Last Sunday, the main French conservative party, Les Républicains, held their final election to decide the party’s candidate in 2017. While many expected the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to be nominated, he was defeated in the first round of voting. This left the conservatives with a choice between former prime minister of France, Alain Juppe, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s prime minster, François Fillon. Fillon cruised to an easy victory over Juppe, winning about 67% of the vote.
Fillon’s nomination suggests that serious change in France is on the way, no matter who wins in 2017. The current Socialist government, plagued by 5 years of high employment and economic stagnation, has polled abysmally leading up to the race. Last week, current President François Hollande announced he did not intend to run for reelection. Unless the Socialists are able to pull off a miracle and find a candidate, they will be unable to progress to the second round of voting. Polls from November had Hollande at just 7%.
Now, it looks ever more certain that Marine Le Pen’s Front Nacional, which has consistently polled around 25%, will move forward. Historically, the French center-left and center-right have “bitten their tongue” and voted against the Front Nacional in the second round of voting. However, with Fillon on the ballot, the French are now given a choice between the far right and farthest right.
While Fillon is certainly no Le Pen, he does hold extreme views when it comes to economic and social issues. On social policy, like Le Pen, he is in favor of French Laicite and wants to limit the amount of immigrants entering France. On economic policy, however, Le Pen and Fillon could not be more different. While Le Pen wants to keep the French social welfare state in place, Fillon wants to dismantle it. He has laid out a plan that would cut half a million public sector jobs and eliminate over $100 billion in government spending. This would be carried out in conjunction with tax cuts for businesses and the upper class in true Thatcherite fashion. Fillon is playing the role of “anyone but Le Pen,” and he knows it. Yet, based on his rhetoric, it seems that while the Left may be forced to vote for him, he will make few concessions.
The odds are heavily in favor of François Fillon becoming the next president of France. This is not to say that a Le Pen victory is impossible (especially after this year) but if historical trends stick, it will not happen. Change is coming to France next year. While Hollande largely rolled over and accepted Merkel’s use of the ECB to pass her European reform package, Europe’s third largest economy will no longer be taking Brussel’s demands so easily. While 2017 probably will not see a far-right victory in France, the conservative European trend is very much expected to continue.