After a year of Brexit, Trump and all manner of upsets, it’s anyone’s guess who will win the upcoming French presidential election. While some candidates have been quick to highlight this year of upheaval, France is a unique country. The enshrinement of republican secularism, protections against populism and astrong left wing would seem to shield it from the same fates as its close allies.
There are some common problems, but the most pressing concerns are traditional ones. A recent poll of bellwether town Chartres - at a time some news outlets have stopped conducting polls altogether - indicated that more people are worried about personal and economic security than immigration.
Liberté, égalité, sécurité
For a long time, this looked like the defining factor in the public discourse. Republican candidate François Fillon (pictured with Russian President Vladimir Putin) was not an overwhelmingly popular pick, having presided over unpopular pension schemes in 2003 and 2008. His, however, was the most comprehensive manifesto, promising a Thatcher-esque slate of economic reforms to help businesses stay competitive.
These include several changes that would provoke riots in any other election, including the end of the 35 hour week, raising the retirement age to 65, increasing the goods tax by 2% and slashing 10% of public sector jobs. However, with unemployment stuck at over 10% through the outgoing President’s entire term, there is more of an appetite for substantial change than ever.
What he wouldn’t have contended with was a sudden personal scandal. It recently emerged that the former Prime Minister had paid 800,000euros over ten years to his British wife, for work she may not have actually done. He is also accused of having paid his two children for similar work, all at the taxpayer’s expense. This has not played well for a straight cut economic reformer, and Fillon has faced calls to drop out altogether.
Fillon would have been a palatable, right-leaning option, intended to lure voters from both ends of an increasingly polarised spectrum. Instead, France faces the possibility of a hard right vs a hard left candidate.