never has a presidential election been so chaotic,” he added.

Full of surprises

Thursday night’s terror attack just added to the confusion focusing the campaign on terrorism in its last stretch. Unemployment had been the main talking point up until then. During the attack, one policeman was killed and three other people wounded after a 39-year old French man opened fire on a police van on Paris’ iconic Champs-Elysées boulevard. However, it doesn’t seem to have given any of the candidates a huge edge according to the latest polls.

But the whole campaign has been full of surprises. To start off with, none of the winners of the Republican and Socialist parties’ primaries were expected to come first.

Frankreich Francois Fillon (Getty Images/AFP/P. Kovarik)Francois Fillon, once the frontrunner, has seen his candidacy hurt amid allegations he gave family members fake jobs

Then came scandal for the conservatives. The Republican candidate, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, had for months been the favorite to become France’s next President. He’s a social conservative and intends to get the country back on track with Thatcher-like radical economic reforms. He is also planning on repositioning the country internationally – by seeking closer ties with Russia and Syria.

But in January, scandals around alleged fake jobs for his family saw his poll numbers drop from 28 to about 18 percent. He is now competing with far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon for third position.

Melenchon recently – and surprisingly so – zoomed upwards from ten percent, with Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon plummeting to single-figure numbers.

The left-extremist Melenchon still thinks in terms of class warfare. A gifted orator, he wants to strengthen the French welfare state by increasing the minimum wage and bringing down weekly working hours – currently at 35. He also intends to renegotiate EU treaties or, if that fails, push for France to leave the EU all together.

Another extremist is among the two front runners – again a first in French history. Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Front has a very good chance of getting through to the decisive run-off vote – and this is reflected in the polls. She’s proven popular with a recipe of anti-immigrant, economic protectionism and nationalistic rhetoric. But she has managed to smoothen out the party’s image by no longer making controversial statements like her father Jean-Marie. He was tarnished by charges of xenophobia and anti-semitism.

Kombobild Melenchon Le PenLeftist Jean-Luc Melenchon has risen in the polls ahead of the vote, while far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is hoping her anti-EU, anti-migration rhetoric will galvanize her populist base

Traditional parties in crisis

Le Pen’s closest rival is independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. The former Economics Minister is pro-European and pro-business but also intends to maintain and strengthen France’s welfare state. His movement “En Marche!” (On The Move!), founded only a year ago, skyrocketed in the polls. He’s now in first place.

“The fact that a lightning party like ‘En Marche!’ can attract members from the Communists and the Republicans just shows to what extent the traditional parties are in a crisis,” said Florence Faucher, Professor for Political Science at Paris University Sciences Po.

But historian Lebourg says it’s not just the Socialist and the Republican Parties that are in a dire state – but the whole Fifth Republic: “This is a deep institutional crisis.”

“Our Republican Monarchy was made for the agrarian France of 1958, when less then ten percent of the people under 50 had a degree – now that figure is at 38 percent.”

“People want to be included in political decisions – and no longer be dictated to. Our institutions and very authoritarian and centralized political system are just not suitable any more.”

Perhaps for this reason, many in this election campaign were trying to depict themselves as anti-system candidates – including Melenchon, Le Pen, and Macron.

No clear favorite

Lebourg says the current political system, based on two rounds of voting, only works with two frontrunners and two strong political poles. But with four strong candidates, none of them is likely to get enough votes to appear legitimate. “The two run-off candidates will not have been able to gather much more than 20 percent in the first round,” he stated.

And more problems could lie ahead. Parliamentary elections will take place in June and the resulting majority will form the new government.

But only a President Francois Fillon would have a chance of getting such a majority. He could fall back on a large base of traditional voters of his party.

The other candidates, if elected, would not have that base and would hardly be able to get the necessary number of MPs. Those who are voting for the winner in the Presidential elections would not necessarily support his or her candidates in parliamentary elections, Lebourg explained.

The result would then be a coalition – a so-called “cohabitation.”

But coalitions have never worked very well in French history. “It would be total chaos – the French are just not good at making compromises,” Lebourg said adding that it wasn’t for nothing that the French had come up with the term “Franco-French war”.

“In any case, the system is at breaking point – it’s almost impossible not to reform it as things stand.”

Lebourg thinks the electoral rules need to be changed towards a proportional system and that more space needs to be given to citizen initiatives.

Political scientist Faucher says it’s no wonder people are confused given all the ups and downs of the election campaign. “The French are just not happy with the status quo. This campaign is the expression of a resentment against the established system, just like the Brexit vote and the outcome of the US presidential elections.”

