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French Center-Right Party Picks Presidential Candidate

French Flag And Ballot Box

Francois Fillion, who has previously served as France’s Prime Minister, won the election on Sunday to become his party’s nominee for President in the Presidential elections that will be held in five months:

PARIS — French voters chose a socially conservative, budget-cutting former prime minister on Sunday to lead the center-right Republican Party in next year’s presidential election. Once again, the outcome upset pollsters’ initial predictions, and it paved the way for a likely face-off with the country’s far-right party in 2017.

François Fillon, 62, a sober, dark-suited government veteran who called for economic sacrifice, major changes in the French workplace and a crackdown on immigration and Islam, won about 67 percent of the vote in the primary contest on Sunday, crushing his more centrist opponent, Alain Juppé, who is also a former prime minister.

French presidential elections are usually decided in two rounds, with the first round winnowing the field to two candidates. Having won his party’s primary, Mr. Fillon is widely expected to be one of those two finalists in the general election in the spring.

It now seems increasingly unlikely that the current governing party, the Socialists, will produce the other. The French left is weak and in disarray after five years in which high unemployment rates and slow economic growth have barely budged. President François Hollande has not said whether he will run for another term, and many in his party hope he does not.

Instead, the second contender is widely expected to be Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. Her party has never been able to attract the backing of more than about one-third of France’s electorate, and for now at least, few analysts predict that it can win the presidency next year. But the xenophobic, anti-immigrant party has received a new lift from the triumph of President-elect Donald J. Trump in the United States.

Mr. Fillon, with his themes of restoring France’s identity and national greatness and his tough language on immigrants and Islam, has been making a clear play for Ms. Le Pen’s voters.

His promise to slash 500,000 government jobs and cut the budget by more than 100 billion euros (about $106 billion) could leave him vulnerable against Ms. Le Pen, who promises to safeguard France’s substantial safety net of government protections and spending. Mr. Fillon told supporters during the campaign that he was going to “break down the house,” but many in France don’t want the house broken.

Promises of top-to-bottom economic overhaul have generally brought thousands of demonstrators into the streets. Unions are already sounding warnings about Mr. Fillon’s plans to reduce the state’s role in the economy, and the National Front has heaped scorn on his proposals.

In his victory speech on Sunday night, Mr. Fillon emphasized traditional French rightist themes of restoring “authority” and “French values,” as he did throughout the campaign, when commentators largely dismissed his chances.

“In our country, there is an immense need for respect and pride,” Mr. Fillon told cheering supporters in Paris. “There is also a demand for the authority of the state, and for exemplary behavior from those who govern it. In my conduct, the voters of the right and the center have found the French values to which they are so much attached.”

His opponent, Mr. Juppé, campaigned on a “unity” theme that led many on the right to suggest that he was a leftist in disguise. The notes Mr. Fillon sounded were darker.

With many of his fellow citizens uneasy over immigration, terrorist attacks and the integration of Muslims, Mr. Fillon vowed to restore a more traditional France by strictly regulating Islam and limiting immigration, and promised an alliance with Russia to crush what he called “totalitarian” Islamists. Commentators have noted Mr. Fillon’s close relations with Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s president.

Fillon will face off on April 23rd against the candidate from the governing center-left coalition that includes the Socialist Party of French President Francois Hollande, and Marine Le Pen the leader of the far-right National Front, the anti-immigrant, anti-European Union party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. The center-left coalition has yet to choose its candidate, but the assumption is that it will be Hollande, although there appears to be at least some chance that Hollande’s own party could be set to hand him a humiliating loss by failing to renominate him for President. Based on current polling, it would appear that the race will come down to a voters choice between Fillon and Le Pen given the fact that, notwithstanding his efforts to rally the French people in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice over the course of the last year, Hollande remains massively unpopular with the French public. To some extent, it appears that at least part of the reason for Hollande’s unpopularity is due to ongoing economic problems in France, which has long had an unemployment rate that is much higher than it has been in the United States and currently stands at somewhere near ten percent (source). Additionally, Hollande has taken the brunt of the blame for public dissatisfaction with government policies that have allowed tens of thousands of refugees to flood into the country as well as the problems that the country has had with the heavily Muslim immigrant population in general. This unpopularity has continued despite the fact that the terror attacks of 2016 have made Hollande among the more aggressive leaders in Europe when it comes to taking on the threat posed by ISIS as and other terrorist groups.

