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Expert Comment: The French presidential election

Dr Michael Holmes from our department of History and Politics is currently a Research Fellow in the European School of Politics at l'Université Catholique de Lille, funded by the regional council of Hauts-de-France. Here he gives his take on this weekend's French elections.

The first round of voting in the French presidential election takes place this weekend, and as I’m going to work here in Lille I can see the posters (most of them defaced, of course!) and the preparations outside the main polling stations. This round of voting will be like a semi-final – there won’t be any outright winner, but it will whittle down the field from the current eleven candidates to just the top two.

Who the top two will be is a matter of real uncertainty. The minor candidates will disappear, like François Asselineau who proposes not just a Frexit from the EU but also leaving NATO, and Philippe Poutou, the radical anti-capitalist whose name could be translated as ‘little kiss’. But there are four candidates with a real shout of making it to the second round.

The long-time favourite was François Fillon of the centre-right Republican party, and although his campaign has been badly hit by allegations of corruption, he is still hanging on in the contest. Over the past month, Emmanuel Macron inched ahead as favourite, a former member of the Socialist Party who set up his own centrist movement to contest this election. On the left is another former Socialist Party member, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, now campaigning on a more radical platform. On the extreme right is Marine Le Pen of the Front National. All are polling between 18 and 23 per cent; any two could make it through to the run-off, any two could lose out.

The contest shows a pattern that is being repeated time and again in elections at the moment. Most political systems – especially democratic ones – are based on a reasonably broad degree of consensus. But right now, that consensus is fractured, in particular due to the financial crisis and also fears of terrorism. Centre parties are haemorrhaging supporters, while the radical left and the extreme right are gaining support as voters look for alternatives. 

This is evident in the French campaign, but could also explain events such as the Brexit vote (support for the EU was part of the consensus that has now begun to fray) and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.


Published on 20/03/2018