Tag Archives: France

France – President Macron: From Jupiter to Janus?

French President Emmanuel Macron has openly declared himself to be an adept of ‘vertical’ relations at the summit of the State. In the Macron presidency, there is little room for doubt: the President determines the main orientations and sets out a roadmap for others to follow and implement. The metaphor of Macron as Jupiter, the god of gods in Roman mythology, is intended to renew with the figure of the Republican monarch, fallen into disuse since Chirac (the absent President), Sarkozy (the fast President) and Hollande (the normal President). Jupiter is above common mortals, and determines the fate even of the most powerful gods. The President is cast as a supra-partisan republican monarch, who symbolizes the State and borrows the trappings of prestige from the pre-Revolutionary monarchy (his victory speech at the Louvre, his reception of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Versailles Palace, where he convoked the Congress a few weeks later) and whose rare parole gives meaning and direction to the Nation. This construction is in obvious contrast with Hollande and his ‘normal’ Presidency. Macron’s positioning is intended not only to signify a return to sources of the Fifth Republic, but equally to impose an image, rather than allow a critical media to dictate a negative image, as in the case of Hollande and Flanby. Jupiter also confers the image of a President above the fray, above the routine competition of parties, suspicious of parliament, alone vested with supreme decision-making authority. Finally, it is a ‘performative’ metaphor: to remind electors that President Macron has renewed with the noble expression of State authority, with the expectation that Saying is equivalent to Doing.

The positive framing of Jupiter was intended to celebrate a return to authority and leadership at the heart of the State, a posture deliberately contrasted with the perceived failings of his three immediate predecessors: Chirac, Sarkozy and Hollande. There is no room for a diarchy at the top. The order of protocol and priorities was clearly demonstrated in early July, with Macron addressing the two houses of parliament united in the Congress at Versailles on July 4th , followed by Philippe presenting the governmental programme to the National Assembly in Paris one day later. A rather classical division of authority between the visionary President and the implementation of the presidential programme by the premier. There are several novel features, however: not only did Macron intervene very closely in the selection of ministerial staffs, down to the offices of individual ministers, but the President and Prime Minister share many advisors, in the main selected by Macron and controlled from the Elysée. A similar concern for control is demonstrated in the attempts to reform the operation of the French parliament, perceived more in terms of a body for scrutiny and control of (presidentially determined) objectives than a site for legislation and deliberation.

Quite apart from the natural bombast involved in comparisons with Roman gods, the Jupiterian phase of the Macron presidency was intended to give a new sense of purpose to political choices, in the register of transformative political leadership. The Jupiter metaphor allowed Macron to announce clearly the reforms that would be undertaken during the course of the quinquennat, to guide the way. After a shaky start (the sacking of the chief in staff of the Army, the poor reception of cuts announced across governmental budgets without prior negotiation [and specifically of the housing benefits], the obvious inexperience of several new ministers and members of the governing LREM party), the early months of the presidency have followed, fairly clearly, the roadmap announced by the President. The law on the moralisation of French politics forbids the practice of employing family members as staffers , and places limits on expense claims. The decrees reforming the Labour Code (enhancing firm-level bargaining, limiting severance pay, reforming the operation of trade unions, especially in the smallest firms, simplifying and unifying staff representative committees in the workplace) are intended to modernize France’s system of industrial relations and encourage investment. The 2018 budget is characterized above all by the powerful symbolic reform of the Wealth Tax (impôt de solidarité sur la fortune) into a tax on property (impôt sur la fortune immobilière), along with the adoption of a 30% ‘flat tax’ to encourage investment in the ‘real’ economy and risk taking. The first budget of the Macron presidency has announced education, defense and culture as spending priorities, with housing, transport and sport the main losers. The main novelty is to move towards a five-year budgetary logic. Announcing spending priorities and commitments across the five year period (2018-2022) is intended to modify the meaning of the annual budget cycle, with a view to ensuring fiscal and policy stability over the medium term and encouraging investment. Forthcoming reforms of the pension sector and of professional training will likely reserve surprises and mobilise opposition. But it would be an act as bad faith to accuse Macron of not putting into operation his campaign promises.

Thus far, Macron has been carried by the favorable winds of change. He represents generational and political renewal and is boosted by a higher than expected rate of economic growth. Nowhere has Macron sought to seize the opportunity more than in the field of European integration. Macron was the only candidate explicitly endorsing enhanced European integration during the 2017 campaign. The drive to reform internally is in part a function of restoring France’s good name: demonstrating the capacity to reform, to withstand the Street, to overcome the usual veto players. His European vision was central to his speech at the Sorbonne (September 26th 2017). Macron called for the elaboration of a new democratic bargain and argued for a renewal of democratic dialogue across Europe in relation to the European project. His vision of Europe and its future renews with a repertory not really seen since Mitterrand in the 1980s and early 1990s. Moving beyond process, and the centrality of the Franco-German relationship, the real questions lies in the substance of the new European grand bargain. It is difficult to see the Germans allowing further mutualisation of euro-debts, or agreeing to enhanced fiscal transfers within the Euro-zone. Macron’s proposal for a super minister for the Eurozone budget has thus far been received politely, but its fate will also be determined in part by the Germans and allies? Will the function of such a minister be to tax and spend? Or to ensure conformity with a strict application of rules, in the German ordo-liberal tradition? Even in the latter case, it is unclear that such a proposal would get German support. And what about creating a euro-zone parliament? Here the main obstacle will come from the European Commission, inter alia, for whom the European parliament already provides a democratic oversight of EU institutions. What about new security and defense cooperation? The post-BREXIT scenario certainly makes such co-operation more likely to materialize, but central and eastern European States, as well as more Atlanticist minded ones, remain attached to the primacy of NATO. And what about new taxes on the GAFA (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon)? There might be a political will to move in this direction amongst many EU states, but there are also determined opponents. The commitment to reform the posted workers directive, finally, will be difficult to achieve. After the German elections, the FPD and the CSU are likely to oppose at least some aspects of Macron’s grand bargain.

In the schema of J.-M. Burns, the style of the Jupiteran president is a transformational one, but the hard transactions are only now beginning. Rather than Juperiterian, Macron is likely to adopt a Janus-style approach, looking both ways, twin-faced, integrating contradictory pressures, conscious of past legacies while attempting to provide leadership and direction. Even the best laid plans can go astray. Has Macron decided on too many objectives? On precise timetables that lay too many hostages to fortune? Or, quite simply, is there too much hyperbole? When the tide turns, the Jupiter metaphor might also give rise to ridicule. But one ought not to under-estimate the transformative potential of Macron: he benefits from a favorable constellation of stars, both domestically and in terms of the post-Brexit EU. Drawing on past presidential legacies is a core part of Macron’s message: especially those of Giscard d’Estaing (1974-1981) and Mitterrand (1981-1995) who provide rather different templates for a leadership vision in the field of European integration. The success of Macron’s presidency will depend in part on whether this vision is performative, whether its guides the actions of others and produces transformation. The jury is still out.

Jean-Louis Thiébault – The president and his party: Emmanuel Macron and La République en Marche (LRM)

This is a guest post by Jean-Louis Thiébault, emeritus professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lille, France.

The analysis of the relationship between the president and his party is an essential factor in understanding presidential or semi-presidential systems. The presidential party provides the cadres, activists and supporters who support the presidential candidate of this party in the conquest and the practice of power. During the presidential campaign, it is transformed into a real political machine in the service of a man who is the candidate of the party. The party is transformed into a presidential party if its candidate is elected. It provides the bulk of the ministers nominated by the elected president to form the government, especially if it receives an absolute majority of parliamentary seats. It votes the texts which constitute the essential elements of the presidential program.

But there are two types of presidential parties. Many of them are traditional parties, long present on the political scene. But fewer of them are newly created, especially by a candidate who does not belong to any party and who wishes to have a political machine capable of supporting him in his conquest of power and in the implementation of its policy. This second type of presidential party resembles one of the different types of “personal parties”, analyzed by Mauro Calise from the example of Italy (1). They are subject to complete control by a presidential candidate on the party he has created himself.

The French presidential election of 2017 showed that three of the main candidates, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and, to a lesser extent, Marine Le Pen, were at the head of a movement that was not a traditional party , but rather a personal party (respectively La République en Marche, La France Insoumise and the Front National). Our analysis takes into account only la République en Marche, which has become a presidential party following the success of Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 presidential election. Pierre Rosanvallon has clearly shown the difference between a traditional party and this new type of party. According to him, a traditional party expresses a social world, territories, a culture. It is a grouping of people who share a certain social or ideological identity. On this basis, its members express opinions that become programs, and choose leaders. The movement acts in reverse: it is a leader who chooses a base. The traditional party relies on the implementation of the classical conception of representative democracy. It is a machine that organizes the representation of a group, while the movement organizes the membership of a leader (2).