“Many just don’t know who to vote for now – especially as they are more worried than ever to get things right.”


France ready for Sunday’s presidential vote — “This could be ‘the end’ of the EU.”

April 22, 2017

After 238 deaths at the hands of jihadi terrorists in just two years, France was coming to terms with yet another one yesterday. But might Thursday night’s Paris slaughter of a French policeman by a previously convicted Islamist gunman also go down as an historic turning point?

Coming just hours before the official cessation of all campaigning ahead of tomorrow’s presidential vote, it is certainly possible. Because a polarised nation increasingly drawn towards two political extremes now stands on the cusp of the most uncertain and unhappy election in modern French history.

It is one which not only has all the EU grandees in Brussels in a blind panic but could even dictate what happens in Britain. For France could be about to deliver a result even more seismic than last year’s British referendum vote for Brexit. The country which has given the world the phrase déjà vu has never seen anything remotely like this.

National Front candidate Marine Le Pen. A polarised nation increasingly drawn towards two political extremes now stands on the cusp of the most uncertain and unhappy election in modern French history

National Front candidate Marine Le Pen. A polarised nation increasingly drawn towards two political extremes now stands on the cusp of the most uncertain and unhappy election in modern French history

Marine Le Pen calls for border controls after French attack
 Image may contain: 1 person, standing and night

A headline in the normally highbrow French daily, L’Opinion, the other day summed up the national mood ahead of the vote: ‘The Crazydential Election.’

The field is now wide open between an old school fascist, a conservative mired in criminal investigations, a shiny Blairite banker who has never been elected to anything and a charismatic Maoist who wants a ‘citizens’ revolution’.

To the horror of the EU establishment, it is no longer impossible — or even improbable — that the fascist and the Maoist could triumph on Sunday and go through to next month’s best-of-two final.

This week’s jihadi attack certainly adds fresh momentum to the campaign of Marine Le Pen from the overtly xenophobic Far Right Front National (FN). The more she pushes ahead in one direction, the more the Far Left gains ground in the other.

If both of them triumph tomorrow, that would cause pandemonium. Both have pledged a French referendum on leaving the EU and both want ‘Frexit’. Regardless of who won a fortnight later, it would spell the end of the EU as we know it.

Because, in the event of a ‘Frexit’, the whole European project — of which France is a founder member and integral pillar — would collapse.

Even France’s own EU commissioner — former finance minister Pierre Moscovici — admitted the election of Le Pen in France would be ‘the end’ of the EU.

And in the pan-European mayhem and crashing markets that would follow on Monday morning, Theresa May would be the last rock of sanity in a continental sea of madness.

Jean-Luc MÈlenchon leader of 'les insoumis' political movement

Jean-Luc MÈlenchon leader of ‘les insoumis’ political movement

Game over.

The truth is that, frankly, anything could happen in tomorrow’s first round vote. After all, this is a presidential campaign which includes a candidate (there are 11 in total) who claims that the Queen is a drug smuggler and that homosexuality was invented by the KGB.

Having criss-crossed France in pursuit of the main players, I am not surprised the old European order is terrified.

After blaming last year’s unexpected wins for Brexit and Donald Trump on ‘populism’, the liberal commentariat had been fixating on Marine Le Pen as the next ‘populist’ threat.

In doing so, they had completely overlooked another candidate who is now enjoying unexpected success. And Jean-Luc Melenchon doesn’t fit their Right-wing ‘populist’ narrative at all.

Here is an ultra-Leftie who makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a Tory wet. He wants a wealth tax of 100 per cent, closer ties with Vladimir Putin, the abolition of nuclear power and, above all, a French departure from Nato and the EU. And he is on a late surge for second place in the opinion polls.

Since World War II, most French presidential races have boiled down to a U.S.-style binary choice between Left and Right.

But that model has fallen apart. The dismal record of outgoing president Francois Hollande has seen his Socialist Party collapse and the French Left fragment in two directions.

His successor as official Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, trails far behind the fiery Melenchon’s ‘France Unbowed’ movement.

But Hamon has also been eclipsed by the new hero of the moderate Left. Emmanuel Macron, a youthful ex-banker, claims to be a fresh, pro-European voice for those fed up with ‘old politics’.

Over on the French Right, the landscape should be dominated by Francois Fillon, a former prime minister and managerial smoothie often described as a ‘French Thatcher’. After beating several powerful candidates including former President Nicolas Sarkozy to win the nomination of the Republican opposition party, he seemed destined to go all the way.

Suddenly, in January, the French Press unearthed details of public money being paid to his family for nebulous jobs.

