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SITUATION UPDATE 29 March, 2022 Back

Situation Update - France to hold its presidential election on 10 April

Alex Stone

France to hold its presidential election on 10 April

Summary

  • France is scheduled to hold its presidential election on 10 April. If no candidate secures the 50% required for an outright win, a second round will be held between the two highest polling candidates on 24 April.
  • Prominent issues include the strength of the economy and immigration. However, foreign policy was pushed to the forefront following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
  • Macron's re-election may produce another wave of social protests akin to the so-called "gilets jaunes", with his domestic policies proving unpopular amid rising fuel prices.
  • Victory for candidates other than Macron may have significant impacts on France's membership to both the EU and NATO, with frontrunners from the left and right generally Eurosceptic.
  • There remains a potential for secessionist movements to emerge amongst France's overseas territories depending on the outcome on Corsican calls for greater autonomy amid violent unrest.

Situation

Domestically, a victory for Macron would see France pursue a path of significant social reform. Outlined in his albeit limited manifesto are plans for full employment within five years, a tax cut of 15 billion EUR (12.5 billion GBP) a year for households and businesses, and a plan to gradually increase the retirement age from 62 to 65. However, given a large proportion of Macron's votes are expected to be "protest votes" against the other more controversial candidates rather than a show of approval for Macron's policies, he may lack the public support required to pursue these goals in their entirety. Exemplifying this, Macron has already been forced to shelve plans to make back-to-work benefits conditional on 15-20 hours of work a week.


Such a poor reception to future policies may lead to issues of governance later down the line. In an extreme scenario, this could result in social protest movements akin to those staged by the so-called "gilets jaunes" which initially began in 2018 over fuel taxes and living costs before morphing into a widespread anti-government revolt, causing significant disruption throughout many French cities. This scenario would become more likely if sanctions imposed on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine produce negative economic repercussions for France. Exemplifying the legitimacy of this, fishermen from Lorient (Brittany) implemented a blockade on a fuel depot on 16 March to protest a steep incline in fuel prices triggered by a ban on the import of Russian gas.

However, a victory for Mélenchon would perhaps have the greatest impact on France's socio-economic environment. Included within his manifesto are more extreme measures such as the implementation of a top tax rate of 90% on the wealthy, the abandonment of the free-market economy which he states is in "chaos", and even the re-writing of the constitution to usher out the "presidential monarchy" in favour of the Sixth French Republic.

Also in the domestic sphere, the election will have significant implications for multiculturalism / racial equality in France, with campaigning thus far dominated by the frequent use of xenophobic, specifically Islamophobic, language. Tapping into a general conservative backlash against migration in France, presidential candidate Zemmour has advocated controversial and hard-right policies to address the so-called "great replacement" of France's "native" population. This includes the establishment of the "Ministry of Re-Immigration" which would oversee the deportation of up to 100,000 "undesirable foreigners" each year to Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and a number of sub-Saharan states previously part of the French empire.

Although Zemmour is not anticipated to win the election due to dwindling support in recent months, his participation may still have the effect of propagating xenophobia and Islamophobia in France. Indeed, Zemmour has now replaced Le Pen as France's pre-eminent "hard-right" politician, making her policies seem more moderate, centrist, and mainstream by comparison. Exemplifying this, Le Pen's proposals of an immigration referendum to "drastically regulate immigration" will likely be more acceptable when compared to the "Ministry of Re-Immigration". Home to nearly seven million refugees, an acceptance of such rhetoric would likely see minorities targeted for persecution by the increasingly emboldened far right. Such fears could be raised following statements by Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon that France is expecting the arrival of 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing conflict. However, this demographic is not expected to be targeted by the right-wing, which usually equates immigration with race and Islam.

Internationally, a victory for anyone other than Macron could have significant consequences for France's membership to either the EU or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Throughout the campaigning process, opposition candidates have strongly advocated France's withdrawal from NATO's integrated command structure responsible for the alliance's collective defence. According to Le Pen, this is so that France is not "dragged into other people's conflicts". With France ranked fourth behind the US, UK, and Germany for total defence expenditure and contributions to NATO spending for 2022, such an outcome would likely inhibit the alliance's ability to provide a robust response to security challenges in Europe.

Similarly, the ascension of a right-wing candidate to the presidency would likely result in a more Eurosceptic France as opposed to Macron, who favours integration. In the past, Le Pen, Pécresse, and Zemmour all expressed their support for the UK during "Brexit", whilst more recently, they have sided with Poland and Hungary during the bitter debate over the primacy of EU law. Although neither candidate has advocated leaving the EU entirely, with the economic consequences deemed to be too great, they have advocated disobeying EU legislation to pursue more autonomy from Brussels. Such a move, it is thought, would undermine the existence of the EU Single Market, which heavily relies on the universality of the participating member's legal codes.

Coinciding with the election campaigning has also been a new push for Corsican independence after Corsican nationalist, Yvan Colonna, died on 21 March following an assault in prison. The assault on Colonna, who is considered a hero for Corsica's independence movement, triggered weeks of protests on the Mediterranean island which have been characterised by their violence. Over 100 people were injured on 13 March along during clashes with the police in Bastia. In order to quell the violence, the French government indicated in mid-March that it is willing to offer "autonomy".

Whilst Macron and Mélenchon are in favour of granting greater "autonomy" to Corsica based on the right to self-determination, right-wing candidates have warned against such a move given it would promote the use of violence. Rhetoric espoused by Le Pen and Zemmour that France and Corsica are "one and indivisible" may precipitate an escalation in the unrest if they attempt to forcibly restore calm on the island. The policy pursued by any future president will also have significant repercussions for France's other overseas territories seeking independence, including that of New Caledonia which has often descended into violence.