France’s Ongoing Elections
IR Review Online
By: Graciela Mariño
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In the year of one of the worst economic crises the European Union has ever experienced, one of its biggest economies is about to face a very controversial election. On May 6, France will enter presidential elections with the leading candidates differing greatly in their views over the nation’s economic issues and immigration policies. The leading candidates are current president Nicholas Sarkozy, Francois Hollande, Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Francois Bayrou. Each candidate represents a different social class, and their policies thus reflect the best interests for each one. But, whoever wins the elections in May will have to present a solid approach on the economic front if they want to bring France out of the current deficit.
Elections will take place in two rounds of voting with a two-week break between both votes. The first round will be on April 22 and the second on May 6. From the ten candidates, eight will be eliminated on the first round and only two will remain for the second. This race in particular is especially interesting considering that the current president is not the leading candidate and candidates from both ends of the political spectrum appear to be gathering one third of the votes each.
The main issues that the candidates have to tackle regard the economy and immigration. Recently, France was stripped of its AAA credit rating and the nation’s public-debt levels are at 90 percent of the GDP and rising. The problem began because for the past ten years France’s economic competitivenes has declined, with its exports stagnating and its unemployement rate growing. On the immigration front, France has one of Europe’s highest percentages of foreign–born residents and has experienced problems accomodating the growing Muslim minority in the country.
At the moment the polls give socialist candidate Francois Hollande victory in both the first and second round of elections. He is an experienced political party organizer, but has never held a national government office. His affable personality is said to contrast with President Sarkozy’s rigid attitude. Hollande’s primary plans regarding the economy are to establish an annual quota for economic immigrants in consultation with employers and to have citizens earning €1 million or more pay 75 percent in income tax.
The conservative candidate Nicholas Sarkozy, elected president in 2007, is the second leading candidate. He has had to face five difficult years in the presidency, with his radical social policies, like the raising of the legal retirement age, creating a lot of controversy, mainly with the leftists. But the main hindrance Sarkozy has encountered is the downgrade of France in its credit rating by Standard and Poor’s. His main policies include raising up to €3 billion by tightening profit tax loopholes for large companies and diminishing annual legal immigration into France “from 180,000 to 100,000” immigrants.
The other leading candidates are from three different parties and different parts of the political spectrum. Marine Le Pen, daughter of the National Front founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, represents the far right. She has extreme protectionist views and is opposed to the euro. She promises to reduce annual immigration to 5 percent of its current level and would like France to leave the euro.
Francois Bayrou stands up for the centrist party. He believes in recognizing the achievements of the immigrants and in restoring public finances by cutting €50 billion from government spending and regaining this amount in new revenue.
Representing the extreme left party—the Left Front, is Jean-Luc Melenchon, a militant socialist. He states that “immigration is not a problem” and his main economic policy focuses on keeping the euro but examining the European Union’s priorities and tightening control over the European Central Bank.
Whichever candidate gets elected will need to bring a strong set of policies to government in order to reverse the stagnant economy. The new president will also need to determine the European Union’s role in France—or France’s role in the European Union, regarding the current economic crisis. This election comes at a critical time in France’s economic situation and will define the future that awaits the nation in the following years. The candidates are now in their last days of the campaign, fighting to win the majority vote and be the one to change—or improve in Mr. Sarkozy’s case, France’s policies.