April 22nd 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The populist wedge: political disaffection comes to Australia

EDITORIAL Human Rights Commission needs to start afresh post Professor Triggs

CANBERRA OBSERVED Liberals' soul searching too painful to publicise

ABORTION Law condones the act as it criminalises the image

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump makes calculated response to Syrian atrocity

CHINA No easy way to reverse malignant one-child policy

FOREIGN AFFAIRS French election may determine Eurozone fate

ECONOMICS The taxing of companies: a clarifying perspective

PHILOSOPHY Rights bereft of obligations: or, Socrates versus the pig

MUSIC Classical colours: Mozart's fusion of opposites

CINEMA Beauty and the Beast: A fairytale of true enchantment

BOOK REVIEW Santamaria: a man against the tide

BOOK REVIEW The teen they would have made queen

Heartening response to readers' survey

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French election may determine Eurozone fate

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 22, 2017

The presidential election to be held shortly in France will determine, for the immediate future, whether France will remain a member of the European Union.

In France, the president holds far greater executive power than corresponding leaders in the United States or Australia. The legislature to be elected in June is also deeply divided among a multiplicity of parties, such that no party is likely to win close to a majority.

The first round of the presidential election will be held on Sunday, April 23, and the second round will be held a fortnight later.

According to recent opinion polls, the candidates likely to get through to the second round are the pro-EU candidate, Emmanuel Macron, and the anti-EU National Front leader, Marine Le Pen.

Macron is undoubtedly the front-runner, but after opinion polls got it wrong in the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s departure from the EU, there is doubt about the outcome.

The two candidates could not be more different from each other.


Emmanuel Macron is a paradox. He is a former Socialist Party member, a former merchant banker who made a fortune in the merger of Nestlé and Pfizer, and a former finance minister in the Government of Socialist President François Hollande.

After holding such a senior post in Hollande’s Government, he resigned from the ministry and the Socialist Party to form his own political party called En Marche! (translated as “Working” or “Moving” or “In Motion”), and is standing for election against the Socialist Party candidate.

When nominating for election last year, he declared that French politics was broken, a result of career politicians not keeping their promises or failing to listen to voters. He promised a “profound democratic revolution” that would strip away many powers of elite politicians. He initially trailed far behind the Republicans’ François Fillon, the right-wing Prime Minister under François Sarkozy (2007–12).

Fillon’s economic program includes ending the 35-hour working week, dismissing 500,000 government employees, abolishing the wealth tax (ISF), streamlining the labour code, and reforming the health-insurance system.

However, Fillon’s campaign was crippled in January 2017 following the publication of allegations of fictitious employment of family members, including his wife Penelope and other family members on the government payroll.

Despite earlier statements that he would drop his bid if placed under formal investigation – which has been the case since March 15 – he has insisted on maintaining his candidacy.

Marine Le Pen is the estranged daughter of the founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen. She expelled her father from the party in 2015 after he described the gas chambers used in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust as a “detail” of history.

She has also expelled others for anti-Semitic and racist statements.

Marine Le Pen stood for the French presidency in 2012, and won about 18 per cent of the popular vote in the first round, a remarkable achievement.

She is best known for her strong opposition to immigration into France, reversion to the French national currency, the franc, in place of the euro, and withdrawal from the European Union.

However, the positions she has adopted on a whole range of issues are based on the principle of putting France first – in trade, political independence from both the European Union and the United States, and support for small business and families.

The polls suggest that she is likely to get at least 25 per cent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election.

Her problem is that even if she wins the first round, most of the other 10 candidates will urge their supporters to vote for either Macron or Fillon, and to oppose Le Pen. The French media will take a similar course. To win the second round, she would need over 30 per cent of the first round vote.

EU membership

In the presidential debate involving all 11 candidates, the most decisive issue was the division between Macron and Le Pen over membership of the EU and withdrawal from the Eurozone.

Macron attacked Le Pen, particularly her plans to scrap the euro and revert to the franc. “What you are proposing, Madame Le Pen, is a reduction in French people’s spending power,” he said.

He also defended both the EU and continued immigration into France.

French opinion polls suggest that in the second round, Macron would defeat Le Pen overwhelmingly, by a 60:40 margin. They also suggest that Fillon would defeat her by a 55:45 margin.

The presidential election is shaping up as a de facto referendum on French membership of the European Union.

However, as France is one of the founding members of the EU, shares a common currency with all its neighbours and a common border with at least five other members of the EU, the situation in France is quite different from the UK’s when it voted for Brexit last May.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm