Diego Filiu | SIPA Class of 2018
Donald Trump’s victory stole the headlines in November, stunning the world in the presidential election. Just after this political earthquake, America’s neighbor just across the pond, France witnessed its own upheavel.
France’s conservative party, Les Républicains, held its primaries. After several widely followed and extremely technical debates, the party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy held elections open to all French voters on November 20 and November 27. The two rounds gathered more than 4 million voters, which shows the increased popularity of the right-wing party.
Nicholas Sarkozy’s disastrous loss
The first round of the elections came as a shock to the whole French nation. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy lost in disastrous fashion, as former prime minister François Fillon took the largest plurality of votes. Additionally, the at the time favorite, Alain Juppé gathered a mere 28% of the vote compared to Fillon’s 44%. Sarkozy’s 20% led him to retire from political life—the second time since his defeat to François Hollande in 2012.
The second round confirmed Fillon’s momentum: with 67% of the vote, the former prime minister appears in poised to unite his party against the left and the far right in 2017. Fillon’s victory is part of the same global populist trend that led to both Brexit and Trump’s victory. He has proposed to ally with Russia on Syria, cut 500,000 jobs in the French civil service and to lower taxes on the wealthy. His social and economic stances have led many to characterize his campaign as even more right-wing than Sarkozy’s extremely divisive run in 2012. Fillon is clearly going after the National Front voters, as Marine Le Pen’s party is now leading all election polls for the first time in France’s history.
François Hollande says he will not run again
On December 1, François Hollande, France’s widely criticized president, announced that he will not run for a second mandate. This move, unprecedented in the current French political system, ends a mandate during which the Hollande administration, while securing important social reforms, failed to decrease unemployment and to protect France from security threats.
Following the announcement, Manuel Valls, France’s prime minister, announced his candidacy for the French presidency. Valls’ candidacy will face the challenge of remobilizing the French left, after five years of weak government, as well as defeating the National Front’s restless progress.
Le Pen building momentum
Only months before the presidential elections, the French left has yet to unite behind a single candidate, and its divisiveness will likely undermine its ability to go through the first round of the presidential elections. As of now, the most likely scenario is a repeat of the 2002 elections, with the right’s candidate, François Fillon, facing the ever-dangerous Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. In just ten days, two French presidents have seen their hopes of victory in May 2017 crushed. In the meantime, Le Pen continues to steadily build on her party’s populist momentum.
And in comes Emmanuel Macron. A graduate from France’s most prestigious schools, a former investment banker at Rothschild, Macron also led France’s Ministry of Economy for two years under François Hollande –implementing widely contested reforms for the French labor code. In April 2016, he created En Marche!, an independent movement which refuses the classic right-left divide which has thus far dominated French politics. On November 16, Macron announced his candidacy for presidency. On December 5, he came to speak at SIPA.
Macron’s views on the Trans-Atlantic relationship
Delivering his address in excellent English—unique for a French politician—Macron expressed with earnesty his convictions on the future of French-American relations. Recalling the examples of Lafayette, Rochambeau, and Benjamin Franklin, Macron proclaimed his deep attachment to the Franco-American struggle for personal and collective liberty. He proposed a refreshing and pragmatic take on the future of the transatlantic relationship, one that would tacklee issues such as climate change, refugees and national security.
Macron’s strategy is unprecedented in the French political system. While a comprehensive website has been put together by the youth of his campaign supporters, he has yet to issue a formal program. For now, he has relied on his unparalleled personal charisma to convince the public, striking a chord especially among the youth. He speaks to both France’s educated and cosmopolitan elites and to France’s marginalized youth, with both groups resenting France’s corporatist and exclusive economic and political order. He leads a grassroot movement, largely animated by the youth, rather than taking part in the Socialist Party’s primaries. He thinks politics should be a matter of every citizens’ choice rather than a profession.
From near anonymity to 15% of projected voters in one year.
Macron’s ratings have been steadily rising, and he is now close to Fillon, Le Pen and Valls in national polls. It even appears, as of now, that he could even beat Le Pen in the second round, according to electoral predictions. While the most recent history should lead us to approach these numbers with caution, such optimistic predictions mean that Macron definitely answers to demands from a significant majority of the French population.
Voting my conscience
I have personally always voted for the Socialist Party, which Manuel Valls will most likely represent in the next elections. However, for the first time in my life, I have decided that I will vote my conscience in May 2017 by supporting Emmanuel Macron. His blend of economic liberalism and new social securities has the chance to unlock France’s creative potential. His foreign policy stances, on Syria or Russia for instance, reflect deep confidence in France’s great power status as well as a humanist yet pragmatic approach to international affairs.
In a world rife with populism and violence, in a France struck by apathy and lack of confidence, Emmanuel Macron represents a strong stance against exclusive and counter-productive policies. He is the best France can offer its voters and the world at the next presidential elections.
Diego Filiu is French-American MPA student concentrating in International Security Policy. He is part of the En Marche! committee at Columbia.