The French election is in a week. Here’s what you need to know

This article was first published by Freedom Today.

There’s only one more week to go until the first round of the French presidential election. With five major candidates and a total number of 11 running in this race, not only seems there to be diversity in the field, the continuous scandals make the run for the Elysée Palace as exciting as ever.

Le Pen can maneuver herself into to the Elysée Palace, not into the National Assembly

Marine Le Pen, no matter if she’s leading the polls (depending on the week) or not, is irrelevant, as it is clear that she’ll qualify for the crucial second round vote no matter what. Her judicial controversies, such as the accusation of misusing funds of her post as a member of the European Parliament or her indictment for posting imagery of the beheading of the US journalist James Foley by ISIS, have, unlike François Fillon’s, not have an influence on her approval rating. Le Pen stays on message, which hasn’t changed in the slightest since 2012: protectionism, leaving the Euro and reintroducing the French Franc, tariffs on foreign workers, cracking down on crime, enforcing the War on Drugs further.

Since Le Pen and her National Front haven’t really changed all that much, it’s needless to say that the country did. The daughter of the very controversial Jean-Marie Le Pen doesn’t climb in the polls because of a change of rhetoric or the sympathies for her: France has just become more inclined to buy into her policies, as mainstream politician after mainstream politician has done nothing but disappoint them.

But while Le Pen has robuster chances of moving into the Elysée Palace by the week, her political power is only guaranteed if she also scores a majority in parliament. That last part seems, in the light of her party only occupying one seat out of 577 (that MP notably being her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen), unlikely to say the least.

A cohabitation though would render Le Pen’s entire political project obsolete, even under the hypothesis that she’d manage to constitute a more radical centre-right government. The last opinion poll for the parliamentary in June this year is an OpinionWays poll from June last year, so long before the primaries. In this poll the centre-right Republicans were expected to beat Hollande’s Socialist Party give the National Front between 58 and 64 seats. Seeing these same Republicans playing along to Le Pen’s presidential agenda, when she is currently bashing their candidate left and right for his financial scandals, is undoubtedly not even plausible to MLP herself.

The mainstream is eating up Macron

Emmanuel Macron’s startling political career suffers from the volatility of his own convictions. A bourgeois from an elite school turned auditor, turned investment banker, turned socialist and high-ranking advisors for one of the most anti-business president France has ever had (François Hollande), turned courageous minister implementing free-market, policies turned centrist independent candidate with the most plausible shot at becoming president to date. In the absence of a consistent ideological line in Macron’s political reasoning, he has made himself vulnerable to the rope pulling of all sides of the political spectrum: the 39 year-old presidential hopeful is simultaneously supported by former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, former chairman of the Greens in the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a total number of seven former ministers of right-wing president Jacques Chirac and even the former secretary of the French communist party Robert Hue.

As unforeseeable as Macron’s supporters are, as bewildering are his political stances: Emmanuel Macron simultaneously suggests a retirement reform supported by classical liberal icon Alain Madelin, increase military spending, legislate gender balance in high-ranking positions in government, proposes the reintroduction of compulsory military service for young people, wants to increase taxes on tobacco, intends on cutting 120 000 public sector jobs and wants to free 80 per cent of people of inhabitants tax, not by cutting spending but by just reimbursing the people all around the country (total cost for Paris: 10 billion euros).

Macron’s political opportunism leads him to the inevitable conclusion that he needs to rally as much support around himself as possible, and as a result, fails to live up to any sort of coherence.

Fillon: the conservative headache

The prominent reaction to the mention of François Fillon these days is a hopeless sigh, especially when it comes to the French Right, which is watching their dream of revenge for 5 years of François Hollande fall apart. Fillon ran as a political outsider and surprisingly won the primary, miraculously making everyone forget that he did serve as Prime Minister in the government presided by Nicolas Sarkozy, the man who left office with a staggeringly low approval rating of 36 per cent. The 63 year-old member of the French National Assembly promises to cut spending and cut 500 000 public sector jobs, which, mixed with his Catholic brand of social conservatism, has the French press compare him to Margaret Thatcher.

Yet unlike Maggie Thatcher, Fillon has allowed himself a major scandal involving his Penelope, who has been paid large sums of taxpayer money while there being little to no corroboration that she did any work. This revelation by investigative journalists has damaged Fillon and made him plunge in the opinion polls. There is no way of dancing around it: public opinion regards him as a crook. Even those who believe that Fillon is essential for the defeat of left-wing ideas would be inclined to say off-record that he is a necessary crook, but a crook nonetheless.

As the Republican candidate has seen no updrift what so ever in recent weeks, it becomes increasingly unlikely that Fillon can overtake Macron as this stage.

The traditional Left is done for

They almost seemed like fellow party members during the presidential debates: Benoît Hamon (Socialist Party) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon both identify with the far-left, and even though Hamon is loosing the support of establishment politicians (including mayors, senators, members of parliament and the government itself) and Mélenchon has never managed to cross get above 10 per cent in two decades, both candidates refuse to work together.

Not only has this death spiral been going on for a while, it continues to do so with candidates down the ticket who barely scrap one per cent of the vote who refuse to create any kind of alliances with what they consider the establishment Left. While Hamon and Mélenchon theorise about an unconditional and universal basic income or the creation of the 6th Republic, call for higher taxes and more spending, establishment socialists are leaving the ship to swim over to Macron, whose ambiguous political stances might actually prolong their political legacy after the election in May.

In recent days, Mélenchon has picked up support, closely following the three favourites Le Pen, Macron and Fillon. And yet, as long as Hamon refuses to ally forces on the Left’s spectrum, this surge will remain meaningless.

And the winner will be…

Given the previous enthusiasm of the Front Républicain (meaning the political majorities from all sides uniting against the National Front no matter what), Le Pen taking the Elysée Palace seems like an arduous task. But even if MLP wins the presidency in two weeks time, then the only election that really matters will be the legislative elections coming June.

The tiresome news for those who believe in the fundamental reforms that France so desperately needs that of dim projections: Fillon and Macron, arguably the most pro free market candidates, are not only miles away from Margaret Thatcher now, they will be by the time they’d take the office. If we account for Fillon’s track record on campaign promises under the Sarkozy presidency (which, let us not forget, included the massive 2008 bank bailout), then French government spending is unlikely to be brought back into control. As long as the general public doesn’t change their mind on the role of government, Paris will always bend to the will of the powerful trade unions and the general scepticism towards free markets.

So you ask who is going to win: will it be Le Pen, Macron, Fillon, Hamon or Mélenchon?

I’d say the French election is already over. Big government won.

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