It was alleged that Fillon’s Welsh-born wife, Penelope, had pocketed hundreds of thousands of pounds as his ‘parliamentary assistant’, without lifting a finger. And the accusations kept piling up. It means he now lags some way behind the one name familiar to the British public — Marine Le Pen.

She hopes that the FN’s blend of immigrant-bashing and old-style protectionism will pull in angry voters from both Left and Right.

She has trotted out fresh pie-in-the-sky policies ranging from a ban on new supermarkets (to help small retailers) to a new retirement age — of 60. But her big election theme is that multiculturalism is endangering French society.

That is the message she keeps hammering home, as I witness ahead of Thursday’s killing.

Here is an ultra-Leftie who makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a Tory wet. He wants a wealth tax of 100 per cent, closer ties with Vladimir Putin, the abolition of nuclear power, says Robert Hardman

Here is an ultra-Leftie who makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a Tory wet. He wants a wealth tax of 100 per cent, closer ties with Vladimir Putin, the abolition of nuclear power, says Robert Hardman

My first stop is an invitation-only rally for Le Pen loyalists in Paris. Her campaign team clearly want to present a statesmanlike image, hiring a former ballroom near the Arc de Triomphe.

Heavies with wires in their ears try to look the part, but everyone is on edge. There is no warm-up act, and there will be no questions afterwards.

The party leader rattles through her speech as if she just wants to get it out of the way. There is precious little joie de vivre, though some British observers are struck by the way that, at a certain angle, the FN leader is — with exquisite irony — a dead ringer for the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee.

‘A multicultural society is a multiconflict society,’ Mme Le Pen declares. ‘Multiculturalism is the weapon of Islamic fundamentalists, permitted by useful idiots in the name of tolerance.’

She then tells the crowd a whopper about Britain being in the grip of Sharia law and says that, if elected, she will compel Muslim imams to deliver their sermons in French.

At the end, her loyalists are on their feet. Interestingly, they are not all white.

Maurice Puisard, 46, a nurse and FN council candidate whose parents are from French Guyana, says all the family vote FN: ‘This country has a big problem with security and authority. Marine Le Pen is the only one strong enough to deal with it.’

Mme Le Pen leaves, and the cameras engulf her again as journalists seek clarity on her latest toxic claim that France should feel no shame about deporting thousands of French Jews to Nazi death camps in 1942 — on the grounds that the officials involved were not working for ‘France’ but for the puppet Vichy regime.

‘This argument has been manipulated to discredit me,’ she says above the melee. ‘Of course I condemn the Vichy government, but Vichy was not France.’

Mme Le Pen has worked hard in recent years to distance both herself and her party from the racist rantings of her father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. Last year, he was fined £25,000 by a French court for dismissing the Nazi gas chambers as a ‘detail’ of history. On other occasions, he has attacked France’s football team for having ‘too many black players’.

Now at a stroke, on the eve of the election, Mme Le Pen turns out to be her father’s daughter after all.

Her genocidal buck-passing has caused outrage far beyond France’s Jewish community, as has a new biography alleging disturbing neo-Nazi sympathies among some of her closest friends (many of whom apparently refer to Adolf Hitler as ‘Uncle’).

Yet opinion polls were already suggesting she could expect 24 per cent of the vote tomorrow. The latest Islamist attack is only going to bolster her support. A recent poll suggested that most French police officers are going to vote for her.

Mme Le Pen has worked hard in recent years to distance both herself and her party from the racist rantings of her father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen

Mme Le Pen has worked hard in recent years to distance both herself and her party from the racist rantings of her father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen

The other front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, is also scoring around 24 per cent with his pitch for disillusioned moderates from either side.

At a packed rally, I ask dozens of people the same question: why Macron? All answer: ‘Jeunesse’ (Youth). Here in Britain, the allure of the cool young politician is over. We prefer grey-haired wisdom these days. But in France, politics has long been dominated by old men running old party machines.

All of which makes Macron, 39, a dizzyingly fresh proposition.

A slightly nasal financier, married to his former school-teacher, 24 years his senior, he is not pin-up material (and has had to bat off slurs about his sexuality). But compared to some dinosaurs in French politics, he is Peter Pan.

The crowd at this concert hall in the Pyrenean town of Pau is too big for the venue. Some 5,000 have squeezed in with another 1,500 locked out. Pumped up by dance anthems, mixed with audio clips of Martin Luther King, the audience is almost hysterical when he finally arrives, an hour late.

The local mayor does the warm-up, joking that while Macron may be young, Napoleon had already been emperor for six years by the time he was his age.