Ordinarily, because of the number of parties and other issues, French elections such as the Presidential election coming up in April are decided in two stages. In the first stage, all the parties that qualify will have candidates on the ballot, but the real contest will be between Hollande’s center-left coalition, Fillon’s center-right coalition, and Le Pen’s National Front. In the second, the top two vote recipients participate in a runoff election that occurs about a month after the first round of voting, with the winning becoming the next President of France. In the past, this second round has usually come down to the center-left versus the center-right, with the National Front falling short of the top two finish that would allow them to advance to the second round. As we get closer to the elections, polling in France has shown Le Pen surging to the point where she would qualify for the second round of voting, shutting out Hollande, thus resulting in Hollande becoming a lame duck while Fillon and Le Pen face off in the second round. In the past when National Front candidates have managed to make it into the second round in races for other French offices, such as for Parliament, the two mainstream coalitions have successfully come together to support whichever candidate is opposing the National Front and block them from taking office. Right now, polling indicates that this would likely happen and that Fillon would easily defeat Le Pen in a second round. There are still some five months before Election Day, though, and there’s no telling how the political climate in France may change in that period. For example, another terrorist attack could enhance Hollande’s position by creating a ‘rally around the flag’ effect, or it could further panic the public and send them rushing to support the anti-immigrant zealots in the National Front. Additionally, with the future of European Union now on the table thanks to Brexit, France’s relationship with the rest of Europe could have a huge impact on the race. Whatever the result, though, the outcome of this election will have a significant impact on the future direction of France as well as  Europe as a whole.

This will be an election worth paying attention as we head toward the first round of voting on April 23rd, and the second round, if needed, on May 7th.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. barbintheboonies says:

    I guess enough was enough. Who knows where this will lead. I will not criticize it because I am hoping for something good to happen. The way we were going, was leading us further into despair and ruin IMO. People had good lives before, and now are told this is the new reality, well some will not take it lying down. People who have so little have to share with people who never put anything into their country. People who will take from the government and hate the people who`s families fought and died for their country. Their leaders spit in their faces. Our schools taking American flags down to appease the fools who are offended by it. It got too far, the PC crowds bullied us enough it`s time we put to rest this nonsense and call BS just what it is. If you come to this country poor, well look under all our bridges people are discarded like trash, nobody gave them a place to stay. They stand in line waiting for food, some on drugs and others just lost jobs and are unmarketable. Some borderline retarded, oh I`m sorry we cannot use that word anymore. Too smart for help, too slow to find work. Some Vets too messed up from taking drugs because of the things they saw and were forced to do. Wait in line Americans, people with families are coming and they need help before you do. We need to give them housing, food, education etc., because we are Americans and we are the good guys. The French probably feel the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  2. bookdragon says:

    @barbintheboonies: I see you’re just overflowing with Christmas spirit.

    Yep, nothing like defending “no room at the inn” as we enter Advent. Or promoting turning away persecuted refugees, just like the people in Alexandria rejected Jesus, Mary and Joseph when they fled Herod’s slaughter of the innocents…Oh, wait, in fact, they took them in and provided them with a community to live in until it was safe to return. I guess that makes the Gospel writers callous liberal elites.

    Yes, we have many problems here at home, but none of them are solved by promoting selfish uncharitable attitudes. In fact, I think you’ll find there is a big overlap between the pool of people who want to help refugees and the pool of people who give to help the sorts of folks you talk about here. Those who truly care about the least, the last and the lost, and who take seriosuly “whatsoever you do unto one of these, you do unto Me” do not ask for ID before offering a hand.
    Likewise, I think you will find a similar large intersection between those demagoguing on “take care of our own; screw everyone else” and those whose private giving and actions reflect “I got mine, fk you”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. barbintheboonies says:

    @bookdragon: Does anyone here ever think about the thousands of people born here living underneath bridges. Address this sometime, I knew someone would be appalled by what I said and frankly I do not care. I am fed up. I am pissed that our government cares more for immigrants than it`s own people. We grant licenses to people who are not even legal to be here. We burn flags, the symbol of our countrymen and women. I was a liberal, but we have gone so far left with this, we won`t even admit when something is wrong. The way back may be hard but it is going to take some honest reflection. We are already Fd .

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    @bookdragon: @barbintheboonies:

    American citizens have a perfect right to expect their government to prioritize their needs over the needs of non-nationals without getting the whole ‘no room at the inn’ treatment. This is the United States of America, not the International House of Benefits.

