Whether it’s Le Pen or Macron who seizes the day, here’s what could happen following Sunday’s election
Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron pose prior to the start of a live broadcast face-to-face televised debate in La Plaine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris, France, on May 3, 2017.
The most unpredictable French presidential campaign in a generation is entering its final days with voters set to decide on Sunday between Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! and the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.
By any measure, this has been a historic race for the Élysée Palace as traditional parties have been obliterated and voters are ready to embrace either a politically inexperienced ex-banker in Mr. Macron or a far-right populist in Ms. Le Pen. They finished first and second in the first round of voting on April 23, taking 23 per cent and 21.3 per cent respectively in a field of 11 candidates.
That wasn’t a convincing win for Mr. Macron, but he does lead current opinion polls in the final showdown against Ms. Le Pen, holding a near 20-point lead. But his support has softened in recent days and his backers lack the same enthusiasm as Ms. Le Pen’s. Both had a final chance to change voters’ minds Wednesday night when they went head-to-head in the campaign’s only television debate. Whoever wins, changes are coming to France and its place in Europe and globally.
Here’s a look at five things to expect from a Macron or Le Pen victory.
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Chatellerault, central France, Friday, April 28, 2017.
Mr. Macron has been campaigning as the ultimate outsider – “neither right nor left” – and heads a movement he launched a year ago called En Marche! He’s never run for office and, if he wins, he’d be the youngest president in French history at the age of 39. While he’s leading Ms. Le Pen, a recent poll also found little enthusiasm for him among his supporters. Roughly 60 per cent of those supporting Mr. Macron said they were voting for him only by default and 47 per cent said they didn’t like his personality. By contrast, 60 per cent of Ms. Le Pen’s supporters back her enthusiastically. Mr. Macron’s other main problem is that En Marche! lacks a political infrastructure which will make it hard for the party to win seats in the National Assembly elections in June. Without a majority of deputies, Mr. Macron will have a hard time getting much done. He’s promised that En Marche! will field a list of candidates, with many drawn from online applications to ensure a broad cross section. But legislative elections represent 577 individual constituency battles and a ground game is essential.
EU changes coming
Mr. Macron has campaigned on a staunchly pro-European Union platform, promising to strengthen France’s role inside the EU. That has been welcome news to EU officials, who have taken a beating lately over Brexit and the rise of populism across Europe. But Mr. Macron has also talked lately about seeking major reforms to the EU, telling reporters this week that the EU can’t ignore the fact that a large percentage of French people are fed up with the union. While Europe is extremely important to France’s future, he said that “we have to face the situation, to listen to our people, and to listen to the fact that they are extremely angry today, impatient and the dysfunction of the EU is no more sustainable.” He added: “So I do consider that my mandate, the day after, will be at the same time to reform in depth the European Union and our European project.” Some of his reforms have included a common budget for the 19 euro-zone countries as well as a euro-zone finance minister and a European Union defence force. That could be a tough sell in Germany, which has rejected those ideas in the past.
Changes in France, too
A career in investment banking and a brief spell as France’s economy minister under current President François Hollande have given Mr. Macron a decidedly pro-business outlook.
He’s calling for significant reforms to the country’s rigid labour market, something he tried to tackle during his two-year stint in cabinet, which ended in 2016 when he abruptly resigned. But even those measures, which included more Sunday shopping, were tame compared to the overhaul he’s planning which includes easing the clout of unions and making it easier for companies to hire and fire. He’s also called for cutting 120,000 civil servants, out of a total of six million, and slashing government spending by $54-billion. And while he won’t change France’s 35-hour work week, he wants to introduce reforms to give companies the flexibility to permit more overtime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Sochi, Russia, on May 2, 2017.
Mr. Macron is no fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has accused the Russians of hacking into En Marche!’s website. He’ll keep France a strong player in NATO and vows to ensure the country meets its NATO funding commitments. He can also be expected to stand pat on EU sanctions against Russia over Syria and Ukraine.
A win by Mr. Macron would be good for Canada. He backs free trade and would support France’s ratification of the Canada-EU trade deal. He’s also close in age and political outlook to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and he’s part of a wave of new young European in the political realm. That also includes 30-year-old Green Party Leader Jesse Klaver in the Netherlands; Belgium’s 41-year-old Prime Minister Charles Michel; and Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is 44.
Marine Le Pen gestures as she arrives for a campaign meeting in Paris on April 17, 2017.
Ms. Le Pen has been tapping into the anti-globalization and anti-EU sentiment in France that is a function largely of 10 years of economic stagnation. One of the key planks in her platform is to pull France out of the euro and return to the franc. It’s part of her overall campaign message of putting France first, and she argues that it is time for the country to set its own monetary policy and control its own currency. It’s a tricky sell since polls show most French people strongly support keeping the euro and virtually every economist says the country will face wrenching problems if it drops the currency.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, left, and Marine Le Pen attend a media conference in Paris, France, Saturday, April 29, 2017.
There’s no question Ms. Le Pen isn’t keen on the EU and she has promised to hold a referendum on France’s membership in the union. She’s also vowed to appoint noted Euroskeptic Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a Paris-area deputy, as her prime minister if she is elected president. Mr. Dupont-Aignan is a staunch conservative who ran for president and finished a distant sixth with 4.7 per cent of the vote in the first round. He campaigned as an anti-EU candidate and supported Britain leaving the EU.
Closer ties to Russia
Ms. Le Pen has been a supporter of the Russian President and flew to Moscow to meet him during the campaign. There have been suggestions that Ms. Le Pen and the National Front, which have a hard time raising money, have turned to Mr. Putin for financial support. But there are political reasons as well and Ms. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front in the 1970s, has been a long-time defender of Russia. Ms. Le Pen has also insisted that the West and Europe cannot afford to isolate Russia and Mr. Putin. She has defended the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and has been against EU sanctions aimed at Russia.
End to open borders
Ms. Le Pen has vowed to crack down on immigration and, during the campaign, she went so far as to call for a complete stop to all immigration. She has often linked immigration with terrorism but has lately toned down that argument and instead connected immigration with unemployment. Her France-first agenda calls for France to ignore so-called detachment rules in the EU that allow companies based in one EU member state to send workers to a branch plant in another member state as long as they pay the local minimum wage. Ms. Le Pen and others have argued that costs jobs in France. She would also impose a tax on companies that hire foreign workers.
And for Canada
Given her protectionist stance, the election of Ms. Le Pen would be a blow to the Canada-EU trade deal and she would likely push for France not to ratify the deal. And if she managed to pull France out of the EU, the union would likely collapse. That too would hurt Canadian trade since the EU is Canada’s second-largest trading partner.