Who’s who in the French presidency race?

The French public go to the polls on 23 April 2017, and again on 7 May, to vote for a new president. Following the UK’s Brexit shock and Donald Trump’s US election victory, the outcome will provide the latest evidence of the strength of Euroscepticism and the ‘populist’ movement.

For the first time in modern French history, the current president, Socialist François Hollande, has chosen not to run for a second term.

This year’s presidential race itself is almost too close to call, with four of the main contenders in with a chance of making it through to the decisive run-off vote on 7 May – if they gain the required number of votes in the first round. So, who are the main candidates?

Marine Le Pen – National Front

Marine Le Pen, 48, trained as a lawyer and headed the party's legal department. She was elected to the European Parliament in 2004 and remains an MEP, representing North-West France. She modernised the party after taking over from her father but has kept his anti-immigrant views.

What she believes in:

  • Negotiation with Brussels on a new EU, followed by a referendum
  • Automatic expulsion of illegal immigrants and legal immigration cut to 10,000 per year
  • Extremist mosques closed and priority given to French nationals in social housing
  • Retirement age fixed at 60 and a 35-hour work week

Emmanuel Macron, En Marche (On the Move)

Emmanuel Macron, 39, is a former economy minister who created his party just over a year ago and has never been elected to office. Currently standing a close second in the polls with 23% of the vote, he has a realistic chance of becoming France's youngest-ever president.

An investment banker, Emmanuel Macron worked as economic adviser to President Hollande before taking up the post of economy minister in 2014. He is noted for founding the "Macron Law", a controversial reform bill that allowed shops to open more often on Sundays and deregulated some sectors of industry. He believes in digital start-ups and prompted a long-distance bus market.

What he believes in:

  • Public investment plan to cover job-training, exit from coal and shift to renewable energy, infrastructure and modernisation
  • Big cut in corporation tax and more leeway for companies to renegotiate 35-hour week
  • Cut in jobless rate to 7% (now 9.7%)
  • Ban on mobile phone use in schools for under-15s and a €500 culture pass for 18 year olds

François Fillon, The Republicans

François Fillon, 63, served as prime minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012. Fillon was considered a front runner for the upcoming elections but his reputation was severely damaged in January after he was accused of employing his wife Penelope in a fictitious role in the French parliament and embezzling public funds in the form of payments to her.

What he believes in:

  • Increasing the work week from 35 hours to 39 hours in private and public sector jobs
  • Limiting adoption rights for gay couples and raising the pensionable retirement age from 62 to 65 years
  • Strengthening France’s ties with Russia and encouraging more active engagement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran to search for a solution to the Syrian conflict
  • Slashing public spending by €100bn over five years with a target of zero public sector deficit by 2022

Benoît Hamon, Socialist Party

Benoît Hamon, 49, has captured France’s imagination with his idealistic policies. He has been compared to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by some, who have criticized him for his dreamy and somewhat radical manifesto. The son of a naval engineer, Hamon was one of the founders of the Young Socialist Movement and has, in the past, served as finance minister and education minister under President Hollande.

Hamon resigned from the government in 2014 after unsuccessfully urging the president to end austerity measures.

What he believes in:

  • Implementing a universal basic income which will pay €750 a month to every French citizen, which he estimates will cost the state €300bn a year
  • Increasing the existing revenu de solidarite active (an in-work benefit for low earners) to €600 a month in 2018
  • Setting up a living income for people aged between 18-25 regardless of their salary
  • Reducing France’s existing 35-hour working week by three hours and offering financial incentives to firms which introduce four-day weeks or allow workers to take sabbaticals

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, La France insoumise (Left Party)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, is a far-Left minister who says he wants to introduce a 100% tax on anyone earning €400,000 or more – effectively capping income at €400,000 in the country. The former senate minister has in the past served under the minister of National Education and was also responsible for founding the Left Party in 2008. He was elected member of the European Parliament in 2009 and once again re-elected in 2014.

Most notably, Mélenchon has been known for his anti-German sentiment and has publicly criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policies.

What he believes in:

  • Limiting pay for CEOs to 20 times the salary of the lowest paid employee
  • Reducing the work week to four days and increasing the number of vacation days for workers
  • Raising the minimum wage by 16% and increasing tax on inherited wealth
  • Abandoning nuclear power and switching to 100% renewable energy by 2050

 

Heightened market volatility is likely over the election period, this could result in widened spreads. We recommend that you monitor positions carefully, consider the use of appropriate risk management tools and maintain a sufficient account surplus throughout this period.