And then it goes a bit flat. Macron is no Napoleon. He seems twitchy, even nervous, as he begins with a prolonged homage to this corner of France, home to his late grandmother. At one point, I fear he may be about to blub.

A high-flying graduate of France’s ultra-elitist ‘rulers’ academy’, Ecole Nationale d’Administration, he went on to be a Rothschild’s banker. In 2014, he was parachuted into the Socialist government for a couple of years as Finance Minister before leaving to work on his own presidential bid.

Macron talks so softly that his audience have to keep completely quiet to hear his soliloquies about uniting Left and Right.

‘Our democracy is ill. I want to restore confidence in it,’ he says. ‘For me, this job is about presiding, not governing,’ he continues slowly as if unveiling a big new idea (isn’t that why the job title is ‘President’?) The crowd clap.

It is the only French rally I see all week with EU flags everywhere. Macron is the only overtly pro-EU candidate. Jean-Claude Juncker and the Brussels establishment will be praying for a Macron win.

But it is only in his very last sentence that Macron raises his voice as he declares: ‘Vive La France! Vive La Republique.’

His is one of two campaigns with a sense of gathering momentum. The other is in action at the other end of the country where 25,000 people have gathered in Lille to hear Jean–Luc Melenchon. Like Macron, the ex-teacher and ex-journalist has also founded his own movement. As well as demanding Frexit and punitive taxation of the rich, ‘France Unbowed’ sees Russia as a better ally than the USA.

Melenchon wants to raise the minimum wage by 15 per cent and splurge cash like sweeties. It may be the economics of the madhouse but it’s going down a storm, especially with France’s youth.

The similarities with Italy’s anarchic but phenomenally successful populist Five Star Movement — led by the anti-establishment comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo — grow more obvious by the day. Hence the alarm bells in Brussels.

A woman looks at a poster with the Disney character Uncle Scrooge fixed over the official poster of French presidential election candidate for the far-left coalition "La France insoumise" Jean-Luc Melenchon

A woman looks at a poster with the Disney character Uncle Scrooge fixed over the official poster of French presidential election candidate for the far-left coalition “La France insoumise” Jean-Luc Melenchon

Melenchon, 65, is widely regarded to have the slickest social media presence. He encourages his supporters to play a video game called ‘fiscal kombat’ in which a mini-Melenchon beats up his main rivals to score points.

‘We are the only force uniting the country today,’ Melenchon tells his listeners.

National unity is also the battle-cry of Francois Fillon, the mainstream conservative who currently jostles with Melenchon for third place at around 18 to 20 per cent.

Fillon’s supporters insist that the financial scandal over payments to his family — or ‘les affaires’ as they call it — is just ‘media conspiracy’.

But the ambiance at the Fillon rally I attend in a Marseilles exhibition hall says it all. In terms of age, dress sense and manners, it is much like a Tory party conference. Supportive and enthusiastic they may be. Triumphal, they are not. His latest electoral slogan — ‘You don’t have to like me, just let me get on with the job’ — has an air of desperation.

‘Fillon! President!’ they chant with modest fervour. He looks proud but forlorn; not quite broken, not exactly defiant. He is a forceful orator, making a speech on everything from France’s nuclear independence to kicking drug-dealers out of social housing. He refers constantly to ‘le projet’.

Saluting France’s Nobel prize-winners, he insists that France must give the economy ‘the fuel of freedom’ by cutting regulation.

Afterwards, his supporters are super-loyal if not bursting with optimism. ‘He is the only man who understands our history, our character, our culture — and who can turn this country around,’ says Marie, 35, an architect who would rather not give me her full name as she doesn’t want work colleagues to know she supports Fillon.

Until this week, conventional thinking decreed that Mme Le Pen and Macron would go through to the second round and that the latter would romp home on a tide of centrist national unity — followed by inevitable celebrations of the death of ‘populism’.

And history shows us that France, in its elections, has an unerring habit of reverting to the status quo, leaving its bloated state behemoth untouched.

This, after all, is the country which invented the word for bossy state control of everything — dirigiste.

Yet, Thursday’s outrage may, finally, be about to change all that.

Bruno Cautres, political analyst at the widely-respected Cevipof/Sciences Po think-tank, points to a startling gap in the polls: ‘Remember that up to 40 per cent of people are undecided. So anything is still possible.’

That includes a Le Pen v Melenchon run-off — which would send the EU and the euro into free-fall.

For now, in this fearful, unhappy country, it’s all about as clear as my bowl of steaming bouillabaisse.

