Upcoming elections in France show rising populism in Europe

Marine Le Pen

On April 23, France will hold the first round of its presidential elections. Due to low popularity, current President Francois Hollande announced that he will not be running for reelection, opening up the election to five potential candidates. The current frontrunner, Marine Le Pen from the far-right Front National party, has a comfortable lead in the polls.

Le Pen took over the party leadership from her father and has gained considerable attention this election. She is running on a platform of slashing legal immigration, deporting illegal immigrants, increasing police numbers and prison places. Le Pen also wants to hold a referendum for France to leave the European Union and the Euro similar to the referendum Britain voted on in June.

Many French citizens are drawing comparisons to Front National and Donald Trump’s candidacy for president.

“It’s important to know that the right is using nationalism similar to Trump” says Frank Parigi, a French citizen in Nice. “It’s pretty disappointing, the candidates aren’t exactly good and it’s a shame”.

Francois Fillion, the candidate for the Republicans is considered one of the main challengers to Le Pen. However his campaign has been riddled with scandal surrounding payments made to his wife for her time as an aide in Parliament. Regardless, Fillion wants to enact economic reform through cutting public sector jobs in half and removing taxes on the wealthy. For his foreign policy, Fillion wants to end sanctions on Russia and help President Assad of Syria.

Level in the polls with Fillion is Emmanuel Macron from the Onwards! party. Macron worked as an economic advisor to President Hollande and started the Onwards! party last year. His main goal is building France’s economy by boosting economic growth and checking politicians’ power.

The candidate from current President Hollande’s Socialist Party is Benoit Hamon, who has been named the “French Bernie Sanders” by multiple American media outlets. Hamon is calling for a universal monthly payment for all French citizens regardless of income as well as the legalization of cannabis.

The final candidate is Jean-Luc Mélenchon from the left, Unsubmissive France. Mélenchon is part of the declining center left which is losing the support it once had. Originally Mélenchon was in favor of European interdependence but is now calling for France to leave the EU. He’s gained the support of the French communist party but still remains last at most polls.

French presidential elections are structured differently than the US presidential elections. If none of the candidates receive a majority of the vote, the top two must face off in another election round on May 7. Le Pen currently seems to have a spot secured in the run-off but it is still a toss up who will be joining her. Most polls seem to favor Macron or Fillion however nothing is set in stone. Although Le Pen is favored to win the first round, her chances of winning the second are uncertain.

“Even the parties on the left will ask their voters to vote for a conservative to avoid an extremist to be elected.  So Marine Le Pen is not predicted to win the second round.

Also, since Trump has been elected, he has been acting too weird for the Europeans; his mistakes might help us not to vote so extremist,” said Madame Huet, a French teacher at East who is originally from Normandy. “The European Union has guaranteed 70 years of peace, [one of] the longest in European history. If the Marine Le Pen wins, she will remove France from the European Union.”

Similar to France, the Netherlands’ elections for prime minister have seen a rise in right populism led by Party for Freedom and the party head: Geert Wilders. Wilders calls for leaving the European Union as well as anti-Islamic rhetoric almost parallels Le Pen’s ideology. Similar to Trump, Wilders wanted to take power from what he believes to be the political elites and give it back to the ordinary citizens. The party of the current prime minister, Mark Rutte, People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), held on to the majority of the government since 2012 but faced a tough election cycle. The polls were close all election and although VVD was ahead towards the end, Wilders and his party were a significant challenger. In the end VVD came out victorious winning 33 seats. The VVD’s victory could put a dent in the the rise of populism in Europe and shows that some European voters have rejected the anti-European and anti-Islamic campaigns of populist leaders.

The next election to watch is in France’s neighbor in the east, Germany, who is set to have an election of its own on September 24.  The future of Angela Merkel, the current Chancellor, and her party, the Christian Democrats, is uncertain as the Social Democratic party is gaining more momentum and support as the election draws near. Former European Parliament President Martin Schulz is leading the Social Democrats hoping to bring change to Germany. Schulz is calling for labor reform and wants to be the voice for the everyday citizen. For the first time in ten years the Social Democrats held a lead in the DeutschlandTrend poll. It is too early to tell how close the election will be but it does seem the Merkel and her party could be in for trouble.

After Brexit and Donald Trump’s win, the veracity of polls has been called into question. Although polls in France and Germany may show the likelihood of one candidate winning, there may be a complete upset like in the UK and United States. The world of polling has becoming increasingly speculative and politics have reflected the general shift towards uncertainty. These three elections come at a crossroads in history and could decide the social, economic and foreign policies of these nations and Europe for years to come.

Photo courtesy of New York Times

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