Future of Europe on the line in polarised French election too close to call

Hard left and right candidates rival centrist Macron as first round approaches

THERE IS THOUGHT to be the slimmest of margins in support between four radically ideologically different candidates heading into the first round of the French elections on Sunday 23 April.

For several months Emmanuel Macron, a centrist pro-EU former Economy minister was ahead of Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front national.

Yet when polls closed for France’s immediate pre-election no poll period, they were so close that any one of the four leading contenders could go on to contest the second ground the second round.

An Ipsos Mori poll, published on Sunday 16 April placed the radical left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon at 20 per cent, just behind Le Pen and Macron, at 22 per cent each.

Francois Fillon, the hard right candidate of the traditional centre right Republican party was at 19 per cent, having struggled through a campaign marked by accusations he provided family members with fake jobs paid for through public funds.

Ben Wray: Mélenchon's French left populism could be the surprise story of 2017

Melenchon, whose policies include a range of social benefits for working class people including retirement at 60, a social housing programme and higher taxes on the wealthiest, has expressed scepticism about the EU.

He said: “The Europe of our dreams is dead. We either change the EU or quit it. As long as you will be under the European budget pact, no progressive policies are possible. We have to get out of the pacts. It is the prerequisite for change.”

Responding to claims that the rich would flee his tax increases, Melenchon said: “I encourage them to travel the world, although preferably not by plane as it is polluting.”

Macron, whose policies are the most mainstream and would maintain most of the legislative status quo in France has said: “We are Europe, we are Brussels, we wanted it and we need it.

“We need Europe because Europe makes us bigger, because Europe makes us stronger.”

Anti-immigration Le Pen, who has been the a vociferous opponent of the EU and has argued for France to exit the EU, said: “Can the Euro survive without France? My answer is no. And that is why I have all the establishment against me.”

Who, what, why: The Commonspace guide to the 2017 French presidential election

Le Pen also argues for the restrictions on the civic rights of religious minorities in France.

Muslim and Jewish groups among others have expressed grave concerns over the possibility

The election is another test for the EU, which was rocked by the UK’s vote to leave in 2016. The health of the EU also has implications for the future of UK negotiations with the EU.

France is also a test for the political polarisation sweeping the western world, with hard right and left parties breaking down the traditional positions of centrist parties and politicians

Europe will also see elections in Germany where another, currently weaker threat is posed to the EU from the Alternative for Deutschland party.

Picture courtesy of ActuaLitté

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is: Pledge your support today.

CommonSpace journalism is completely free from the influence of advertisers and is only possible with your continued support. Please contribute a monthly amount towards our costs. Build the Scotland you want to live in - support our new media.