    It’s this kind of open borders talk that has helped to feed Trump – and similar right-wing reactions – all over the western world. A country is a thing. It is a defined thing with borders and laws and rules and mores. American citizens have a right to decide who comes in and who does not. Period. We cannot bully people into compassion, and you can’t expect to earn compassion by heaping scorn.

    If nothing else, just how fwcking dumb do we have to be not to recognize the astonishing damage done by Ms. Merkel and others who have disregarded the will of their own people and thrown open the doors? Those people coming into the country cost money. They bring serious issues with them. Can we cut the bullsh!t and stop pretending that they all open charming little ethnic bistros? These are dependents we are taking on as a country, and the people of this country, the ones paying the bills, have a right to be heard on the subject.

    We have a right and an obligation to make wise choices, not just knee-jerk feel-good responses. And by treating the rights and concerns of Americans as secondary to the needs of foreigners, we create the reaction, we drive people to the far right, and we betray the very goddamned people we’re trying to save. How many Syrians are coming in over the next four years? None. Not one. That’s what Merkel and Obama and a bunch of jelly-headed people on my side of the political spectrum caused: a massive rejection of refugees.

    It is not enough to ‘feel,’ one must also think. A policy is judged by its effects, not by how warm and fuzzy it makes you feel, and the effect is quite clearly bad. Very, very bad. Done right we might have pulled 50,000 or even 100,000 people out of Syria, and now that number will be zero.

    Had we had the simple good sense to understand that we needed to engage with the American people on the issue of refugees, acknowledge their genuine concerns and use education and persuasion to move them away from their more irrational fears, we might not be about to swear in a baboon as the next president.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Characterizing Marine Le Pen as “France’s Donald Trump” is unfair to Le Pen. She’s been working in politics for 30 years. And her views are not identical to her father’s.

    That Front national is a right wing party in France doesn’t translate well into U. S. politics. And she’s pushed the party into a more centrist or at least more temperate direction.

    But she’s been around, paid her dues, and understands the issues.

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  6. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There really are two very different opinions on the matter. You’ve stated one of them very articulately and reasonably. The other belief is that there is a right of immigration. That such a right is not recognized by the very expansive Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not appear to deter believers. Possibly paradoxically, it recognizes a right of emigration but not of immigration.

    IMO the two positions cannot be reconciled. There isn’t even a compromise.

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  7. Immigration is a very complicated issue, but the issue in France is not immigration per se, but the large population of non-white French Citizens(10%) that are marginalized in the banlieues. Besides that, the economy, not immigration, that´s killing Hollande.

    There is a popular comedy show in France, Les Guignols(Basically, a French Version of Spitting Image, the 80´s British Hit Show). Hollande is always portraited with dumb looks. There is a video where he and his ministers are singing in the tune of Robin Thicke song, Blurred Lines.

    His ministers are singing: “The factories are closing, the criminality is rising, and about the economy? Syria?” and Hollande is just singing “eh, eh, eh, eh”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    A right to immigrate is simply unsustainable. You cannot have a social safety net without an ability to limit immigration, not to mention multiple other problems, but that one goes to the heart of it. I’ll pay for my poor people, I’m not paying for the whole world’s poor people.

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  9. SKI says:

    As I understand it, Fillon is even more anti-immigrant than Marie Le Pen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Had we had the simple good sense to understand that we needed to engage with the American people on the issue of refugees, acknowledge their genuine concerns and use education and persuasion to move them away from their more irrational fears, we might not be about to swear in a baboon as the next president.

    Education and persuasion would be as irrelevant on this issue as they have been on all the other issues the American right holds near and dear. If education and persuasion worked, half the country wouldn’t believe the earth is 6,000 years old and humans were created by God in their current form, or that climate change is a myth created by the Chinese.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Mikey: I think you’re missing Reynolds’ point. In this case IIRC, the education was to be directed toward those whose irrational fear was that we weren’t holding up our end of the “give us your tired…” speech. If those people had only realized that we shouldn’t be taking in any refugees (we should have made safe zones in Syria), then the reasonable one’s would have denied Trump a talking point.

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    La Pen is a nationalist and a small ‘c’ conservative, yes she promotes “French First”, but she is also an ardent supporter of preserving the French welfare state while Fillon is nearly the nationalist that she is but is a neo-liberal looking to up end the welfare state

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