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France’s Choice: Le Divorce?

April 22, 2017

French voters will begin to pick a new president this weekend, and their decision may well determine whether the European Union lives or die


April 21, 2017 1:55 p.m. ET

France didn’t schedule a referendum on its membership in the European Union or globalization writ large, but it is about to get one. The first round of the country’s presidential elections, which will be held this Sunday, has become impossible to handicap. France’s party system is in its death throes, according to Patrick Buisson, a onetime top adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Like all death throes,” Mr. Buisson said recently over a brasserie lunch in Paris, “it is convulsive.”

Sunday’s top two vote-getters will advance to a second round on May 7. Polls now show four candidates locked in a dead heat. Put bluntly, the contenders are a capitalist, a Catholic, a nationalist and a leftist. The 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker and economics minister, bolted the Socialist Party last year to run at the head of a new movement called En Marche (“on the march”). He wants to strengthen the 28-country European Union, which lays down rules for the continent. In an ordinary year, he might be preparing to run head-to-head against the conservative François Fillon, whose mostly Catholic political base has rallied against Islamist terrorism and gay marriage. But Mr. Fillon has spent the entire campaign mired in featherbedding scandals.

One or both of these mainstream candidates could be toppled by an insurgency. If that happens, much else will fall. Marine Le Pen, the daughter and political heiress of the demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen, has sought to purge his National Front of its reputation for bigotry. She wants to pull France out of the EU entirely. The eloquent Jean-Luc Mélenchon is almost as skeptical about the EU, even if his own sympathies are more with South American radicals such as Evo Morales and the late Hugo Chávez.

In France and elsewhere, citizens complain that the EU has eroded their culture, sapped their defenses against mass migration and left them less free; meanwhile, business leaders and the politicians they back call it indispensable.

Far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Paris Monday.
Far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Paris Monday. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Globalization has left mixed results in France. Its major cities, starting with Paris, are as rich as ever, but they have been hit hard by terrorism. In just the past two years, the staff of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were massacred for belittling Islam, dozens of music fans were executed at a concert hall in Paris, tourists were mowed down by a truck on the beachfront of Nice, and an 84-year-old priest had his throat slit after celebrating Mass near Rouen. On Thursday, a gunman killed one police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Élysées, in an act claimed by Islamic State.

In the wake of deindustrialization, the centers of France’s smaller cities—including such charming ancient places as Albi and Béziers—now look as if they had been evacuated in wartime. The writer Daoud Boughezala recently went to Vierzon, a manufacturing center near the Loire Valley that is proud of its medieval belfry, and found two-thirds of the businesses shuttered. Writing in the monthly Causeur, he described a clothing store stoned by gangs after its owner complained about drug dealers in the tourist district. It is now closed.

That kind of decay doesn’t leave much of a record to run on. Socialist President François Hollande bowed out of the race. Polls give him the lowest approval ratings of any Western leader since the end of World War II. Like former President Barack Obama, he lost his party’s majorities in the Senate, the lower house and local government.

Unlike Mr. Obama, he gave his base nothing to show for it. In 2012, Mr. Hollande ran as the enemy of big money and promised a 75% tax rate for top earners. But he ended up serving big money by deregulating banks and the retail sector, making it easier to lay off workers, and cutting severance and overtime pay.

As Mr. Hollande’s protégé and economics minister, Mr. Macron spearheaded some of these reforms. By the time rank-and-file Socialists took their party back in January’s primary elections, Mr. Macron was gone, and so was the party’s historic program. (The official Socialist presidential candidate, lawmaker Benoît Hamon, is polling around 7%.) The Socialist Party can still pile up money and media coverage for legislative elections, but it no longer has a vision to inspire people for the presidency.

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, a pro-business progressive from the centrist En Marche political party, on the stump at a rally in Paris Monday.
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, a pro-business progressive from the centrist En Marche political party, on the stump at a rally in Paris Monday. PHOTO: YOAN VALAT/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Two-thirds of the French public disapprove of Mr. Hollande’s market reforms. Young people marched against them. Mr. Macron’s ability to advance after championing them is evidence of his political gifts. His first love was acting. He is intelligent, eloquent and seductive. He woos crowds. In an arena in Lyon recently, he quoted the poet René Char before concluding, “I love you madly, my friends.”

People hear what they want to hear. In recent days, the onetime Le Monde editor Luc Rosenzweig announced that he would vote for Mr. Macron because the candidate believes in nuclear power and thus in the future. Meanwhile, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who represents the Green Party in the European Parliament, said that he is backing Mr. Macron in part because of his promise to cut nuclear power.