The victory of Emmanuel Macron accomplished the trend towards the personalization of the political life that began over a half a century ago. This personalization has long been perceived as a perversion of democracy, particularly in France. In the republican vision, good democracy is impersonal and power must be collegial. In France, ideas, doctrines and programs continued to be a determining criterion. The victory of Emmanuel Macron updates for France an old phenomenon in the United States: the decisive weight of the personality of the candidates in electoral choices. The 1960s saw the advent of a time when the personality of politicians counted infinitely more for voters than the ideas they defended or professed. The election of Emmanuel Macron marks the moment when France joined the ranks of extremely personalized countries.

Pierre Rosanvallon considers that there is a growing phenomenon of personalization and mediatization, but he focuses on another factor. Quoting Thomas Poguntke and Paul D. Webb (The Presidentialization of Politics. A comparative study of modern democracies. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005) , he insists that the rise of executive power has profoundly changed the relationship to personalization. The 5th Republic is part of this general trend of the presidentialization of democracies, whether or not there is a presidential election. Presidentialization is a new development in Western democracies. Rosanvallon therefore considers that there is a growing personalization phenomenon, but that it corresponds everywhere to an increase in the power of the executive (4).

The notion of a personal party seems preferable to that of movement. But we must go further. Indeed, the victory of Emmanuel Macron led to the transformation of his party La République en Marche into a presidential party. The party is already seeking to institutionalize itself in order to be sustainable. It seeks to acquire status and structures. It seeks an articulation with the parliamentary group (5).

But this type of presidential party is indeed marked not only by the weight of institutions, but also by the personalization and mediatization of political life. The influence of Emmanuel Macron on the party is therefore very strong, not only in the electoral period before the parliamentary elections, but also during the formation of the government. It will certainly continue during the period of implementation of the policies made by the president.

But the main problem in a semi-presidential or presidential regime is the autonomy of the presidential party. The analysis of the relations between Emmanuel Macron and his party leads to the observation that the president closely controls the approach of the party.

The presidential party is often second relative to the president. La République en marche (LRM) party did not intervene in the nomination process, as Emmanuel Macron self-proclaimed himself a candidate in the presidential election. The candidates of the party in the legislative elections were chosen by a commission of investiture, under the close supervision of the president. Yet the party became the first party of France at the legislative elections. Macron benefited from a honeymoon election due to his victory in the presidential election. He thus benefited from the pre-eminence of the presidential election, from the lag of legislative elections in relation to the presidential election, and from the rules of the voting system in force, the first-past-the-post system.

1.) La République en Marche (LRM) party was created by Emmanuel Macron. The party is little more than one-year old. However, since June 11, 2017, it is the biggest party in France. In the run up to the legislative elections, the party already changed its name to become La Republique en Marche (LRM). The creation of this party stemmed from the desire to overcome traditional parties. Emmanuel Macron did not want to make a party in the image of those which  had structured the political landscape for a long time. Members of La République en Marche were registered by simple inscription of their personal data on internet. This new type of digital membership has made it possible to garner a spectacular number of members in a very short time. La République en Marche boasts more than 360,000 members. The main lines of the statutes were set by a national convention on 8 july 2017 before being submitted to a vote of the members before the end of July 2017. They provide for free membership, a collegial leadership, three-year non-renewable terms, and an organization based on autonomous local committees. The collegial leadership was chosen to avoid an over-personalization of the party, because the real leader of this new presidential party is Emmanuel Macron. But if membership remains free, only the members of LRM with a certain seniority will be able to vote during the consultations of the party (6). Party leaders want to benefit from the windfall of public party funding to transform the party, where the bulk of the budget would be spent on training activists and leading the debate and not just running costs. For example, they want to set up a system for tracing, recruiting and training new talent. It does not want to be satisfied with a kind of internal self-selection like the traditional parties (7).

2.) The party did not intervene in a nomination process because Emmanuel Macron self-proclaimed himself a candidate for the presidential election. In the recent presidential elections, the traditional parties (RPR-UMP and PS) existed before their candidates. In 2017, Emmanuel Macron created his own political party. He announced his candidacy for the presidential election on November 16, 2016. For several months prior to the announcement, Emmanuel Macron had been preparing for the presidential election of spring 2017, including on April 6, 2016 the creation of his party, the so-called En Marche! Emmanuel Macron placed himself at the center of the political spectrum and wanted to win voters in his name. With his party claiming to be “neither left nor right”, Emmanuel Macron said that he was outside traditional political parties, at a time when many voters were wary of these parties.

3.) The candidates of the party in the legislative elections were chosen by a commission under the supervision of the president. Emmanuel Macron set a new milestone in the construction of his party by launching a process to nominate candidates for the parliamentary elections at a press conference on January 19, 2017. A “call for nominations” process was launched. A national commission, composed of nine members of En Marche !, who committed themselves to not being candidates, was set up. The objective was clear: those who want to join the party must decide without delay. Emmanuel Macron said he was ready to welcome the candidatures of parliamentarians of “all republican formations”, socialists, radicals, ecologists, centrists and republicans. On the other hand, he rejected in advance any “agreement of apparatus”, with “any party whatsoever” (8).

4.) The presidential party benefited from a honeymoon election provided by the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the presidential election. Emmanuel Macron fully understood the logic of the political regime of the 5th Republic established in 1958 and completed in 1962 when the election of the president by universal suffrage was instituted by referendum. In the “republican monarchy” that is France, everything proceeds from the double effect of the presidential logic and a parliamentary majority (9). The presidential party benefited from the popularity of the president. To win in the constituencies, Emmanuel Macron bet on his image, his youth, but also on a skillfully staged authority. He relied on a presidential style that stood out from the communication of his two predecessors. The president’s party therefore benefited greatly from the electoral situation resulting from the presidential election. No opposition parties were able to form a coherent bloc against it. The LRM candidates won by default, because in most constituencies there was no active coordination against them. With different opponents in different constituencies, belonging to different political parties, there was no reason not to expect a big LRM majority (10).

Emmanuel Macron succeeded in occupying the central space and accommodating the heirs of centrism, but also appealed to “left-wing and right-wing” voters. The economic liberalism of Emmanuel Macron could attract right-wing voters, while his cultural liberalism was likely to attract left-wing voters (11).

5.) The presidential party enjoyed the pre-eminence of the presidential election. The presidential party benefited from the pre-eminence of the presidential election over the legislative elections. The victory of La République en Marche (LRM) was the result of the organization of honeymoon legislative elections. French voters did not deceive themselves and gave the president the means of presiding and the government those of governing. The legislative election campaign was not block against block, project against project, but was organised around the dynamic instituted by Emmanuel Macron. None of the three existing opposition parties was regarded by the public as a credible alternative. More than a vote of adhesion, voters made a vote of consistency (12).

Whenever legislative elections take place in the wake of the presidential election, the elected presidents (François Mitterrand in 1981, Jacques Chirac in 2002, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and François Hollande in 2012) their party gained an absolute majority. The only counter-example was 1988 when the PS was forced to rely on the PC or the centrists. Since 2002, and the reversal of the electoral calendar, legislative elections confirm the presidential election. The need to give a majority to the president has never been so strongly felt. It is a real novelty: a political party that was not established managed to win the legislative elections (13).

6.) The presidential party benefited from the majority-plurality system, established in 1958 for legislative elections. LRM benefited from the amplifying effect of this electoral system in legislative elections. While LRM candidates won 32 per cent of the votes cast in the first round, the presidential party secured 308 seats in the National Assembly, at the end of the second round.

The objective of the two-round majority system is to secure a stable parliamentary majority and to provide the president with the means to implement his policy. The 2017 legislative elections have once again fulfilled this objective. The majority is amplified this year by the central position of LRM on the political chessboard.

7.) The presidential party did not intervene in the choice of the prime minister and the members of the government. The choice of the prime minister and the ministers is a choice of the president. The nomination of Edouard Philippe (LR) for the post of prime minister showed the desire to invent a « right-wing and left-wing » dual executive. Edouard Philippe’s appointment is an unprecedented move since, unlike all his predecessors, the new head of government is neither a close political relative, nor a faithful supporter, nor even an ally of the same party as the president. By appealing to the mayor of Le Havre, who claims to be from the right when he comes from the left, Emmanuel Macron invented a completely new executive dyarchy. The formation of the first and second government confirmed his determination to shake up the rules of the political game. With the exception of the first government of Michel Debré under the 5th Republic, it is unprecedented to see men and women from opposing political parties assembled in the same government. The departure of four prominent ministers (Richard Ferrand, Francois Bayrou, Marielle de Sarnez and Syvie Goulart), under a judicial procedure, led Emmanuel Macron to choose ministers who were mostly unknown to public opinion. They are technocrats without large political support or they were young members coming from La République en Marche (LRM), totally faithful. The promise to give prominence to civil society figures was met: half of the members of the first government and seventeen in the second. But the president and the prime minister had to agree on one key point: the number of ministries reserved to right-wing ministers. The prime minister’s political relatives set their conditions for participating in government (14).

