The recent French presidential election has been viewed as a bellwether of European politics, as the usual race between the center-left and center-right has been replaced with a contest between a decades-old populist nationalist group and an newly created independent movement of progressive globalism.
Here is what you should know about the election to choose France’s next president:
1. To qualify for the presidential ballot, a prospective candidate must acquire 500 signatures of support—“sponsors”—from French elected officials. These sponsors come from France’s 45,500 elected officials, about 75 percent of whom are mayors. These officials can only sponsor one candidate. Additionally, French law stipulates that a candidate can qualify only if “among the signatories of the presentation, there are elected representatives of at least 30 departments or overseas collectivities [French Polynesia, the Wallis and Futuna Islands, New Caledonia, Mayotte and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon], but no more than one tenth of them may be elected representatives of the same department or the same overseas collectivity.” [Text based on Google Translate]
2. Once a candidate has collected 500 sponsors, the forms are sent for verification to the Constitutional Council (the French equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court). The Constitutional Council approves the list of candidates after checking that the nominations are in order, ensures that the candidates have accepted the nomination, and then publishes the list of candidates in the Journal Officiel, the official record of the laws and regulations of the French Republic. This list has to be published no less than 16 days before the first ballot, and its publication kicks off the official presidential campaign season.
3. The French president is directly elected in a two-round system. Voters over the age of 18 cast an initial ballot for their preferred candidate on a Sunday (this year on April 23). If a candidate wins an absolute majority (50 percent plus one) on this vote, they win the election. But this has never happened, and so the two candidates who won the highest percentage of the vote are selected for a runoff vote 14 days later (this year, on May 7). Eleven candidates vied this year for the highest office, and the two with the highest percentage of the vote were Emmanuel Macron (23.75 percent) and Marine Le Pen (21.53 percent).
4. In most years, the French presidential election comes down to the two main parties, the Socialists and the Republicans (formerly known as the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, or UMP). However, this year the Socialists were weighed down by the unpopularity of the country’s top Socialist, President François Hollande (in December he had a 4 percent approval rating). Support for the Republican candidate, François Fillon, tanked in March because of his involvement in a scandal involving embezzlement of public funds. This allowed Le Pen of the National Front (FN) and Macron of the En Marche! (On the Move!), to take the lead.
5. The National Front is a populist nationalist party that was created in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father. As Emma-Kate Symons of Foreign Policy says, the party “brought together an often-uncomfortable alliance of Vichy nostalgists, royalists, Catholic ultra-fundamentalists, working-class whites, and skinheads.” The elder Le Pen is a controversial figure who has been accused of racism and Holocaust denial. In 2002, he made it to the second ballot but was beat by Jacques Chirac. The party is known for supporting restrictions on immigration, limiting the role of the EU in French affairs and leaving the Union, and creating a trilateral alliance between France, Germany, and Russia.
6. Marie Le Pen, 48, is a lawyer who headed the National Front’s legal department before replacing her father as the head of the party in 2011. Since 2004 she has represented North-West France as a member of the European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union. Le Pen is often called a “far-right” candidate, even though her positions are a mix of leftist economic policies and populist nationalism. To make herself more palatable to voters in the run-off ballot, Le Pen stepped down this week as head of the National Front party.
According to the BBC, Le Pen supports abandoning the euro (and returning to the franc); renegotiating France’s EU membership and holding a Brexit-style referendum; expelling illegal immigrants and reducing legal immigration to 10,000 per year; banning certain religious symbols (such as Muslim headscarves and veils) in public; imposing a 35 percent tax on goods from firms that relocate out of France; and nationalizing the banks.
7. En Marche! is a non-party political movement that was created by Emmanuel Macron in 2016. Macron identifies with the political left (he was once a member of the Socialist party) but says he wants to become the voice of “radical centrism,” uniting elements of the left and right into a new progressive movement.
8. Emmanuel Macron, 39, is a former investment banker and economy minister under François Hollande. At the age of 15, Macron fell in love with his drama teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, who is 24 years his senior. They started dating when he was 17 and married when he turned 30. If elected, Macron will be the youngest president in France’s history.
9. According to the BBC, Macron supports unifying France’s complex pension system (which is made up of 35 different public schemes); cutting 120,000 public-sector jobs and bringing down the budget deficit; slashing the corporation tax from 33 percent to 25 percent; letting companies renegotiate the 35-hour work week; sending more teachers to deprived areas; banning mobile phone use in schools for children under-15; strengthening ties to the EU ties; tightening integration between eurozone countries; and increasing public investment to cover job-training.
10. Macron is heavily favored to win the run-off vote. Current polls show he is expected to win with more than 60 percent of the vote. Six of the nine losing candidates have endorsed Macron, while three others have refused to endorse either candidate.
Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
Photo Credit: By David Oranje, via Flickr.