The French presidential election: The rise of the radicals

The French presidential election: The rise of the radicals

The campaign for the French presidential elections has been shaken by multiple political scandals and the overall weakening of traditional parties. This led to the rise of radical candidates that, while unlikely to win, will continue shape the country’s politics in the years to come.

On April 23rd, France will hold the first round of its presidential election. The polls are under high international scrutiny, as for the first time two radically different visions of the country are pitted against each other. On the one hand, pro-EU, economically liberal candidates represent continuity with the current French positioning in world politics. On the other hand, candidates pushing for enhanced national independence and a detachment from the EU call for a general review of the national positioning of the country’s international relations and domestic economic structure.

The campaign for the upcoming elections has been marred by multiple scandals that participated in the public’s loss of confidence in regard to the candidates of the centre-left and centre-right parties. The French presidential election will also present several novelties. The standing president will not run for office, a first in the Fifth Republic. This highlights the political weakness of Francois Hollande and the wider crisis of the Parti Socialiste (PS). Among the favourites, Emmanuel Macron has structured his campaign around his movement that remained detached from traditional parties. This will raise fresh questions in case of victory, as he will need to build a ruling majority in parliament. Perhaps more than anything, the upcoming polls are characterised by the rise of radical parties that generate a direct challenge to the French political establishment that ruled the country since the 1960s.

A weakened establishment

Regardless of the final result of the French presidential election, these polls will mark a stern challenge to the standing political establishment. In the run up to the elections, the primaries of both the PS and Les Republicains (LR) saw the elimination of candidates such as former Prime Minister Manuel Valls (PS) and former President Nicolas Sarkozy (LR) in a rejection of their previous politics. President Hollande conceded his political defeat by refusing to run for re-election.

The current status of Benoit Hamon, candidate of the PS and credited with less than 10 percent of votes, further highlights the dire situation in the ruling party following the Hollande presidency.

The repeated scandals surrounding former Prime Minister Fillon (LR) weakened his stance in an election that initially saw the centre-right party as a virtually unchallenged frontrunner. This situation is likely to lead to a substantial recalibration of the party following the elections. This could effectively mean a strategic repositioning of the two key driving political forces in the country, the PS and the LR.

The rise of Marine Le Pen’s right-wing Front National (FN) and Jean Luc Melenchon’s far-left France Insoumise (FI) also come as a structural challenge to the existing system. While adopting diametrically different socio-political stances, the two candidates have managed to substantially influence the debate spurring the French electorate to increasingly challenge the current political system, leading to long-lasting fractures in the national socio-political environment.

The vacuum and the rise of the radicals

While 2016 has led to increasing distrust concerning pre-electoral polls, current indicators suggest that Marine Le Pen and Jean Luc Melenchon are likely to garner in aggregate approximately 40 percent of the votes during the first round of the elections. Current predictions show that the FN candidate may get close to 23 percent of the votes and the FI candidate may obtain more than 18 percent of the votes. If verified, such numbers would mark a historic shift in French politics and cement the rise of radical parties in the country’s political sphere.

There is a realistic possibility that the FN may be the first party following the first round; however, Marine Le Pen is highly unlikely to be the next French president and the same goes for Jean Luc Melenchon. Nevertheless, the two candidates have participated in shifting the political debate in a country fractured by socio-economic tensions, the rise of criminality rates, a substantial terrorist threat and an overall distrust in the political system.

Troubles ahead for the next president

The vacuum left by President Hollande’s term and the crisis within the PS and the LR also contributed to the rise of Emmanuel Macron. Strengthened by the implicit or explicit support of several PS, LR as well as centrist officials, the former Minister of Finance is in a good position to be a major contender in the upcoming elections. While defining himself as a candidate outside of the political sphere, Macron gradually came to represent the pro-EU and economically liberal policies supported by the centrist branches of both the LR and the PS.  

The forecast remains inconclusive and more than 10 percent of the French electorate are still undecided. Despite this fact, it is already clear that the next President will have to rule over a deeply divided nation in which rival views have increasingly crystallised and radical parties have solidified their position in the political structure of the country. Should a pro-EU and liberal candidate such as Macron or Fillon become president, it is highly likely that any type of economic reform aimed at restoring productivity and liberalising the labour market will be met with strong opposition.

The 2017 presidential elections have already failed in achieving at least one key objective: pacifying a country that has suffered deeply throughout Hollande’s term due to poor economic performances, deadly terrorist attacks, and a general loss of trust in the political action. The next French president is will be faced with the growing fractures of a society that is likely to have further grown apart during the presidential campaign.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Riccardo Dugulin

Riccardo Dugulin is an analyst at Drum Cussac, a global business risk consultancy. He specializes in supporting international organizations and large corporations operating in emerging markets by providing them with critical risk management intelligence. His regions of expertise are the Near East, the Gulf, North Africa and Continental Europe. He previously worked as project manager for a French medical assistance company. He gained field experience in the Middle East having worked for leading think tanks in Dubai and Beirut. Riccardo holds a Master in International Affairs from the Sciences Po – Paris and a Bachelor in Middle Eastern Studies from the same university. Follow him on Twitter @RiccardoDugulin.