Unpredictability Reigns in France Ahead of Presidential Elections

This year’s election campaign differs greatly from the previous ones. First, the campaign demonstrates the deep disillusionment of the French society in the two main political forces, which have succeeded each other in power for a long time. This creates an essentially new, not very predictable political situation, which could get worse in the parliamentary elections that follow the presidential ones. According to public opinion polls, the Socialist Party and the Republicans currently have 11-12% approval ratings among voters. 

It is also illustrative that the chief political position in the country is being contested by two independent candidates, who are formally not part of the largest political parties. At the same time, while Marine Le Pen was truly never part of the ruling elite, Emmanuel Macron has been able to create an image of a non-establishment candidate. Paradoxically, the fact that he recently held the position of Minister of Economy and was for a time a member of the Socialist Party has not deterred Macron. Apparently, in French Society, particularly among youth, there is an enormous demand for renewal, and those who did not want to vote for Le Pen decided to support the young banker, a candidate from the recently created “En Marche!” political movement. It is already obvious today that the bipolar nature of the French political system is more and more a thing of the past, as relatively new leaders come to the political forefront.

The high level of uncertainty is confirmed by the low predictability of the vote results. According to public opinion polls, as recently as three days before the election, 28 percent of voters have yet to decide on their final choice. In Emmanuel Macron’s camp, there also remains a large number of wavering supporters, which forces experts to withhold from decisive forecasts.

Second, PR technologies play a special role in the current election campaign. They have always been employed at French elections but never influenced the balance of forces to this extent. When compromising materials about François FIllon, a so-called systemic candidate, representing the Republicans, emerged, they upended all pre-electoral calculations, in fact, paving the way for the non-systemic Macron. But Fillon proved that he is ready to fight to the end and this unsettled his political opponents. Some experts believe that Fillon can still become president. But no one denies that the so-called “Penelopegate” played a momentous role in the campaign of the Republicans’ candidate, undermining his chances of election.

Third, the French election campaign has demonstrated the important role of electronic media in the modern world. No matter how critical we can be about the consequences of globalization, the battle for the electors’ minds is taking place today not only in the traditional media, but also on Twitter. Notably, Macron, who is, according to polls, one of the two frontrunners, extensively uses this resource to communicate with his electorate.

The election campaign is predictably focused on the domestic aspects of the candidates’ programmes. They all envisage measures aimed at stimulating growth of the French economy, improving the well-being of the average French, solving the problems of migration, combatting terrorism. Interestingly, almost all of the candidates have laid a special emphasis on environmental issues this year.

Importantly, international issues play a more prominent role in the current campaign than they used to. European integration is the hottest issue and candidates’ views on it are diametrically opposite. Le Pen and Mélenchon believe that the Eurozone – and, under certain conditions, the European Union itself – can be disbanded, while Macron and Fillon are active proponents of integration, especially within the Eurozone.

Obviously, the deepening of the crisis in European integration, at least the way it has existed thus far, has influenced the election campaign. Where will Europe go from here? How will this affect France, one of the leaders of the EU, closely tied to the other member-states? These questions occupy the minds of the French and are broadly discussed during the election campaign. Remember, it was France that was at the foundations of European integration. Without assistance of the EU, French agriculture would have long ago fallen into decay, while without the French-German tandem, the European project would have simply been untenable. 

All of this shows the high level of interdependence between France and the EU. Their relations have long ago stopped being a part of simply foreign policy, and directly influence what is happening inside the country. The Eurozone debt crisis, wave of migrants, and growing terrorist threat are all common European issues that have not passed France by, and the positive image of the EU was significantly undermined in the eyes of the French voters. From this point of view, many among the French have changed the way they view the EU’s sanctions policy against Russia, which instead of helping, hinders French citizens from overcoming existing difficulties, making their socio-economic condition more difficult. One way or another, all of these issues will influence the pre-election discussions.

Thus, a few days before the first round of presidential elections, their final result remains unpredictable. Despite the fact that the leaders of the pre-election race are more or less certain (Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, Mélenchon), the experts prefer to refrain from unambiguous forecasts. In any case, it is obvious that regardless of who wins the election, the future head of state should unite, not separate France, and for this - not only to fulfill promises, but also take into account the programs of their political opponents. In foreign policy, the tasks of the EU reforming, the Syrian crisis resolution, combating international terrorism, and restoring a mutually beneficial full-fledged dialogue with Russia remain the most urgent issues, which, as we recall, always contributed not to weakening but, on the contrary, to strengthening France's international role.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.