France: Q&A on the presidential election

What is the procedure for the French presidential election? The President of the French Republic is directly elected by the electorate in a maximum of two rounds of voting. The two rounds of the 2017 presidential race will take place on 23 April 2017 and 7 May 2017. If no candidate gains an absolute majority of votes in the first round, the two candidates with the highest number of votes face off against each other in a run-off. Potential candidates have until 17 March 2017 to gather the signatures of 500 elected officials from at least 30 different départements. The list of official candidates is likely to be published on 21 March 2017.


Which candidates have the best chances of reaching the run-off?

At the moment, three candidates have a realistic chance of securing one of the two slots in the run-off. The opinion polls see Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the right-wing populist Front National (FN), leading in the first round of voting, putting her support at around 26%. At the moment she appears to have the best chance of making it into the run-off. In second place is the independent liberal candidate Emmanuel Macron. The polls currently indicate that he will receive around 23% of the vote. François Fillon follows in third place, although corruption allegations have now seen his support cut to around one-fifth of the votes. There are quite a few signs that either Macron or Fillon will be the second candidate facing off against Le Pen in the run-off.



Could Socialist candidate Hamon move up into second place? The opinion polls see Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon taking around 14% of the vote in the first round of voting, which would put him fourth. In order to improve his chances of making it into the run-off, Hamon had attempted to forge an alliance with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an even more left-leaning candidate. The sum total of the two candidates’ approval ratings could reach up to 25%. At the moment, this would be sufficient for one of them to make the run-off. However, Hamon and Mélenchon are far apart from a policy viewpoint, meaning that negotiations centred on an alliance have so far been fruitless. Mélenchon recently stated that he intends to stand as an independent candidate, which now essentially rules out any formation of a wide-ranging left-wing alliance.


Who is the favourite to win the run-off?

Le Pen’s prospects of winning the run-off are a good deal poorer. According to the opinion polls, she would lose against both Macron and Fillon. However, Macron currently has a larger lead over Le Pen (approximately 16 percentage points as against 10 percentage points for Fillon). The reason why the polls see Le Pen coming off far worse in the run-off is as follows: Le Pen should mobilise her core support in the first round, at a time when voters from the moderate part of the spectrum are still distributing their votes between several candidates; however, in the run-off, many voters from the centre of the spectrum will be likely to back Macron or Fillon because they are opposed in principle to Le Pen and her political agenda.



What political ramifications would a Le Pen victory entail?

A Le Pen victory would, above all, have a strong symbolic importance. Given that the FN leader has declared that the forthcoming election is also a national vote on Eurozone membership, a Le Pen win would probably trigger a wave of apprehension about the future of the European Monetary Union both at home and abroad. Furthermore, Le Pen has announced that it is her intention to renegotiate the political framework of the entire EU. As there is no indication that other member states such as Germany are prepared to completely alter the EU’s institutional architecture, a victory for Le Pen would fuel concerns about the European project as a whole coming to an end. By contrast, Le Pen’s room for manoeuvre on the domestic-policy front would be curtailed unless her party were to also win the parliamentary elections – a scenario which is not to be expected in view of France’s “first-past-the post” voting system.

Under what circumstances could a Frexit take place?

Although Le Pen is indeed setting her sights on an exit from the Eurozone, there are significant roadblocks littered along the path towards this objective. First of all, she would have to win the presidential election. Subsequently, she could call a referendum on EU membership. However, more than half of the French electorate would have to come out in favour of Frexit. Moreover, a plebiscite on exit from the euro area alone would be invalid because the Treaty on European Union (TEU) stipulates that a member country can apply to withdraw from the EU but not from the EMU alone. When the Brexit referendum was taking place, around 64% of French people were opposed to the notion of France withdrawing from the EU. As France’s EU membership is written into the country’s constitution, Le Pen would additionally require the approval of both chambers of parliament. As a result of the first-past-the-post voting system, the Front National is hardly represented in parliament, and has virtually no prospects of gaining a majority in this year’s parliamentary elections either. ___________________________________________

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