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Everything You Need to Know About the French Elections

The first round of the French elections take place this Sunday, in a race that could go a long way in determining, among many other things, the fate of the European Union and the Eurozone. 

A smattering of both pro- and anti-EU candidates, vitriolic anti-immigration rhetoric, a high-profile embezzlement scandal, and a fair helping of holograms have made this election very interesting and potentially explosive. 

Take Action: The UK is stopping a scheme to help child refugees. Call on them to reverse this policy.

The first round of the two-tiered elections, which takes place on Sunday, will narrow down the top five candidates to two. If no one receives more than 50% of the votes in the first round (which has never happened before), the top two candidates will face off in a second vote, scheduled for May 7.  

Each of five highest-polling candidates has articulated a drastically different vision for the future of France and the role they envision it playing in the world more broadly. So Global Citizen is breaking it down for you. 

Here’s how the candidates stack up on Global Citizen’s core issues: 

Marine Le Pen - Front National (National Front) 

“The divide is not between the left and right anymore, but between patriots and globalists,” said Marine LePen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN) party as she launched her presidential campaign. Determined to crest the wave of the populist tide sweeping Western politics, Le Pen’s nationalist vision for France is built on a hardline anti-immigration and anti-globalisation platform. 

Le Pen inherited the leadership of the FN from her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, notorious for his explicitly racist rhetoric and Holocaust denial. Since taking over the party in 2011, she has sought to detoxify the party of her father’s reputation — in part by officially expelling him from the party ranks. To court female and LGBT voters, she has presented her opposition to “Islamism” under the guise of women’s and gay rights. At a 2010 rally, she reached out to communities once alienated by the FN’s conservative social policies, stating, "I hear more and more testimonies about the fact that in certain districts, it is not good to be a woman, homosexual, Jewish, even French or white." 


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However, this rebrand has only gone so far. She has recently pledged to end gay marriage and is reluctant to describe herself as a “feminist.” Her platform remains centred on hostility to Islam and to immigration, pledging to suspend all immigration to France in order to stop what she describes as a “mad, uncontrolled situation.” A supporter of the Brexit vote, she is staunchly Eurosceptic but has wavered on whether she would lead France out of the European Union, instead promising a referendum on the euro. 

Whether this mixed bag of policies is enough to swing a victory like Trump’s shock win or the Brexit vote is impossible to say with the polls so close, but Le Pen has certainly propelled the Front National back into the mêlée of French politics. 

Emmanuel Macron - En Marche! (Let’s Go!) 

Emmanuel Macron, who’s never held public office, is expected to be the frontrunner of the French elections if he makes it to the second round of voting. Currently tied with Marine Le Pen at around 23% of all votes, Macron created his En Marche! party to be a centrist, business-friendly alternative to the traditional center-right and Socialist parties, which are much maligned throughout France. 

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Macron, a former Rothschild businessman, is generally liberal when it comes to social policies such as immigration, and more conservative in his economic policy. He has proposed lowering property taxes on the middle class, expanding access to healthcare, and investing in vocational training programs for workers, the Washington Post reports

Interestingly, Macron has proposed increasing France’s influence in NATO and the European Union, as well as increasing defense spending and expanding France’s domestic police force. 

François Fillon - Les Républicains (Republican Party) 

Initially tipped as a favorite for the Élysée Palace after a surprise victory in the Republican nomination, Francois Fillon swiftly fell from grace after launching his election campaign. He is currently under judicial investigation for abuse of public funds — he allegedly arranged for his wife and kids to secure government positions and receive a public salary for work they did not carry out. When the accusations did not fizzle out, it looked like Fillon would pull out of the race but he has pushed on, claiming that if he quit, France would be deprived of a “right and centre” candidate. 


But how “right” and “center” Fillon is depends on your stance, especially with the threat of losing conservative voters to Le Pen and centrist voters to Emmanuel Macron. Fillon’s platform combines a tough stance on law and order and defence with a Thatcherite vision of the economy. Behind the glare of scandal, he has adopted populist tactics to make his policies heard. His most notable priorities include: scrapping 500,000 public sector jobs and abandoning the 35-hour working week to boost the economy; stripping French citizens who have joined the Islamic State in Syria or Iraq of their nationality, and lifting sanctions on Russia to help President Bashar al-Assad defeat the Islamic State. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon - La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) 

Called “The French Bernie Sanders,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon went from being the fifth most-popular candidate in the race just a few weeks ago to one of the frontrunners in the days leading up to Sunday’s election, polling at just under 20% of the vote. 

Mélenchon is significantly further to the left than current Socialist president Francois Hollande, and has capitalized on increasingly populist sentiments amongst France’s youth. In many ways, he’s emerged as a counterpoint to Marine Le Pen. The two candidates are diametrically opposed when it comes to policies, but they have both ignited a fire in what are normally dormant voting blocs with inflammatory rhetoric and political outsider status.

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As a candidate, Mélenchon has eschewed the European Union and NATO, which he says are bad for job growth and are simply extensions of neoliberal policies that benefits companies over workers, embraced holograms as a means of appearing at multiple rallies simultaneously, and is a major proponent of switching to renewable energy and protecting the environment. 


He has proposed a spending stimulus of 100 billion euros, which would be raised through government borrowing and taxing the rich at a much higher rate, including a 100% tax on all yearly earnings above 400,000 euros — effectively setting an earnings cap on the super-rich. This stimulus would go toward social projects such as affordable housing construction, sea-based wind power generation, and other environmental projects. Mélenchon has proposed that 33 billion euros per year be allocated toward public spending on poverty alleviation.  

When it comes to immigration, Mélenchon’s liberal credentials have put into question, as the candidate has not articulated a clear strategy for dealing with rising numbers of refugees and immigrants. But at a rally in the southern city of Marseille, Mélenchon portrayed himself as the candidate of “peace” and asked supporters to pay respects to the migrants who died at sea attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. 

Benoit Hamon - Partie Socialiste (Socialist Party) 

After storming past former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the Socialist Party primaries, Hamon was tasked with taking up the mantle of former president Francois Hollande, currently reeling with an approval rating of 4%. Significantly to the left of both Hollande and Valls, Hamon has tried to infuse new life into the Socialist Party, but finds himself in a distant fifth going into the first round of the elections. 

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In terms of economic policy, Hamon’s calling card is a proposed Universal Basic Income (UBI) of 750 euros per month, which would allow unemployed workers to retrain into high-tech industries. Much like Bill Gates, Hamon has also called for the taxing of robots, which have rendered jobs obsolete for a not-insignificant part of the population. 

On immigration, Hamon has proposed focusing on “integration” rather than “assimilation,” and has criticized other politicians on the left for the “marginalisation and stigmatisation of Islam.” He has proposed providing new immigrants and refugees with more opportunities for integration through free French lessons and the ability to begin working three months after arrival in France.