France nears Presidential election

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Josh O’Toole (’18) sat amongst a sea of 3,500 fellow French nationals, all eyes were on one man: French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. The candidate who is the former Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs held a speech at Westminster Central Hall on February 21.

Macron focused his speech toward improving the lives of French citizens who have come to England for better opportunities. “[Macron] literally said, ‘I know you guys came here because this is what you were looking for, and you couldn’t find that [in France],’ and politicians never say that,” O’Toole said. “He said ‘I’m going to make you come back, I’m going to change mentalities because that’s the critical thing that needs to happen’.”

Many of Macron’s points resonated with O’Toole. He believes that Macron is the best candidate. However, his doubts are still apparent. “When I saw him I was very impressed, he looked very sincere, but I personally think he’s still an actor,” O’Toole said. He believes that Macron is attempting to falsely brand himself as a “new breath of fresh air.”

French Teacher Patrick Marinucci believes that Macron’s candidacy is very strategic. “Macron has played it smart by not revealing too much of his program. I really think that’s his weakness, but in a way it’s also his strength. He’s just giving enough,” Marinucci said. “He’s just waiting for the other ones to collapse [while] he makes his way. I’m not betting anything…but I think he has good chances to become the next president.”

Along with Macron of the independent, newly-formed “En Marche!” party, there are four other candidates in the 2017 French elections. Marine Le Pen is the far right Front National candidate, François Fillon of the center-right Les Républicains, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the left La France Insoumise and Benoît Hamon of the left Parti Socialiste.

Voters will go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of the elections, and again on May 7 when the top two candidates will face off. A candidate needs to secure the majority of the electorate to win the election.

French national Mary Sarfas (’17) believes there apparent negativity surrounding the presidential race. “I’m really not too optimistic at all because I feel like my views don’t really align with any candidate. It’s scary really because I think, like in the U.S. elections, people aren’t voting for a candidate but are voting against one and nothing great seems to come from that,” she said.

One of the central policy-issues being debated by candidates is France’s future within the European Union (EU). Sarfas believes that if Le Pen is elected, France’s borders would be closed off to refugees, putting immense pressure on other European nations.“France is supposed to be the country of fraternity and the right of man, so not only do I feel like closed borders could mean trouble for other countries, but it also shows a shift in the way France is presenting themselves,” she said.

Echoing Sarfas’ statement, Marinucci believes that this election is a pivotal one for France and the EU. “Depending on what will happen… in France and after in the fall in Germany, it could be the beginning of the end of the European community as we know it,” he said.

Another defining aspect of this presidential race has been the controversy surrounding Fillon, former Prime Minister of France, who is under investigation for allegedly paying his wife government funds for little to no work. “He’s completely lost it, he’s given employment to [his wife and] kids. That comes out of taxpayer money,” O’Toole said.

Prior to the allegations, Marinucci believed that Fillon was the favorite to win, because leftist candidates Mélenchon and Hamon don’t appeal to the general French public. “The election for Fillon was almost wide open, the socialists were… destroying each other and Le Pen was still strong, so it was a big, open boulevard for him, and now he might not even make it to the second round. It’s just insane,” he said.

Marinucci is baffled by France’s current political landscape. “If you would have told me that Brexit would pass, that Trump would be the President of the United States and the election would go on as it’s going on now in France, I would’ve said no way,” he said. “I’ve been really shaken up about all this, I didn’t see it coming and I think that we’re in a historical phase of the world that in 20, 30, 50 years we’ll look back and say it all started there.”

Trying to stay optimistic about the future of France, Marinucci highlights Macron as a potential solution to France’s central issues. “If you have something that makes sense and that people can relate to and say ‘okay, we’ll go through tough years but there will be better years coming’ [then voters will accept it],” he said.

However, Macron points to the divergence of French political thinking as a hindrance. “You see the right wing movement getting stronger, and people from the left are rejecting that totally, so instead of getting closer, I think the political world is getting polarized where ideas are becoming extreme,” he said.

O’Toole hopes to see his future president combat the issue of unemployment. “People are losing their jobs. I just want people to be happy, and people are not. People are dissatisfied with the system,” he said.

Placing importance on economic success, Sarfas hopes for the nation to return to its founding ideals. “I think there’s a new class in France of oppressed workers and there’s really no hope for better years ahead for them. I hope to one day go back to France and find the prosperity and culture that France was once so famous for, has returned,” Sarfas said. “I want to see liberty, equality and fraternity for France.”