8.) The presidential party intervenes little in the organization of the parliamentary majority. The president intends to organize the parliamentary majority. LRM has a large majority in the National Assembly, with 308/577 elected deputies. Candidates were elected because of the presidential label. But it was difficult for Macron not to meet the demands of his centrist MODEM allies (42 elected MPs) and about 20 members of the Republican (LR) party, who announced their willingness to form an independent group with the eighteen deputies of The Union of Independent Democrats (IDU). This new parliamentary group is expected to approach some 50 members.

The president actively participates in the selection of key positions, even if the formal decision does not belong to him: the presidency of the National Assembly, the presidencies of the parliamentary committees, and especially the presidency of the LRM group. Emmanuel Macron keeps an attentive, if not active, eye on the choice of the holder of the post of president of the National Assembly, who is the fourth personage of the state in order of protocol. He pleaded for the installation of a woman as president of the National Assembly. But he made the choice of experience by supporting the candidacy of François de Rugy. His knowledge of the institution (he was vice-president of the National Assembly during the last parliamentary term) made him appear to be the only candidate likely to organize the parliamentary work without being overwhelmed by the leaders of the opposition. In the aftermath of the second round of legislative elections, Emmanuel Macron asked Richard Ferrand to leave his post as Minister of Territorial Cohesion to take up the presidency of the LRM group in the National Assembly. By sending Richard Ferrand to the Assembly, Emmanuel Macron appointed one of his political relatives and the first of the faithful. The election was held on June 24, 2017, at a meeting of all LRM members. Richard Ferrand was the only candidate and he was elected unanimously, with two abstentions.

9.) The presidential party does not intervene in the choice of the holders of the administrative posts of the administration. During the first two months of his five-year term, Emmanuel Macron intends to change or, on the contrary, to confirm “all the executive positions in the public service ». Unprecedented in the history of the Fifth Republic, the approach evokes the “spoil system” in force in the United States. These are the “250 posts, filled in the council of ministers”. Emmanuel Macron intends to give full value to the traditional system of revocation “ad nutum” of the so-called “government’s discretionary” jobs, relying on the loyalty of the senior officials in the ministries who draft laws, implementing decrees and interpretative circulars (15).

Conclusion

The new party, la République en Marche, created by Emmanuel Macron, is not only a personal party, but it became a presidential party following the presidential victory of its founder. It is currently in a process of being institutionalized. This is the result of the impact of the institutions of the 5th Republic. They lead to the president’s hold on his party. But the personality of Emmanuel Macron, his style of government, and his ideas are also essential factors to be taken into account in order to understand the president’s close control over the party.

Notes

(1) Mauro Calise, Il partito personale : I due corpi del leader. Bari : Editori Laterza, nuova edizione 2010 ; Mauro Calise, “The personal party: An analytical framework” , Italian Political Science Review, Vol. 45, no. 3, 2015, 301-315.

(2) Pierre Rosanvallon (interview with Saïd Mahrane), « La nouvelle géographie politique », Le Point, 18 mai 2017 ; see also Michel Offerlé, « Les partis meurent longtemps », Le Monde, 31 mai 2017 ; Enrico Letta, « La victoire des mouvements sur les partis », Le Monde, 10 mai 2017).

(3) Thomas Poguntke and Paul D. Webb, The presidentialization of politics. A comparative study of modern democracies. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005.

(4) Pierre Rosanvallon (interview with Gérard Courtois), « Droite-gauche. Histoire d’un clivage », Le Monde, 17 juin 2017 ; Pierre Rosanvallon (interview with Béatrice Bouniol), « La refondation démocratique est la clé du quinquennat », La Croix, 9 mai 2017.

(5) Marc Lazar, « La République en Marche aura-t-elle un destin à l’italienne ? », Le Figaro, 26 juin 2017.

(6) Cédric Pietralunga, « Macron s’attelle à la structuration de son parti », Le Monde, 9-10 juillet 2017 ; Christine Ollivier, « Edouard Philippe fait la leçon aux Marcheurs », Journal du Dimanche, 9 juillet 2017.

(7) François-Xavier Bourmaud, « Comment le mouvement entame sa mue pour incarner le premier parti de France », Le Figaro, 13 juin 2017).

(8) Patrick Roger, « Emmanuel Macron lance un appel à candidatures pour les législatives » Le Monde, 19 janvier 2017.

(9) Françoise Fressoz, “Macron et la logique de la Ve République”, Le Monde, 13 juin 2017.

(10) Matthew S. Shugart, “France 2017: Round 4 (Honeymoon elections and presidentialization matter !)”, Fruits and Votes blog, june 18, 2017; Matthew S. Shugart, “France 2017: Honeymoon election time !)”, Fruits and Votes blog, june 11, 2017.

(11) Pascal Perrineau, « Aux sources idéologiques et politiques du macronisme », Le Figaro, 14 juin 2017.

(12) Guillaume Tabard, ” Les raisons d’un vote probable de confirmation “, Le Figaro, 10-11 juin 2017.

(13) Nicolas Rousselier, (interview with Pierre Steinmetz et Maël Thierry), « Une majorité presque encombrante pour le vainqueur », L’Obs, 15 juin 2017 ; Nicolas Rousselier (interview with Patrick Roger), « Le présidentialisme se retrouve plus gagnant que jamais », Le Monde, 4-5-6 juin 2017 ; Nicolas Rousselier (interview with Emmanuel Berretta), « Macron peut-il ubériser la Ve République ? », Le Point, 11 mai 2017.

(14) Bastien Bonnefous, Matthieu Goar et Solenn de Royer, « Onze secondes pour fracturer la droite », Le Monde, 17 mai 2017 ;

(15) Bertrand Bissuel, « Le président veut ‘mettre sous tension’ les hauts cadres de l’Etat », Le Monde, 17 mai 2015

References

Emmanuel Macron’s books and articles.

Emmanuel Macron, Révolution. Paris : XO, novembre 2016, 270p.

Macron par Macron. Paris : Editions de l’Aube, collection Le 1 en livre, mars 2017, 152p.

Emmanuel Macron, « Le devoir de rester fidèles », préface à l’ouvrage de Jean-Paul Huchon, C’était Rocard. Paris : Editions de l’Archipel, 2017.

« Macron, un philosophe en politique », Le 1, 6 juillet 2015.

Emmanuel Macron, « Les labyrinthes du politique », Le Monde, 27 mai 2017.

Emmanuel Macron, « Le monde et l’Europe ont besoin de la France », Le Monde, 27 mai 2017 (Text of the investiture speech at the Elysee Palace).

Emmanuel Macron, « Tous les ans, je reviendrai devant vous pour vous rendre compte », Le Monde, 5 juillet 2017 (Text of the speech before the Congress meeting in Versailles).

Emmanuel Macron, (interview with Nicolas Domenach, Bruno-Roger Petit, Maurice Szafran et Pierre-Henri de Menthon), « Macron ne croit pas au ‘président normal, cela déstabilise les Français’ », « Face au système politique, ‘ma volonté de trangression est forte’ », « Gare à la ‘République qui devient une machine à créer du communautarisme’ », Challenge, 16 octobre 2016.

Emmanuel Macron (interview with Etienne Lefebvre, Nicolas Barré, Dominique Seux, Grégoire Poussielgue, Renaud Honoré), «Mon projet économique », Les Echos, 23 avril 2017.

Emmanuel Macron (interview with Bastien Bonnefous, Nicolas Chapuis, Cédric Pietralunga et Solenn de Royer), «Je ne prétends pas être un président normal », Le Monde, 3 avril 2017.

Emmanuel Macron, (interview with Arthur Berdah, François-Xavier Bourmaud, Marcelo Westfreid, Alexis Brézet), « Je veux réconcilier les Français », Le Figaro, 28 avril 2017.

Books and articles on Emmanuel Macron

François Bazin, Rien ne s’est passé comme prévu. Les cinq années qui ont fait Macron. Paris : Robert Laffont, 2017, 489p.

François-Xavier Bourmaud, Emmanuel Macron. Les coulisses d’une victoire. Paris : L’Archipel, 2017, 288p

Marc Endeweld, L’ambigu Monsieur Macron. Paris : Flammarion, 2017, 336p.

Anne Fulda, Emmanuel Macron. Un jeune homme si parfait. Paris : Plon, 2017, 288p.

Nicolas Prissette, Emmanuel Macron. Le président inattendu. Paris : First, 2017, 240p.

Soazig Quéméner et Alexandre Duyck, L’irrésistible ascension d’Emmanuel Macron. Paris : Flammarion, 2017, 304p

Raphaëlle Bacqué et Ariane Chemin, « Macron, le nouvel âge du pouvoir », Le Monde, 9 mai 2017

Bruno Cautres, « Ce qui fait Macron », Le Monde, 8 avril 2017

Charlotte Chaffanjon, « La fabrique d’un chef », Le Point, 11 mai 2017.

