Bucknell Institute of Public Policy: One month out from France’s presidential elections

Zachary Krivine, Contributing Writer

The French, unlike many Americans, do not have the luxury of viewing presidential elections as an afterthought, and our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally and fellow Western democracy is in the midst of a heated race to determine who will be its next president. Given the deep economic, political, and historical relationship between the two nations, it’s important to stay up to date.

Immigration, like in the United States, is garnering much attention of both the electorate and the candidates. The National Front (NF) candidate Marine Le Pen claims the strictest stance towards the admittance of immigrants into France. If elected, she has vowed to cut down dramatically on illegal immigration and cut legal immigration by 80 percent. François Fillon of the Republicans (the main center-right party) also takes a strict stance, though he does not go as far as Le Pen.

Fillon has floated the idea of restricting benefits to immigrants, a stance that he shares with Le Pen. He has lamented the fact that Germany has borne the brunt of the refugee crisis, but this sympathy does not apply to other foreigners. In contrast, both the former French minister of economy, finances and industry and current independent presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon believe France should accept more refugees, and suggests that France should pay for French language lessons to help them integrate.

Many are quick to label Le Pen as far-right, or the “French Donald Trump,” but her labor stance contradicts this—she intends to maintain the French law that strictly limits working weeks at 35 hours and lower the retirement age from 62. Hamon would also lower the retirement age and the work week to 32 hours, and has proposed a basic income for all French citizens of €750 per month. Macron favors scrapping the 35-hour work week, although he has not made clear his alternative. He has, however, stated that he would not change the retirement age. Fillon, on the other hand, has come out in favor of a 39-hour work week as well as changing the termination process and increasing the retirement age.

A third, and perhaps most polarizing position among the candidates given the international political climate, is their policy towards Europe. Le Pen has made it abundantly clear that she almost completely opposes French participation in the European Union (EU). In fact, she has stated that if terms of agreement within the EU for France cannot be negotiated, she would introduce a French referendum to leave the Union. Fillon has not gone as far as the NF candidate, but he has called for French withdrawal from the Schengen agreement. Hamon and Macron, however, are in favor of European cooperation. Macron has referenced the importance of the EU, with regard to issues like climate change and terrorism, in almost all of his speeches.

Each candidate offers a radically different vision for France. Le Pen laments what she sees as the cultural and economic erosion of France. Fillon hasn’t offered radical positions such as the rejection of wearing headscarves (as Le Pen did during her visit to Lebanon), but he has attempted to ride this sentiment to the “Palais de l’Elysée.” Macron and Hamon have decried positions like this as divisive for French society. While the former investment banker, Macron, desires a more efficient French government and economy, it is Hamon’s wish to maintain the health of the French welfare state for generations to come.

Although Le Pen has the highest polling numbers, she is not expected to beat out Macron should they be the final two candidates, as polls suggest. Populism, not short of tests within the last year, faces yet another on April 23.

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