The most unusual thing about Mr. Macron is his marriage. He is not yet 40, while his wife is in her 60s. (He met her at age 15, when she was running the drama club at his high school.) In ordinary times, this might strike voters as weird; in today’s troubled climate, it seems to strike them as bracingly transgressive.

Strategists for the Socialist Party consciously patterned Mr. Hollande’s coalition on Mr. Obama’s. It is now Mr. Macron’s. It brings together the winners of the new economy and minority groups in a “coalition of the ascendant.” Mr. Macron is the candidate of money, of power, of the EU. The economist Jean-Luc Gréau goes so far as to call him the candidate of “a Third World France subordinated to Germany.”

But Mr. Macron is politically correct too. He has called France’s colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity,” an expression usually reserved for genocides. He said on a trip to London that there is no such thing as “a” French culture. He uses bi-gendered pronouns (celles et ceux instead of the more usual ceux). And he neatly ties together cultural and economic issues, praising the Uber economy to the skies as a means of upward mobility for those (mostly North African) youths whom he calls victims of prejudice. Uber is unpopular in France. Mr. Macron has attacked it too.

If you like him, you would say that he transcends France’s past. If you don’t, you would say he’s indifferent to it. That has opened up opportunities for the Republicans, the traditional conservative party. Mr. Hollande’s introduction of gay marriage in 2013 provoked some of the largest demonstrations since World War II, creating the nucleus of a more or less Catholic conservative social movement called Common Sense.

In the wake of that mobilization, the explicitly Catholic free-marketer François Fillon seemed to be a dream candidate around whom to build a presidential bloc. He joined conservative businesspeople to Christian community activists in Reagan-esque fashion and struck at Ms. Le Pen’s base.

But last winter, Mr. Fillon was swallowed up in scandal. The satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné alleged that Mr. Fillon had used taxpayer funds meant for running his office to employ his Welsh wife Penelope and their children and that Mrs. Fillon had briefly received monthly payments from a literary magazine. Almost immediately, an anticorruption arm of the government newly established by Mr. Hollande opened an investigation.

Conservative presidential candidate François Fillon at a campaign rally Tuesday in Lille, France.
Conservative presidential candidate François Fillon at a campaign rally Tuesday in Lille, France. PHOTO: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Fillon’s actions may not have been illegal, but the scandal has handicapped his campaign. The press exulted. Mr. Fillon couldn’t attend campaign rallies without being greeted with calls of “Escroc!” (“Crook!”). His poll numbers plummeted. But Mr. Fillon claimed that he had been set up by a cabinet noir (what we might call the “deep state”) in Mr. Hollande’s government and refused to step aside.

Mr. Fillon has another problem: He is a conventional candidate. His conservative cultural values are tied to a business-friendly agenda not so different from Mr. Macron’s. He supports the EU. Against Marine Le Pen and her National Front, he will never appear as the candidate of real change.

My opponents claim they can control the border, revoke birthright citizenship, slow immigration, fight unfair trade…They are lying to you.

—Marine Le Pen

Ms. Le Pen promises a referendum within six months on taking back sovereignty from the EU. “Our battle for sovereignty is primary,” she said in Lyon in February. “Essential. Cardinal…Without sovereignty, all projects are broken promises. My opponents claim they can control the border, revoke birthright citizenship, slow immigration, fight unfair trade…They are lying to you. As long as they do not break the shackles of the European Union, which holds the authority on these matters, they are ruling out any change, even minor.”

She is right, which makes her the more robust alternative to Mr. Macron. Her resistance to Mr. Hollande’s competitiveness agenda has won her the allegiance, polls say, of 44% of those who call themselves working-class. Ms. Le Pen has made an effort to rid her party of official bigotry, going so far as to expel her now-estranged father.

But she is still the radical in the race. In Marseille on Wednesday, she promised a moratorium on immigration and a fight against the application of Islamic religious law in France. She urged a “national insurrection”—a democratic one—to recover the country’s lost “grandeur,” while crowds chanted, “France for the French.”

In this campaign, critics have accused Ms. Le Pen less often of bigotry than of hostility to the EU. Yet on that question, the French are largely in harmony with her. Even intellectuals who consider themselves her arch-foes often take her side. The demographer Emmanuel Todd, for instance, recently complained to Le Journal du Dimanche, “France is in the Eurozone, we don’t control our currency, we’ve lost control of our budget and our deficit, and…our president no longer has any power.”