Elie Cohen, Gérard Grunberg, « L’avènement d’Emmanuel Macron : crise de système ou accident industriel ? »Telos.eu, 19 juin 2017

Gérard Courtois, « Emmanuel Macron, une philosophie du pouvoir », Le Monde, 27 mai 2017.

Jean Garrigues, « Le vainqueur du 7 mai restaure le mythe de l’homme providentiel », Le Monde, 14-15 mai 2017.

Arthur Goldhammer, « Macron’s part wins a parliamentary majority », Foreign Affairs, june 18, 2017.

Jacques Julliard, « Le macronisme, un néo-gaullisme ? », Le Figaro, 6 juin 2017 .

Bruno Palier (interview with Frédéric Joignot), « A la scandinave ? Pas vraiment », Le Monde, 8 avril 2017.

Pascal Perrineau, « Aux sources idéologiques et politiques du macronisme », Le Figaro, 14 juin 2017.

Serge Raffy, « La prise de l’Elysée », L’Obs, 11 mai 2017.

Philippe Raynaud (interview with Eugénie Bastié), « Le chef de l’Etat a compris les erreurs de ses prédécesseurs », Le Figaro, 19 mai 2017.

Nicolas Truong, « Petite philosophie du macronisme », Le Monde, 16 mai 2017

 

France – Honeymoon legislative election returns a huge majority for President Macron. Of course it does!

On Sunday 11th June, the first round of the French legislative election was held. On Sunday 18th the second round took place. Given the results of the previous week, Sunday’s election provided few surprises. There were some notable individual results: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front national (FN), was elected, even if her party did badly overall; Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the left party, La France Insoumise (LFI), was also returned and his party won enough seats to constitute a group in parliament, giving him speaking time; the former Socialist (PS) prime minister, Manuel Valls, was also returned, though only by a whisker and as a non-aligned candidate, indeed the Socialists had actively campaigned against him; Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who is a high-profile figure from the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) and who had been the victim of an attack in the street while campaigning during the week, an attack that left her unconscious for a while, was defeated. However, the main event was the huge majority won by President Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party. Winning just 28.2% of the votes cast in the first round seven days before, the party ended up with about 300 seats in the 577-seat legislature after the second round. With the support of its MoDem ally, which won about 4.2% of the vote at the first round, President Macron now has the support of over 350 deputies in the legislature. This nice figure from Laurent de Boissieu’s blog neatly captures the many different components of the new French Assembly, but also indicates the huge majority for LREM and MoDem.

How did this happen? After all, before the first round of the presidential campaign, between the two rounds, and immediately after Macron’s victory, there were fears or claims that his party would not win a legislative majority and that he would not be able to govern, dragging France back to the bad old days of the Fourth Republic. Worse still, there were those who thought that he would face a period of cohabitation.

This was not the worry of a few isolated individuals. After the first round of the legislative election, L’Express put up a nice montage of politicians who argued that cohabitation was inevitable. But it wasn’t just politicians. At a certain point, Twitter got in a total fuss about the likelihood of cohabitation, though that’s what Twitter does.

But not everyone was so worried. Matthew Shugart said that the idea there would be a period of cohabitation was “nonsense“. And modesty almost, but not quite, forbids me from noting that we adopted a similar argument here.

What we have witnessed is instructive from a political science point of view. There is a well developed literature on how the legislative party system is shaped by direct presidential elections. (Anyone wanting a copy of the article with the literature review should just e-mail me). To simplify only a little, this work shows that when legislative elections follow shortly after the direct election of a powerful president, they typically return a presidential majority. This is exactly what we saw in France in 2017. For sure, the general argument is probabilistic, not deterministic. But the association is strong. The probability is high. So, the academic work hasn’t just generated something amounting to a reasonable guess that a certain outcome would occur. It suggested that there was a very good chance that Macron would get at least a working majority. In the end, he won the support of a huge majority, bigger than most academics had expected. The literature, though, was basically right. Why?

Well, the academics who have investigated this topic have made their argument on the basis of a statistical relationship, but they have also identified certain causal mechanisms to explain why we should expect honeymoon legislative elections to return a presidential majority. These mechanisms are all very general. They don’t always easily apply to specific countries. That’s all we can expect in large-n studies. However, and at the risk of committing an egregious ecological fallacy, the France 2017 case illustrates how these causal mechanisms can play out under local-level conditions.

We know that presidential elections are often the catalyst for party system realignments. This has been true in France before, but the evidence that this was going to be a realigning election was present even before the presidential election had finished. The election was catastrophic for the PS. It was hopelessly split and faced a strong challenge to its left. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a weakened state did not bode well for the PS. The presidential election also generated splits within LR. There were those, like the former prime minister, Alain Juppé, who were willing to work with LREM in a future Assembly, whereas there were others who were not. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a divided state did not bode well for LR. The FN was also in trouble. Le Pen did well to get through to the second ballot of the presidential election, but she did not perform as well as expected. The party’s support had been slipping even prior to her disastrous presidential debate with Macron. In the end, she was decisively beaten at the second round. After the election, there were reports that Le Pen was exhausted; the party was demoralised; there were also splits within the FN, even though it had done historically well. So, going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a state did not bode well for the FN either. In other words, presidential elections upend party systems. We saw how this general idea played out specifically in France in 2017.

A similar point applies to abstention rates. We know that abstention rates are higher in honeymoon legislative elections relative to the presidential election. We also know that it is typically the voters of the parties that lost the presidential election who stay at home. So, even when the presidential election does not generate a party system realignment of the sort that we saw in France in 2017, we should still expect the new president’s party to be the biggest beneficiary of the higher abstention rate at the legislative election. Again, this is exactly what happened in France. But it’s what we would expect to have happened.

There was a further element too. Macron’s victory at the presidential victory was bigger than expected. Thus, he had momentum. Once in office, he also had some excellent photo opportunities, meeting European and world leaders, even upstaging Donald Trump in the handshake stakes. There were one or two relatively minor concerns with his government, but by and large he kept his presidential promises in terms of government formation. In other words, presidential elections give the victor the potential to act, well, presidentially. This presidential lustre can rub off on to the president’s party at the legislative election. This is exactly what happened. In other words, like other presidents in a similar context, Macron benefited at the legislative elections from being the newly-elected president.

Of course, there are always local, idiosyncratic conditions. The electoral system clearly exaggerated the gains for LREM. But LREM was particularly well placed to benefit from the system. As a centrist party, it could win the support of right-wing voters who wanted to keep out left-wing candidates in LREM/left second-round duels; it could win the support of left-wing voters who wanted to keep out LR candidates in LREM/LR duels; it could also win the support of pretty much everyone in LREM/FN duels. So, strategically, it was better placed than some parties in equivalent situations. This particularity helped to inflate its majority. Also, Macron was not a long-time incumbent who had just been re-elected. He was a new figure and for some he did generate an enthusiasm for a new form of politics. In France 2017, all these local conditions worked in favour of his party at the legislative election. In other cases, they might not be present, helping to ensure that the relationship between presidential elections and legislative elections is not deterministic.

We are encouraged to talk confidently about our work (that’s Twitter again!), even when we do not always have grounds to be as confident as all that. More than that, we only have to look at opinion polling to see that even in an area where there has been a huge amount of research, where the sample is very large, and where there is competition in the academic market, we can still get things wrong. So, we should be modest about what we claim and certainly what we predict. However, we were on strong grounds to claim that cohabitation was very unlikely in France in 2017. We have an idea about the general processes. The  local conditions were ripe. In short, politicians and Twitter didn’t need to get in such a fuss.

Of mechanics and engineering: institutional continuities and partisan realignment in Macron’s France

How time flies! Since the last blog entry, Emmanuel Macron has been elected President and the pro-Juppé former mayor of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe, named Prime Minister at the head of a broad-based government comprising heavyweights from the PS ( Jean- Yves Le Drian, Gérard Collomb), middleweights from LR (Gerard Darmintin and Bruno le Maire) and various members of ‘civil society’ with impeccable professional credentials, but who must be considered as lightweights in terms of their former political experience. On May 7, there was a mild controversy over whether Macron had been well-elected or not. His victory had been announced in advance (no opinion poll gave him less than 58% on the run-off), but it was more comfortable than initially imagined (in the proportion of two-thirds/one-third). The metropolises and sizeable cities overwhelmingly voted for Macron; 85% in Lyon, 83% in Marseilles, almost 90% in Paris, 78% in Lille (against just over 50% for the department of the Nord as a whole). The small towns and countryside voted for Marine Le Pen – in places, at least. The geographical fracture widely commented on the first round was repeated, though only 2 departments in mainland France gave Marine Le Pen a majority. Still, with over 10 million electors, Marine obtained the best score ever for the FN – and more than doubled the total number of votes by comparison to her father in 2002. Emmanuel Macron polled over 20,000,000, well ahead of Sarkozy in 2007 and Hollande in 2012. Only around 40% of Macron electors declared in post-election surveys that their vote was motivated by explicit support for the new President, and optimism for the programme or the candidate rather than a rejection of the Le Pen alternative. The record abstention rate (51.3%) on the first round of the parliamentary elections on June 11th confirmed the sense of unease.

