The first round of France’s much-anticipated election occurred yesterday, with a second round to take place on May 7th. Analysts agree that France’s decision could signal where the rest of Europe is headed.
There were 11 candidates in total, but only 4 of them had any conceivable chance of making it to the next round.
The final polling averages as reported by The Telegraph:
• Centrist Emmanuel Macron 24%
• Far-right Marine Le Pen 22.1%
• Conservative Francois Fillon 19.6%
• Hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon 18.9%
Macron and Le Pen were widely predicted to come out on top. Voter turnout was just over 69%.
Marine Le Pen, 48, is anti-Islam and anti-immigration. She has promised to hold a referendum on France’s membership in the EU within the first 6 months of her presidency. Like Donald Trump, she admires Putin and seeks a closer relationship with Russia.
Le Pen enjoys considerable support from French voters between the ages of 18 and 24, a population that struggles with an unemployment rate of 25%.
Emmanuel Macron, 39, is pro-EU and pro-immigration. He is socially liberal but favors increased control in the marketplace. If elected, he seeks to loosen labor laws and make his country more business-friendly. France needs Europe because “Europe makes us bigger, because Europe makes us stronger,” he said during a campaign speech.
Macron left President Francois Hollande’s socialist government a year ago to found his own political party (En Marche!), which he billed as neither Left nor Right. Polls predict Macron will win in the upcoming run-off with 60% of the vote (but we all know how unreliable polls can be).
“People around the world are watching the election as a litmus test of just how influential the strains of populism and nationalism in Europe have become,” reports Huffington Post.
Most of the defeated candidates called on their supporters to vote for Macron. “Extremism can only bring misfortune and division to France,” said Fillon, warning that a Le Pen win would bring France “to ruin” and plunge Europe into “chaos.”
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate who came in 6th place with just 6.2% of the vote, said he makes “a distinction between a political adversary and an enemy of the Republic.”
Whoever succeeds Hollande will have a lot to deal with.
France has suffered multiple terrorist attacks in the past year, with the most recent occurring Thursday night. The nation’s economy still hasn’t recovered from the European debt crisis of 2009.
The constant threat of terror plus a 10% unemployment rate have led to widespread distrust in the government and a wave of nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment that has fueled Le Pen’s National Front Party.
Other factors that have buoyed the National Front to new heights include the war in Syria and the resulting migration crisis, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, and Donald Trump’s election in the US.
“The first step that will lead the French to the Elysée has been taken,” said Le Pen as she celebrated her victory. “Either we continue on the path of total de-regulation, offshoring, mass immigration, free movement of terrorists, the reign of big money. Or you choose the France of borders that protects your identity. It is time to liberate the French people.”
Editor’s note: This may be the most consequential election in Europe since World War II. With the momentum of the Brexit, the EU could disintegrate over the next few years. On the other hand, status quo could mean that Islamic terrorism continues to send France toward anarchy.