After Donald Trump and Theresa May, the West may soon see another hard-right political figure rise to the top. France will hold presidential elections on April 23, 2017. With the terribly unpopular François Hollande running for re-election on the left, it’s almost certain that a challenger from the right-wing Republicans (Les Républicains) or the far-right National Front (Front National) will take over.
For the National Front, Marine Le Pen is the clear leader, running on protectionist, xenophobic and anti-European ideas. Until last sunday, the leadership of the Republicans was mainly a contest between former Prime Minister and centre-right figure Alain Juppé, and former president Nicolas Sarkozy. But in a surprise first round election result on Sunday – polls got it wrong again, 44% of the vote went to Francois Fillon. This veteran of the establishment, Prime Minister under Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012, jumped from third place to first, leaving Juppé trailing with 28% of the vote. This means Sarkozy is no longer in the running, while Juppe will try and snatch an unlikely win from Fillon in the final round next Sunday.
It’s sweet revenge for a man who was once the butt of a running joke in Paris; when Fillon was PM under Sarkozy, people joked “François who?”, referring to his limited power under over-zealous, micro-managing Sarkozy. The former president is now effectively done for. This was his second failed run, after challenging Hollande for the presidency in 2012.
Fillon is often described as the Gallic Thatcher. He’s a big fan of small state, and runs on a platform of severe austerity and conservative ‘family values’. He opposed same-sex marriage, but says he won’t repeal the legalisation of 2013. He’s a favourite of the French Church, with his opposition to medically-assisted pregnancy and same-sex adoption.
Bloomberg reports that Fillon “is pledging to lengthen the work week to 39 hours from 35, to increase the retirement age to 65 and add immigration quotas. He’s vowed to eliminate half a million public-sector jobs and cut spending by 100 billion euros ($106 billion) over his five years in office. And he proposes a 40 billion-euro tax-cut for companies and a constitutional ban on planned budget deficits.”
All this makes him not-as-far-right as Sarkozy, who tried to steal votes from Le Pen by promising to curb immigration, but not as centre as Juppé. Could this be the perfect cocktail to prevent Marine Le Pen from taking office?
Yes and no, the bourgouisie may like his reserved style and austerity plans, but the far-right is already accusing him of not breaking with the establishment and with Sarkozy’s failed policies. Surprisingly, the far-right might also claim moral high ground on some progressive issues, as Le Pen supports abortion and some gay rights.
Le Pen is what the 2017 election really is all about. With the political upsets of Brexit and Trump, populist right-wing politicians across Europe are getting there hopes up that this wave will spread eastward. Marine Le Pen is in pole position to lead this European revolution, as her party has performed well in the 2014 mayoral and European elections, and the 2015 regional elections. The National Front already broke through to the final round in 2002, but was halted by Jacques Chirac in a pretty convincing defeat. In 2017, with a decent left-wing alternative out of sight, the world is again looking at the Republicans – and probably François Fillon – to hold the dam.