The main argument in this blog entry moves on from attempts to define the meaning of Macron to consider one of the paradoxes thrown up by the 2017 contest. One of the core themes in post-electoral analyses has highlighted the crisis of party politics, with the governing parties of the Fifth Republics – Gaullist and Socialists – relegated to the second division, or at least not winning through to the second round. At the same time as the old world of left-right partisan politics has appeared to be crumbling at the edges, two key mechanisms of presidential power have reaffirmed their pertinence: the confirmation election and the presidential party.

The parliamentary elections are chiefly interesting in that they provide mechanisms of institutional continuity in the midst of great political uncertainty and change. The first of these mechanisms is the confirming election (election de confirmation). Since the 2000 constitutional reform and the inversion of the electoral calendar, there has been a powerful institutional incentive to provide the victorious President with the ‘means to govern’, by way of a large parliamentary majority. Of course, the presidential call for the ‘means of to govern’ precedes 2002; most notably, in 1981, when victorious Socialist President Mitterrand called on the people to ‘give me the means to govern’ and implement the 110 propositions, his presidential programme. But the relationship has become more mechanical since the 2000 reform changed the order of the electoral contests to ensure that the ‘decisive’ presidential election came before the ‘confirmatory’ parliamentary contest. Certainly, the figures have produced rather different variations of the presidential bonus since 2002, but on each occasion, a party with a plurality of votes on the first round achieved an absolute majority of seats after the second: the UMP in support of President Chirac in 2002, the UMP for Sarkozy in 2007 and the PS for Hollande in 2012. The first round of the 2017 parliamentary election spectacularly confirmed the trend: with 32.5% of first round votes, LREM is well on its way to obtaining the overall parliamentary majority called for by President Macron (estimates range from 390 to 430 seats after the second round). The flip side is that this Herculean majority, elected to support a Jupiterean President, was based on a record low turnout (48.7) for a parliament election. The confirming election is implicitly based on a lesser popular mandate (hence legitimacy) than the decisive presidential contest, though this distinction is nowhere formally recognised.

The second mechanic is the return of the presidential party, or the majority elected primarily to support an incumbent President. True, the presidential party is a contested concept, most notably on the left of French politics, where many Socialists never really bought into Mitterrand’s instrumental marriage of the incentive structure of the presidential institutions and the revival of party fortunes. And certainly, no presidential party was ever the same. De Gaulle’s UNR had facets of a personal rally to a leader vested with a particular historic legitimacy, but it collapsed once the General had gone. Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s attempts to build the Independent Republicans/Republican Party into the cornerstone of his Union for French Democracy (UDF) never really succeeded. In an earlier version of the irreconcilable forces on the French centre and right, the UDF managed to balance the Gaullist RPR for a while, but failed to provide the bedrock of parliamentary and political support required to underpin the Barre government (1976-81). Giscard d’Estaing’s failure to build a cohesive presidential majority undermined the cohesion of the 1974-81 mandate. And contrast the record of Mitterrand’s two terms. The election of a PS majority to back the President one of the core features of the 1981 elections. Though it was never easy with the Socialists, and though divisions within the party were also apparent in 1981-83 (especially over the aftermath of the u-turn of 1983), the political resource represented by an overall majority ensured that Mitterrand got his way – even in terms of a highly contested reform of the electoral system for the 1986 parliamentary election. Contrast this situation with that post-1988: victoriously re-elected President, Mitterrand failed fully to capitalize in the ensuing parliamentary elections. The period of minority Socialist government under Rocard relied heavily on the use of article 49, 3 to undertake a governmental programme and, quite simply – survive and govern without a real majority. The UMP (2002-2012) reverted to form: the party of the ‘right and the centre’ was largely ignored by the successive Presidents (Chirac, Sarkozy) who saw its main function as being to organize the President’s supporters in parliament.

Macron’s coronation is not complete without the presidential majority that he has called for – and that he looks supremely well placed to deliver after the second round of voting on June 18th. The confirmatory election will thus have contributed to the election of a presidential majority under the colours of LREM, to support President Macron. The third dimension takes the form of an unwritten rule, rather than a proper mechanism; the size of the presidential majority might shape the behavior of the pro-presidential majorities when elected. Recent evidence from the Hollande period illustrated the dangers of lacking a genuine majority; from the outset, the frondeurs made the President’s life a misery and undermined the effectiveness of his governments. One would not wish such a fate for Emmanuel Macron. On the other hand, a large majority, returning deputies will no parliamentary experience, will produce its own form of tension. The danger for Macron might lie in the return of an overwhelming majority. The newly elected President will be well advised to keep the MODEM on board and prolong the coalition with the Macron-compatible elements of the PS and LR whatever the final outcome on June 18th 2017.

France – Macron and Cohabitation: Don’t Worry About It

On Sunday, Emmanuel Macron topped the poll at the first round of the French presidential election. This was in line with the polls, but it marked a shift in established French politics. Since 1981, elections have been won by candidates of the mainstream left or the right. These candidates have either immediately dissolved the legislature and returned a supportive majority, or they have won such a majority at the legislative elections that since 2002 have been held a month after the presidential election. The bottom line is that French presidents since 1981 have effectively begun their term in office with majority support in the legislature.

Macron is different because he is a centrist. He is also different because he does not have an established political party backing him. His movement is called en Marche! (or On The Move!). Macron is likely to win the second round of the presidential election. However, he has not yet chosen en Marche! candidates for the legislative elections that take place on 11 and 18 June. There are 577 seats to be elected at these elections. This has led to fears or speculation that Macron will not win a legislative majority in the June elections. Worse, it has led to claims that Macron would immediately be faced with a period of cohabitation. In this context, it is worth thinking a little about what is meant by cohabitation and why Macron is unlikely to have to worry about it.

Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different and opposing parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet at all. France provides the archetypal examples of cohabitation. Here, it has occurred three times – 1986-88, 1993-95 and 1997-2002. Cohabitation occurs because a party or coalition opposed to the president has an absolute majority in the legislature. This forces the president to appoint a PM and government that has the support of that majority and, therefore, that is also opposed to the president. The president is alone in the Council of Ministers without any supporters.

In this context, it is also worth thinking a little about what cohabitation doesn’t involve. It isn’t the situation where the president has formed a governing coalition that includes his supporters, perhaps including the prime minister, but where relations with the legislative majority are difficult, and where the president is unable to pass legislation in exactly the form that she wants. In other words, a weak, constrained, or even legislatively emasculated president is not necessarily a cohabitation president.

Cohabitation, therefore, is a very specific situation. It is clearly observable. Here is a list of all cohabitations that have ever occurred.

So, assuming Macron is elected president on 7 May, will he face a period of cohabitation six weeks later following the legislative elections? Matthew Shugart has convincingly argued that he will not. I agree. No period of cohabitation has never occurred when a presidential election has been followed by such a quick honeymoon legislative election. (In Portugal, the January 1991 presidential election was followed by the October 1991 legislative election. So, it is questionable whether this was a honeymoon election at all. Also, there was cohabitation prior to the presidential election, after the presidential election, and the legislative election confirmed the period of cohabitation. So, the political context was very different. A similar point applies to the Czech Republic after the January 2013 presidential election.) Cohabitation just doesn’t happen under the circumstances that will soon occur in France. So, don’t worry about it.

This is not to say, though, that any future President Macron will necessarily be supported by an en Marche! majority in the Assembly. French political history suggests various scenarios are possible in this regard.

The 1988 presidential election provides one possible scenario. Then, President Mitterrand dissolved the legislature immediately after his re-election. The Socialist party and their allies were returned with only a relative majority, but the divided opposition meant that the socialists were nonetheless able to govern effectively for the next five years without forming a coalition.

A further scenario is the one that occurred in 1958. This was the founding legislative election of the new Republic. It was before France had direct presidential elections. So, the context was very different. However, it did follow the referendum on the Constitution in September 1958, which was effectively a plebiscite on de Gaulle. At the November 1958 election the gaullist party was returned with only a relative majority. However, other deputies who were returned under a different party label were willing to support de Gaulle. My understanding is that some of these deputies were given the support of the gaullists at the election itself. So, they owed their election at least in part to de Gaulle. The government was a coalition, but the coalition also had the support of other deputies within the Assembly. Macron has promised to stand en Marche! candidates everywhere, but if he is not able to select 577 of them between 7 May and the elections, he may simply endorse existing right and left-wing deputies. With a cohort of en Marche! deputies and the support of these others, he is likely to reach a working majority. Even if he does stand candidates everywhere, he is still likely to endorse candidates of other parties at the second ballot of the legislative election in constituencies where his en Marche! candidates have been defeated. This could be difficult for Macron to manage and maintain, but it will not be cohabitation.