Large parts of the French electorate are ready to follow her fundamental line. But some are scared, fearing riots by Muslim immigrants in the poor banlieues around Paris, and others are too embarrassed to back a party with fascistic antecedents.

By insisting that Ms. Le Pen is the second coming of Hitler, mainstream media outlets have made it seem “irresponsible” to vote for any small party, because it would only dilute the vote against her. They suggest that it is nothing less than a civic duty to vote for Mr. Macron, the candidate of the banks.

This causes no end of frustration among many of those who would never dream of voting for Ms. Le Pen. What if France had a plausible candidate who shared Ms. Le Pen’s popular skepticism of capitalism and the EU but wasn’t so liable to being cast as a brownshirt?

In the campaign’s last weeks, one has emerged. The 65-year-old EU deputy Jean-Luc Mélenchon offers a version of Ms. Le Pen’s position that is more eloquent, if less logical. He is backed by the best-selling economist Thomas Piketty, and he has a new-media adviser who worked for Bernie Sanders.

Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Parti de Gauche at a political rally Tuesday in Dijon, France.
Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Parti de Gauche at a political rally Tuesday in Dijon, France. PHOTO: ROBERT PRATTA/REUTERS

Mr. Mélenchon argues that France can drive a harder bargain with the EU since its departure would doom the project altogether. (This is true of a half-dozen other countries too.) Though he hasn’t called for a referendum on EU membership, he might break up the EU more indirectly: His plans for €270 billion in stimulus spending by the government and for a 100% income tax on those earning more than €400,000 a year would rupture the voluntary fiscal and legal synchrony on which the EU rests.

Mr. Fillon calls Mr. Mélenchon’s program “communist.” But should the two advance to the second round, Mr. Mélenchon would probably win handily. He would also easily beat Ms. Le Pen, polls suggest.

And that changes the whole dynamic of the election. Mr. Macron was presented to old-guard Socialists as a bulwark against Ms. Le Pen. If even Mr. Mélenchon would triumph over Ms. Le Pen, why does France need such a bulwark? This invocation of republican “values” appears self-interested: Vote for our banker, or we’ll call you a fascist.

Of course, the polls could be wrong. They were wrong in this campaign’s primaries. They have been spectacularly wrong in other elections throughout the West. Voters who cheerily prattled about their values when times were good have clammed up now that their material needs are no longer being met. They are hard to read, and the stakes are high.

A Frexit would be far more seismic than Brexit. Great Britain, which voted to leave the EU last summer, never adopted the euro as its currency and was always half-in, half-out. But France is a core EU member and has always provided much of the project’s brains and vision. Without France, the EU would likely collapse. We will find out this weekend whether that is France’s fear or its hope.

Mr. Caldwell, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, is at work on a book about the rise and fall of the post-1960s political order.

Appeared in the Apr. 22, 2017, print edition as ‘Le Div orce?.’


France: Emmanuel Macron says not to “give in to fear” — Le Pen says reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists

April 21, 2017

After Paris Attack


BYREUTERS APRIL 21, 2017 12:49

En Marche candidate Emmanuel Macron urged the country not to “give in to fear” in the wake of the attack.

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage and people standing
Marine Le Pen delivers a speech during a political rally near Toulon. (photo credit REUTERS)

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Friday that France should immediately reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services, adding that these were steps she would take, if elected.

Seizing on Thursday night’s killing of a police officer in an attack claimed by Islamic State, Le Pen, who has been campaigning on a hardline anti-EU, anti-immigration platform, urged the Socialist government to carry out immediately measures that are included in her campaign manifesto.


“We cannot afford to lose this war. But for the past ten years, left-wing and right-wing governments have done everything they can for us to lose it. We need a presidency which acts and protects us,” Le Pen told reporters at her campaign headquarters.

French voters elect a president in a two-round vote on April 23 and May 7. Opinion polls have for months forecast that Le Pen would make it through to the run-off, but then lose in the final vote.

Until now, Le Pen had struggled to get the campaign to focus on her party’s trademark tough security and immigration stance. By contrast, she has been thrown on the defensive over her position to pull out of the euro zone, a proposal that lacks wide support.

Referring disparagingly to outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande as “notoriously feeble,” Le Pen said: “I only ask one last-ditch effort from him before leaving power: I solemnly ask him to effectively reinstate our borders.”

She added: “Elected president of the Republic, I would immediately, and with no hesitation, carry out the battle plan against Islamist terrorism and against judicial laxity.”

Several other presidential candidates made public statements in response to the Champs Elysees shooting.

French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron urged the country not to “give in to fear” in the wake of the attack.

