My guess is the majority of Americans don’t really care who wins the French election. The ones who do only really care about it not being Marine Le Pen. Then there’s the special type of US citizen with a rose emoji next to their name on Twitter talking about how Macron is a shill, Hamon is unexciting and Mélenchon is the only way for the French to go. No matter which camp you fall into, none of us really know that much about French politics if we’re being honest. So here’s your handy Paste Magazine guide to round one of the French election coming up on Sunday.
Wait, round one?
Yeah, that’s how the French do things. The only way Sunday will be the end of the line is if one of the candidates gets over 50% of the vote right off the bat. With five major candidates each polling pretty well and even more candidates out on the fringes, that’s pretty unlikely. To clarify, it’s not just unlikely in a “Trump will never win and Brexit will never happen” sense, it’s unlikely in an “it’s practically a mathematical certainty this won’t happen” sense.
France is far from a two-party system, especially in this election. Currently, lefties have three choices out of the main five and right-wingers have two. Even within these broader ideological frameworks, the candidates are all pretty different from each other and chart in all sorts of weird quadrants on that left-right-authoritarian-libertarian graph we’ve all seen.
A Communist-backed member of the Unsubmissive France party—who wants a 100% tax on income over €360,000—may duke it out against a nationalist who wants to turn out immigrants, despite both these candidates agreeing about renegotiating terms with the EU or outright leaving it. Alternatively, the final two might be of the same ideological makeup overall. Or maybe it’ll come down to the two most centrist candidates on opposing sides.
There are a lot of outcomes here but, regardless, the two candidates with the most votes on Sunday will proceed to duke it out until second round voting starts on May 7. Whoever wins that round becomes the president of France.
Marine Le Pen
When it comes to Le Pen and the National Front’s policies, the operative word is “lockdown.” Le Pen wants the borders clamped, French economics to take on a more protectionist bent and more emphasis on national security. She wants to put France first. Wow, who’s this starting to sound like?
There’ll be no tolerance for illegal immigration in Le Pen’s France and legal immigration procedures will be made much more difficult—the National Front wants to reduce legal immigration from 200,000 to 10,000 people to give you a general idea of which direction she wants to head in. All to say, she’s probably not polling well with Muslims, refugees and downtrodden migrants.
In order to make these sorts of sweeping changes to immigration and economic policy, Le Pen will need to rework France’s attachment to the EU. This has some worried about a Frexit and it’s a justified fear. She’s talking a lot about dropping the Euro and the free movement of people amongst European territories is something she clearly has a problem with. Needless to say, if France leaves the union, it’ll be hard for its existence to continue.
This guy really comes across as the Barack Obama of the race. He’s running a “change” campaign despite the fact he largely wants to uphold the status quo and is liberal yet friendly towards big money. A former investment banker—he literally worked for the Rothschilds, if you’re of a conspiratorial bent—and neophyte politician, Macron formed his own party—En Marche!—in the lead-up to this election. For a newbie, he’s doing really well and has a decent shot of taking this whole thing home.
He wants to cut corporate taxes, build bigger prisons, exempt certain low-earners from welfare and wants to inject a ton of money into the economy for stimulus purposes. As for Islam, he’s no fan of burka bans but he also really loves secularism and wants it to continue being emphasized in French society. Also, under his rule, 18 year olds would get a stipend from the government to spend on concert and movie tickets. I’m not kidding.
If you’ve heard of this guy, it’s either because you’re still super angsty about Bernie losing or you read about him appearing as a hologram in six French cities. He’s part of a new(er) party called Unsubmissive France and he’s literally backed by Communists. If you were looking for Sanders on steroids, Mélenchon is your guy.
His critics say he’s a Putin stooge and it’s hard to tell whether that’s a fair critique or not. On the one hand, he’s understandably critical of certain Western shibboleths (aren’t most of us lefties?) and it’s getting pretty tiresome to hear how everyone who’s disgruntled with the status quo must want the Russian autocrat to take over the world. On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore how Mélenchon’s desire to weaken the EU plays right to Putin’s deepest desires. On the bright side, there’s something the far-left and the far-right candidate in this race have in common. So we can all get along after all.
He wants to make use of billions of euros for government stimulus, hopes to tax certain high-earners at 100% past a certain point on their income (i.e. he wants to impose a maximum wage) and increase labor rights. He also wants to weaken his own presidency with a rewrite of the constitution that places more power in the hands of parliament rather than in the executive branch.
Francois Fillion and Benoit Hamon
While Fillion is probably the most experienced in the race, he’s also the most scandal-ridden. He was Sarkozy’s Prime Minister but is also alleged to have embezzled substantial sums of money to pay his wife for work she didn’t actually do. He’s starting to look sort of like the Jeb Bush of this race, a predicted shoe-in who gets shafted. He wants tax cuts, increased spending on defense and massive economic deregulation; he’s against abortion and same-sex marriage but doesn’t seem too keen on trying to make them illegal. So he’s sort of the uncool Macron.
Benoît Hamon, the poor bastard, is running for the Socialist Party at a time when everyone’s fed up with his former boss, fellow party member and current French president, François Hollande. Hamon has as much a right to the “French Bernie” mantle as Mélenchon (he may not be as extreme but he’s still pretty damn leftist) but he just doesn’t seem to have the pizzazz to pull it off.
And there you have it. You can now use the above information to impress (read: annoy) all your friends by showing off your profound grasp of French politics. This is a super close race so make sure to rub it in everyone’s face if you pick the right winner. No one will care but you will, for a moment, feel more important than you actually are! I know that’s what I’ll be doing on May 7 if I get it right.
Can we all make a promise though? No matter who wins the first or second round of this election, let’s not wag our fingers at the voters over in France. Let’s not grandstand and talk about how they should’ve learned from Trump or Brexit or the Turkey referendum or whatever else. They’ve been through some serious shit in the last couple years.
And lastly, these sons of bitches seriously better not elect Le Pen, I fucking swear to God.