The other scenario is more straightforward. Macron may simply form a coalition with other parties. The Socialist party is likely to splinter after the election. There are also centrist and centre-right parties such as the UDI and Modem. With his en Marche! deputies, Macron may be able to build a coalition along the lines of the one forged by President Giscard d’Estaing in the mid-1970s. This could also be problematic to keep together in the long run, but it is not cohabitation.

So, parliamentary politics after the June legislative elections in France will be interesting and could be difficult for Macron, but commentators should not unduly worry about cohabitation occurring. Certainly, commentators should stop labelling something as cohabitation that isn’t.

France – A Very Unpredictable Election

The 2017 French presidential election has proven to be one of the most unpredictable ever. Just before Christmas, the election promised to be very boring. François Fillon, who had recently won the right-wing primary, was a shoe-in. He and Marine Le Pen were far ahead of any other candidates in the polls and Fillon was easily beating Le Pen at the second ballot. Four months on, these two candidates could still qualify for the second round in which case Fillon would most likely still win. However, it is now only one of a number of possible scenarios with the outcome of the first and second rounds of the election still very much in the air.

There are 11 candidates. There is Marine Le Pen, an extreme-right wing populist; François Asselineau, a right-wing populist; Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a populist conservative; François Fillon, a conservative populist; Jean Lassalle, an anti-European centrist; Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European centrist, Benoît Hamon, a left socialist; Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a leftist socialist; Nathalie Arthaud, a neo-Trotskyist; Philippe Poutou, a neo-neo-Trotskyist; and Jacques Cheminade, a cheminadiste. There are eight avowedly anti-European candidates, some of whom are competing with each other to claim that they would be the first to withdraw France from the EU. There are also at least nine conspiracy theorists, even though they disagree about which occult forces are responsible for what.

From this motley bunch, four candidates have emerged – Le Pen, Fillon, Mélenchon, and Macron. A fifth candidate, Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the left-wing of the Socialist party (PS) and winner of the left-wing primary in January, has since faded away, with the polls showing that he is unlikely to reach double figures. This doesn’t bode well for the survival of the PS after the election, not least because various incumbent ministers and senior party figures, including the former PM, Manuel Valls and the former mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, have refused to support their party’s own candidate and have backed Macron. The only other candidate who has caused any ripples in the election is Philippe Poutou, the candidate of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (not the old one, note). He caused a stir in the presidential debate a couple of weeks ago with a brilliant one-liner in relation to the personal and party scandals that have dogged Le Pen’s and particularly Fillon’s campaign. He was a breath of fresh air in the debate, but he hasn’t been rewarded with a meaningful bump in the polls.

Since 1974, the French presidential election has been a battle between left and right. The interaction of two factors has changed things this time. The first was the left- and right-wing primary elections. They returned candidates from the relative extremes of their electoral groupings. On a scale from 0 (extreme-left) to 10 (extreme-right), the PS chose Hamon with a score of 2.8 and the right chose Fillon with a score of 8.1. Their main left and right-wing challengers are Mélenchon, who comes in at 1.5, and Le Pen at 9.1 respectively. This left a huge gap in the centre that Macron with a score of 5.2 was able to fill. This gave him the space to put across a difficult message in the current era – he is pro-European and wants the prudent management of the economy. He has been lucky in that the primaries meant that he has been able to differentiate himself from all other candidates with such a message. At the same time, he has also managed to avoid any gaffes. In addition, the Russians have not been able to target him successfully. Faute de mieux perhaps, he is still the most likely president. The second factor was the series of personal scandals that hit Fillon and his inability to react to them other than petulantly. This led to a dramatic decline in the polls. The interaction effect comes from the fact that because Fillon was selected in the right-wing primary, it was subsequently very difficult to get rid of him when he became toxic. There was no obvious mechanism for standing him down and in any case the person who replaced him would immediately have been branded a ‘loser’. Fillon also had no intention of going anywhere. So, he stayed in the race and the right had to accept the fact. He has since clawed his way back and he is now within a margin-of-error of qualifying for the second ballot.

The recent surprise has been Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He was a candidate in 2012. Then, his support increased from about 8% to a high in one poll of 17% in mid-April. However, he finished with a score of 11.1%. Five years later, he was running at about 11% in the polls in March and has reached a high of 20% in one poll only recently. This time he hopes to maintain his momentum. Mélenchon’s stock (an inappropriate metaphor in his case) has risen since the televised debate a couple of weeks ago. He has mainly benefited from the decline of the PS candidate. At the beginning of March the two left-wing candidates were equal at about 12.5 per cent each. Now Mélenchon is at about 18 per cent and Hamon around 7 per cent. In other words, support for the left has not really increased, but within the left Mélenchon now dominates. He needs Hamon’s support to fall to below 5 per cent to maximise his chances of winning through to the second ballot. Mélenchon is anti-European, arguing that France should leave the EU if a list of impossible-to-agree-to demands is not agreed to. He also believes that France should withdraw from NATO. He is not against all international alliances, though, because he is in favour of linking with Cuba and Venezuela in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. He has also refused to blame the Assad regime for the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria. He believes that the war there is all about gas pipelines. He may yet qualify for the second ballot.

So, three days out from the first round there is a four-way contest.

Macron is still best placed. However, we should be wary of the polls in his regard. He has no party. He has no electoral history. In this context, how should pollsters adjust their raw data to get an accurate picture of his support? Who knows? In short, the polls could be greatly overestimating his support (or even greatly underestimating it). What’s more, a lot of people have yet to make up their minds. Typically, this involves left-wing voters being indecisive about which left-wing candidate to vote for and the same for right-wing voters. This time, though, people are also unsure about whether to vote for the centre rather than either the right or the left. They could choose to go with the left or the right, probably meaning Fillon in reality. Macron was weak in the televised debate. En même temps, his centrist moderation is also being increasingly lampooned. He looks well placed, but he could be the most disappointed on election night.

Mélenchon could also get through to the second ballot, especially if PS and Green voters completely choose to desert Hamon. He is the least likely of the top four to qualify.

For his part, Fillon is proving remarkably resilient. He has the advantage that there is some sort of party organisation behind him and a cohort of committed right-wing voters who want to support him. He has put some of them off with his scandals, but there could be enough for him to win through. I wouldn’t write him off at all. In fact, Bruno Jérôme and Véronique Jérôme have just issued a new Nowcast that shows Fillon going through to the the second ballot, confirming the worst fears of Macron’s supporters.

This leaves Le Pen. She has had a terrible campaign from her perspective. Amid rumours of party infighting, she has abandoned attempts to build some sort of coherent Trump-esque coalition and has fallen back on her most egregregiously atavistic historical revisionism and anti-immigration discourse. Her core supporters remain delirious at her campaign rallies, though, and there is no doubt that she will win the support of new voters who are fed up with everyone. However, she has not campaigned well. On the one hand, she hasn’t tried to win the support of moderate voters. On the other, she has been overtaken at the extremes by some other candidates on certain issues, notably Europe where has signally failed to monopolise the anti-European agenda. She is still likely to qualify for the second ballot, but it has been much more of a struggle than it ever seemed it would be.

The level of undecided voters is high and the level of abstention is likely to be greater than at the previous election. With four candidates so close together, this makes the election difficult to predict. What is more, the idea of ‘le vote utile’, or casting a ‘useful vote’, is playing out in different ways than usual. For some, a useful vote means supporting Macron as the most sensible candidate of them all. For those on the left, though, it can mean supporting Mélenchon as the candidate with the only chance of getting the left into power. For those on the right, it can mean going back to Fillon both as a way of keeping out Mélenchon and as a way of restoring some sort of order to the system. After all, this was an election that the right was going to win for a long time.

The bottom line is that no-one knows what will happen at the first ballot. In that regard, this has turned out to be a very unpredictable election.

France – The 2017 Presidential Election in the French Pacific Territories

Delivering a speech in French Polynesia during a visit to the French Pacific territories last year, outgoing President François Hollande said: “France is everywhere in the world. And when they say we go to the end of the world, I say: ‘No. We go to the end of France’.” France’s global footprint due to its overseas territories is extensive – les départements et collectivités d’outre-mer, as they are known, give France a presence in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, and the largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world. Geographically remote and with relatively small populations, France’s overseas territories are often ignored in presidential elections, but the recent unrest in Guiana has brought them to the fore this year.

The three Pacific territories – New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna – have a combined population of under 600,000, less than 1% of the total French population. Residents of the territories have full French citizenship, including the right to vote in French presidential (as well as European) elections, and each territory elects representatives to the French National Assembly and Senate. In French presidential elections, there is traditionally low turnout in the overseas territories. The French Pacific is no exception; French Polynesia recorded turnouts in 2012 of just 49% in round one and 59% in round two. Low turnout is perhaps to be expected given the geographical distance involved, although the most remote territory, Wallis and Futuna, usually records the highest turnout. Another factor is the deliberate boycotting of presidential elections by pro-independence groups in New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

Independence remains a very salient issue in the French Pacific in this year’s presidential election, with a referendum on independence scheduled to be held in New Caledonia in 2018. Anti-independence groups in New Caledonia generally align themselves with the major French conservative party (now The Republicans), while those pro-independence groups that do involve themselves with French politics tend to back the Socialist Party, in the belief that they are more sympathetic to the secessionist cause. While Nicolas Sarkozy – with a notoriously anti-independence stance in regards to New Caledonia – won significant support in the first round conservative primary there, François Fillon still won far more support in New Caledonia during the primaries than in the other French territories, winning 78% of the second-round vote in New Caledonia (Fillon lost in both Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia, in the latter winning just a 5% share in the first round). After the ‘Penelopegate’ scandal which has threatened to sink his candidacy, several key political figures of the right in New Caledonia withdrew their support for Fillon, but others have rallied behind the candidate.

