The last time I wrote about the French presidential elections was in 2012, during my senior year of college when I was living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was down to the final two- Francois Hollande (a socialist on the left), and Nicolas Sarkozy, the then-president who was from the right UMP party– now known as the Republican Party of France. As we now know, Sarkozy (who is known for banning the burqua in public places in 2010) lost his second term to Hollande back in May 2012, who, consequently has a 4% rate of approval and is not running for a second term at all.
After four years of living in France, I feel that I’ve come to grasp a somewhat better understanding of France’s issues and current state of affairs. Perhaps I can say that I hold a perspective as a foreigner and non-citizen who has mostly integrated into the country, works here full time on a permanent contract, and pays taxes (But I am no means an expert, and still have a lot to learn. Therefore, this blog post comes from my own personal research, understandings, and experiences as an American in France.)
There are two parts to the French Presidential Election. Round one is today, Sunday, April 23, 2017 (the French vote on Sundays because typically people do not work on Sundays– making it ‘fair’ and giving people ample time and opportunity to get to the polls.) There are eleven candidates to choose from; people vote for their choice and then the candidates are narrowed down to two. The second part of the election will take place in two weeks, on Sunday, May 7, 2017. The world is watching France this week and next, because as a storm of right-winged politics takes hold across the western world, especially after Brexit and Trump, France could be the third string of the famous saying, “Il n’y a jamais deux sans trois” (“Bad things come in threes.”)
This main issues: France needs labor market reforms and she needs them badly. With a ten percent unemployment rate (and 25% for young people) that hasn’t budged hardly at all during Hollande’s term, as well as France’s lack of flexibility in the labor market makes it almost impossible for companies to fire and even more hesitant to hire. Approximately thirty-one percent of France’s GDP is spent on unemployment and healthcare, and France’s obsessions with CDD and CDI contracts (basically, temporary and permanent contracts), are outdated and are no longer working in today’s ever-globalized world. However, the French are proud of their (once thriving, now failing) system, so talking about it honestly (read: analyzing and criticizing, especially from an outsider like me) tends to be frowned upon. On top of all that, France’s vulnerability to continuous terrorist attacks since 2015, its dwindling La Laïcité (secularism) policies, failing attempts to integrate one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, and their reluctance to globalization under the name of “protecting French culture” have got a lot of people desperate for direction.
There are eleven possible candidates in today’s first round. The most commonly known (and most likely to gain votes) are Marine Le Pen of the National Front party, Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche party, François Fillon of the Republican Party, Benoît Hamon of the Socialist Party, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) Party.
Mélenchon is attempting to bring a positive light back to the left after Hollande’s dismal presidency. His goals include allowing 16-year-olds to vote, replacing the current voting policies with a new “Sixth Republic”, renegotiating EU treatings, establishing full health care reimbursement (instead of the current 60-70%), reforming production, trade, and consumption; and most importantly, seriously focusing on climate change. What turns me off about him is his promise to tax income above 400.000€ at 100%.
Hamon (known as the ‘French Bernie Sanders’), wants to legalize cannabis, repel 2016 labor laws and make it easier for companies to hire and fire, increase the monthly minimum wage, reform unemployment benefits and increase renewable energy to 50% by 2025.
François Fillon, whose wife is Welsh, is center right and stood an excellent change until recently, when he was involved in a scandal that involved being accused of paying his wife and children (a lot!) of taxpayer euros to work for him. His primary interests include increasing the 35-hour work week to 39 hours and eliminating 500,000 civil servant jobs (you can essentially never be fired as an employee in the public sector in France). Additionally, he wants to seize adoption rights for gay couples (Ugh), to create ties with Russia to support Bashar al-Assad in defeating ISIS- so he is prioritizing ISIS over the horrible tradgeties that al-Assad has committed against his people.
Emmanuel Macron is my choice for the next president of the French Republic. He is 39, is neither right nor left, married his primary school teacher, and gives his speeches in English (a very radical thing to do in France.) However, although he worked under Hollande as an investment banker, he has never held office. He is pro-EU, and his goals include insinuating a 50€bn budget for job training, renewable energy, and infrastructure. He is for tax cuts on corporations and for giving companies more control over the work week. He wants to slash unemployment to at least 7%. Finally, he wants to ban phones in schools for students under the age of 15 (#dumb.)
Marine Le Pen is the reason we are all worried about this next election– it is almost certain she will move on to round two. Her party, the Front National (National Front), on the far right, was founded by her racist father Jean-Marie Le Pen and has been slowly but steadily gaining traction and support over the past 15 years. (Her father once said that the Holocaust is just a small detail of WWII, which prompted Marine to kick her father out of the party and rebrand it with a softer image.) Le Pen’s slogan is “France First”. She wants to ban dual nationality and restrict legal immigration to 10,000 people per year. She also wants to make sure that jobs, welfare, housing, schools, and any area of public provision should go to French nationals first, before they go to foreigners. She also wants to hold a “Frexit”, leave the EU, and change back France’s currency to the Franc (good luck with that). She wants to ban all religious symbols (head scarves, Sikh wraps, Jewish yamakas, crosses, etc.) from being worn anywhere in public (right now, religious symbols are only banned in public schools and in many work places). Many people in small town especially feel as though they are suffering– their businesses, their quality of life, and more– and they blame immigration. Marine is playing on that, and is winning many followers. She’s also tight with Putin.
I encourage you to do your research to figure out who you think would be best for France. If you are interested in a more humorous approach to the elections, check out John Oliver’s take:
Here is an article from the NYT on the election.
Here’s to hoping for the best!