“We clearly see that the challenge we have in front of us over the coming years will continue to be fighting against terrorism. Because we will not erase it overnight, and for the final stretch of this campaign our challenge is, on the one hand, to bring about the response, to shed light on the democratic choice in this context. But to never give in to fear,” the En Marche candidate said on Friday.

Conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon also spoke on Friday, saying that the fight against “Islamist totalitarianism” should be the priority of France’s next president.

Fillon, who has been campaigning on a hardline security platform, told reporters: “We are at war, there is no alternative, it’s us or them.”

“Radical Islam is challenging our values and our strength of character.”

It is unclear what impact the attack will have on the first round of already very unpredictable presidential elections on Sunday.

With their hardline view on security and immigration, Le Pen and Francois Fillon may resonate with some voters.

But other attacks that took place shortly before elections – the November 2015 attacks in Paris ahead of regional elections and the shooting in a Jewish school before the 2012 presidential elections – did not have any effect on those ballots.


French candidates face TV grilling with three days to go

April 20, 2017


© AFP/File / by Guy JACKSON | With just three days to go until voting in the first round on Sunday, the French presidential election race has tightened dramatically

PARIS (AFP) – Candidates in the French presidential election have their final chance Thursday to speak to the nation in a series of televised interviews, in which scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon has perhaps the most to prove.

All 11 candidates ranging from centrist Emmanuel Macron, who is narrowly leading the field, to minnows like Philippe Poutou, a Ford factory mechanic polling at 1.5 percent, will be interviewed on France 2 television for 15 minutes each.

With just three days to go until the first round on Sunday, the race — which could decide the future of the European Union — has tightened dramatically.

Opinion polls show Fillon and Macron, both pro-EU, locked in a tight four-way contest with far-right leader Marine Le Pen and hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, both eurosceptics, making it the most unpredictable election in years.

Three surveys showed Macron having a slight edge over Le Pen with 23-25 percent against 22-23 percent.

Fillon and Melenchon were tied at around 19 percent, after a late spurt that has put them within striking distance of the frontrunners.

The top two will advance to a run-off vote on May 7.

– Investor jitters –

The spectre of an EU-bashing final between Le Pen and Melenchon — one of six possible line-ups — has caused nervousness among investors and thrust Europe to the top of the agenda.

Le Pen is proposing to a referendum on France’s membership of the EU after negotiations with Brussels on returning most key powers to national capitals. She also wants to scrap the euro and bring back the French franc.

Former prime minister Fillon has tried to rebound from an expenses scandal by presenting himself as a safe, experienced pair of hands at a time of deep global uncertainty following Britain’s decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s rise to the White House.

The 63-year-old candidate for the conservative Republicans party was the early leader in a race that had been seen as a walkover for the right after five years of troubled Socialist rule.

But he lost ground after being charged over accusations that he put his wife Penelope on the public payroll for a fictitious job as his parliamentary assistant, for which she was paid nearly 700,000 euros ($750,000).

– ‘Poison of terrorism’ –

Fillon used the arrest of two men apprehended in Marseille on suspicion of planning an attack on the election as an illustration of the dangers France faces — and the potential weaknesses of his opponents.

He aimed particular criticism at 39-year-old Macron, who spent two years as economy minister in the current Socialist government but has never held elected office.

“On the fight against radical Islam, as with everything else, Macron is vague,” Fillon told the right-leaning Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Fillon confirmed that he had been warned by police last week that he had been earmarked as a “target” by jihadists.

Although prosecutors have refused to say if the two men arrested were aiming to attack a particular candidate, Fillon said of himself that it was “not out of the question that the candidate who has the most radical plan to take on Islamic terrorism be the target”.

He also returned to a message he has hammered home in recent weeks — that he alone among the leading candidates could secure a “strong” majority in the legislative elections that follow in June.

Le Pen has also sought to capitalise on the arrests in Marseille, accusing her rivals of turning a blind eye to Islamic terrorism.

Addressing 5,000 flag-waving supporters in Marseille, the city where the men were detained, on Wednesday, she said: “I have been denouncing this terrible poison of Islamic terrorism since I launched my campaign… and none of my rivals are willing to debate the subject.

“They wanted to stay quiet about this problem, to suppress it, to keep it at a distance like one sweeps dust under the carpet.”

Le Pen, 48, has spent years trying to build support for the National Front (FN) by campaigning on bread-and-butter issues such as the economy, but in the final days of the race she has returned to the party’s stock themes of national security and immigration.

On Wednesday, she repeated that she would slash immigration, make it harder to obtain French nationality and crack down on suspected Islamists.