This is important, as the success or failure of French presidential aspirants in the territories often says more about local politics than national politics. The endorsements of local political leaders are often crucial to the outcome – which is watched closely by observers for what it says about the popularity of these local figures, rather than the candidates themselves. For example, in the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia, Hilarion Vendegou – chief, local mayor, and a New Caledonian representative in the French Senate – endorsed Fillon in the primaries who went on to win both rounds in the locality easily.

In French Polynesia, there has been much horse-trading amongst political leaders on who to support. Gaston Flosse – a dominant figure in French Polynesian politics for over 30 years, now barred from holding public office until 2019 due to a conviction for corruption – initially supported Sarkozy, then Fillon, before eventually endorsing Marine Le Pen. Claiming this was on the basis of her support for greater autonomy for French Polynesia, he stressed this was not an endorsement of her party, but rather her as an individual. Eduoard Fritch – current President of French Polynesia, and Flosse’s former son-in-law and protégé – initially supported Alain Juppé, and has now backed Fillon despite voicing criticism of his plans to cut public service spending and vagueness on territorial issues (Fillon has said the cuts will not affect overseas territories).

Meanwhile, former French Polynesian President and the most prominent pro-independence figure in the territory, Oscar Temaru, attempted to stand in the presidential election to raise awareness of the pro-independence cause in French Polynesia. While he did not reach the threshold of endorsements needed to run, he gained the most support from elected officials in both French Polynesia and New Caledonia of any aspiring candidate. After failing to secure enough support to run, he advised his supporters to boycott the election.

Of course, neither of the two highest-polling candidates going into the first round of polling are candidates from the two major political parties, meaning the political landscape – and what this means for the French Pacific – is uncharted territory. Le Pen visited the Pacific in 2013, and has voiced support for greater territorial autonomy and compensation for nuclear testing, as well as promising a greater focus on territorial issues. The National Front’s deputy leader visited the Pacific in December 2016 and promised to respect the provisions for an independence referendum for New Caledonia under the 1998 Noumea Accord. More recently, Le Pen has responded to the protests in Guiana, emphasising her key campaign messages on law and order, security and immigration. While the party has made a concerted effort to attract voters from the territories in this election, they have historically polled far lower in the Pacific territories than in mainland France (although significantly higher in New Caledonia than in either French Polynesia or Wallis and Futuna).

Macron’s understanding of territorial issues has seemed shaky at times; in March, he wrongly referred to Guiana as an “island”. On recent visits to the territories of Réunion and Mayotte he has, however, promised subsidised airfares to increase links between the territories and mainland France, as well as an ambitious economic development plan. His position on New Caledonia’s political future is unclear; as Philippe Gomès, former President of New Caledonia and current representative in the French National Assembly,has said: “We do not really know his DNA.”

Whoever wins the 2017 presidential election will play a key role in determining future political statuses in the French Pacific. They will have to deal with the impending referendum on independence in New Caledonia as well as calls for greater autonomy intensifying in French Polynesia. Thus, the ramifications of the 2017 vote will extend right to the end of the France.

A Strange Affair: The 2017 Presidential Election Campaign in France

In an article written 15 years ago, I described the 2002 presidential election as being a strange affair. The 2017 contest is turning out to be even stranger. In between the two elections, the electoral scenarios have shifted. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen won through to the second round against expectations, with almost 18% on the first round; massive republican mobilization saw incumbent President Jacques Chirac re-elected with a large majority (81.75%). In 2017, few commentators cast any doubt on the likely presence of Marine Le Pen on the second round, though predictions of a Le Pen victory are more prevalent in the foreign media than amongst French commentators. While the expectation that a left-right cleavage will produce a run-off between a Socialist and a Republican candidate has underpinned most presidential elections, such a scenario appears unlikely in 2017.

But it is difficult to keep tabs on this campaign and several scenarios remain open. There is no presidential frontrunner and no absolute certainty about which candidates will win through to the second round. As it evolves, an increasingly likely scenario is that of a run off between two anti-system candidates, Marine Le Pen, for the Front national and Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! Both candidates have successfully positioned themselves as above party; somewhat paradoxically, the absence of primary elections in the case of these two candidates has strengthened the claim not to be dependent on party. As the campaign dust settles, there is at least the beginning of a programmatic debate. Macron and Le Pen represent distinct alternatives and choices in relation to an overarching cleavage that might be described as cosmopolitanism versus ethnicised national identity. It is a sign of the times that only one candidate – Emmanuel Macron – has explicitly engaged himself in defense of the European project, including a public commitment to bring France back within the criteria of the Maastricht stability pact. In early March, Macron finally presented his programme, after many weeks of delay and preparation. Macron’s mix of economic liberalism, social protection, political moderation and European integration recalls New Labour, with two decades delay, the principal difference being Macron’s lack of a robust party organisation. Marine Le Pen’s national populist programme, on the contrary, articulates the demand for closed frontiers, economic protection, national preference and the recovery of an (illusory) monetary sovereignty, with France eventually exiting the euro after a referendum. The two putative second round candidates at least represent clear alternative visions of the future based on differing positions on the national protection, European integration and globalization spectrum. It is difficult to say as much for Fillon, whose radical cutting edge of November 2016 has been blurred in the fog of the Penelopegate affair. And even Hamon, whose radical Universal Revenue idea dominated the latter stages of the PS primary, has been bogged down in interminable negotiations with potential partners (the Green candidate Jadot withdrawing in favour of Hamon, but J.-L. Melenchon steadfastly refusing, probably ensuring the defeat of the Socialist candidate on the first round).

As it is unfolding, the 2017 campaign potentially challenges three unwritten rules of presidential elections. First, that control of the party organisation ensures the presidential nomination; this hierarchy has been upset by the primaries, though paradoxically it remains valid for the two leading ‘anti-party’ candidates, Macron and Le Pen. The primary elections have overhauled party organizational (logics) and created winners whose appeal is deeper to the core partisan electorate than to the elusive median voter (Hamon, Fillon). Meanwhile the logics of the primaries extend far beyond the selection of the party’s candidate. As I write (7th March), Francois Fillon appeared to have weathered the storm, using the result of the LR primaries to fend off challenges to his candidacy. Fillon’s argument is not only that he was consecrated as champion of the Republicans in the primaries, but also that LR sympathizers voted for radical programmatic change. As Fillon pointed out, in his televised intervention on France 2 (5th March 2017), no-one can prevent him from standing as candidate (all the more in that he has already deposited the 500 signatories necessary to stand). In this case, the primary election provided a powerful shield, even against the investigating magistrates announcing the opening of a judicial investigation against Fillon and convoking the candidate to appear on 15th March. Just in case of doubt, Fillon played the People against the Party card, steadfastly refusing to stand down as candidate notwithstanding intense pressures and the desertion of a swathes of LR deputies and senators from the Fillon campaign team. Juppé’s announcement on 6th March that he would in no case be candidate removed one serious obstacle to Fillon’s survival. On the Socialist left, the lasting impact of the primary has been to create a gulf between the candidate and the mass of PS deputies, deeply anxious about their – slim – prospects of re-election within the PS label.

The second unwritten rule being challenged in 2017 is that the presidential election encourages a left-right bipolarization and a corresponding presidentialisation of the party system. This was always an excessively institutional argument; each presidential election has produced a rather different political configuration. In practice, the bipolar logic of the presidential election, as assumed to have shaped political and party competition throughout most of the Fifth Republic, appears increasingly out of kilter with the 3, 4 or 5 party reality. It might be objected that this has always been the case; the 2017 campaign needs to be placed it in its historical context. One consequences of fitting a three-, four- or five- party reality into the bipolar jacket is that the threshold levels for gaining access to the second round is lowered: to around 20%. Combined with the partisan logic of the primary elections, the first round logic of rallying core supporters is stronger than ever. Candidates give primacy to first round mobilisation over the anticipation of second round strategies in 2017 because the outcome of the first round was far less certain than in any other recent presidential race (except arguably 2002). The 2017 campaign revealed more starkly than ever before the paradox that the traditionally most-coveted institution – the presidency – is contested by at least three of the leading five candidates. This institutional disaffection is complicated in 2017 by the deep anti-party sentiment.

Third: is the 2017 challenging the view that the presidential election is the core decisive election on which French politics is centred? The 2017 presidential contest will be the 10th direct election of the Fifth Republic, sharing some similar traits with previous elections, but also having its own distinctive characteristics. One of the core assumptions is that the presidential election brings in its wake a comfortable majority for the victorious candidate in the subsequent legislative elections. This mechanical relationship might not function as assumed in 2017. In the event that either Macron or Le Pen are elected President, it must not be assumed that an overall parliamentary majority will be produced in the wake of their triumph. Macron recognised this last week, when he acknowledged that a first round electoral base of 25% would not provide the necessary legitimacy to underpin a single party majority. There is a very real possibility that the candidate who eventually emerges as President will not obtain an overall majority ‘in his or her name’, one of the principal Gaullist legacies of the Fifth Republic.

France – President Fillon: faute de mieux?

I was invited as an expert on the France 24 news programme last Friday (17th February).  As a guide to what I might prepare, I was told:  simply talk about the fronde.  Talk about Fillon, Hamon and the frondeurs. The use of the term the fronde has become ubiquitous.  Bearing a very loose link with its original meaning (the revolt of provincial parliaments and nobles against the centralizing pretensions of the French monarchy), it has been translated into a metaphor for resistance to an established  government (in the case of Valls from 2014-16) or even politicians (the case of Francois Fillon). Widely used to describe the rebellious group of Socialist MPs during the Hollande presidency, the term la fronde is now being employed to point to the stiff resistance of a number of Republican deputies – second fiddles close to Nicolas Sarkozy – to the prospect of Francois Fillon’s candidacy for the Republicans. Georges Fenech, Claude Goasguen, Nadine Morano and others justified their latest attempt to bar the route to Fillon with the argument that it is impossible to campaign for the candidate, that there is a deep lack of trust from Republican supporters throughout the country. A first attempt to force the LR candidate to stand down was crushed in Fillon’s press conference of 5th February; a second, more half-hearted effort was put down by Fillon on his return from La Réunion (a welcome three-day respite) a week later.

Faced with pressures from Sarkozy supporters, Fillon has decided to remain droit dans ses bottes, to resist the pressures pressing on him not to stand. This determination appears backed up by the latest surveys; the IFOP survey for the Journal de Dimanche (19/02/2017), for example, reports that 70% of likely Republican voters believe Fillon ought to maintain his candidacy for the Elysée. A core Republican electorate of 18-20% provides a solid base to encourage perseverance, though it is down from 28% in the immediate aftermath of the LR primaries.  As the deadline nears for filing the support of the minimum 500 signatures of elected officials, Fillon appears more than ever likely to tough it out and be a candidate. There is no serious Plan B. The 40-something generation is totally unable to agree on an alternative, while the Barons of the primary – Juppé and Sarkozy – have declared they will not contest Fillon. His determination to stand as candidate – even in the event of being called to trail, a break with his initial stance – is justified by Fillon with the argument that there is no possible alternative candidate.

Dampening la fronde required a contrite Fillon to pay a visit to erstwhile rival Nicolas Sarkozy, however, following which the LR candidate pledged to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 16 years old, an old Sarkozy promise. The re-focusing of the campaign on security issues is a testament to the continuing influence of Sarkozy. In the context of riots in the suburbs, after a vicious police attack on the adolescent Théo and the violent response of a small minority of demonstrators, Fillon’s campaign has taken a security turn.

Meanwhile, the PS candidate Benoît Hamon – one of the leading frondeurs during the Valls premiership – is discovering the difficulties of reunifying a divided party, let alone a imposing himself as the uncontested champion of the left.  The aftermath of the primary retains a bitter taste. Few close to Valls have been involved in the Hamon campaign and the Macron temptation remains real, though there has been only limited movement towards Macron and En Marche ! (the main exception being the mayor of Lyon, Gerard Collomb, and most of his local party).  Hamon’s strongest argument is that of the useful vote; without a rallying of the main forces of the left behind his presidential bid, there is a real possibility that the left will be excluded from the second round. This logic is more or less accepted by Yannick Jadot, the candidate designated by Europe Ecologie les Verts, who organized an internal consultation which produced massive support (amongst voters in the EELV primary) for a rallying to Hamon as a Socialist candidate acceptable to the ecologists and their post-material and environmental agenda. But the key factor that might make a difference is that of Jean-Luc Mélenchon: the candidate standing in the name of la France soumise remains at around 10% of the electorate and is showing no inclination to stand down in favour of Hamon (whose likely electorate is stagnating at around 14-15%). Hence the direct appeal to Melenchon’s electors on the basis that Hamon is the only candidate who might prevent a run-off between Fillon and Le Pen – or between Macron and Le Pen (an equally sad state of affairs for some). The strategy just might pay off, especially now that Macron’s support has shown the first real signs of ebbing faced with his unwillingness – or inability – to publish a presidential programme.

Emmanuel Macron’s campaign is the most intriguing. Thus far, Macron has been the clear beneficiary of the public’s disaffection with Fillon and the choice of the frondeur Hamon as the PS candidate. Rising as high as 23% in the first round voting intentions, Macron is behind Marine Le Pen but ahead of Fillon. But is the Macron ferment beginning is likely to fade? The rally of support from disaffected PS deputes that he might have expected following Hamon’s victory in the primaries has not yet materialised. Attendance at campaign meetings has been rather disappointing (with the exception of Lyon). The En Marche ! candidate is beginning to pay the price for the refusal, or inability to publish a presidential programme. Where exactly does he stand on the big issues of the day? His attempt to position himself above left and right represents the latest attempt in the Fifth Republic to escape the straightjacket of the traditional left-right cleavage. Bayrou, with over 18% in 2007, came within a whisker of overhauling the established order, but failed at the last hurdle (Sarkozy and Royal fighting the run-off). Will Macron go one better?  Nothing is less certain: cultivating a new form of equidistance between left and right, he is likely to disappoint both centre-left and centre-right supporters. Declaring in Algeria that colonization was a crime against humanity might strengthen his position amongst certain groups in French society, but will alienate others whose support Macron needs if he has any chance of winning through to the second round. The logic was clear: to confront the issues from France’s colonial and post-colonial history preventing the nation from progressing. But has the candidate unnecessarily raked up past tensions for minimal political benefit? The ostensible efforts at destabilization by Putin and the Russian secret service deserve the fullest attention– the rumours on his sexuality, or on the financial sources of his campaign are  identified as a source of  illegitimate intervention not only by Macron, but by the Foreign minister Ayrault as well. But how long can Macron prosper without a programme?  An energetic candidate Macron is en marche…but towards what, exactly?

In the 2017 campaign, one candidate – Marine Le Pen – is very well prepared. She is the most likely to profit from the shifting of the agenda to security and migration related issues in the wake of the police brutality claim against Theo and the outbreak of violence in the Paris suburbs. The security turn has the advantage of occulting – somewhat – the issue of campaign funding. Herein lies the greatest paradox; Marine Le Pen is summoned to repay around €350,000 received by the European parliament to pay assistants working, in reality, for the FN in Paris. But this damning indictment has been transformed from a potential dead-weight into a political argument, at least insofar as it is a stick to beat Brussels and to tap into an underlying state of Euroscepticism. Marine Le Pen has been polling up to 27% in one of the recent polls. She has the most solid electorate: around 90% of potential Marine electors affirm they will not waver and declare themselves certain to vote for their candidate. By contrast, only 35% of Macron voters states they are certain to vote for the En Marche ! candidate. How solid is the glass ceiling that prevents the FN’s Marine Le Pen from being elected on the second round in 2017? When financial markets start to worry – and the ‘spread’ starts to widen – is it time to reevaluate the chances of Marine Le Pen? Making predictions post-Brexit and post-Trump is a hazardous business. This is the strangest campaign in recent years. It is very difficult to predict which candidates will run through to the second round. If  Marine Le Pen looks in pole position, her likely adversary could conceivably be one of three men: Macron, Fillon and – possibly –Hamon, if the latter manages to create a unitary dynamic in the last few weeks of campaigning. The most likely scenario in this fluctuating and addictive campaign is that the glass ceiling will hold – this time – and that Marine Le Pen will not win on the second round. This scenario is the most plausible if Fillon wins through to the second round, which is looking increasingly likely. Fillon faute de mieux?

France – The presidential election takes shape

On Sunday, the Socialist party chose its candidate for the 2017 French presidential election. At the second round of the party primary, voters chose Benoît Hamon over the former Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Hamon won about 59% of the votes cast. With his selection, the line up of candidates – or at least the serious ones – for April/May’s election is now probably complete.

There are five main candidates in the field. From left to right, they are: Jean-Luc Mélenchon of The Left Party; Benoît Hamon for the left of the Socialist party; Emmanuel Macron for the centre-left or centrist En Marche! movement (the exclamation point is obligatory); François Fillon for the right of the right-wing Republicans; and Marine Le Pen for the populist, alt-right, extreme-right National Front.

The election is François Fillon’s to lose and he seems to be trying his best to do just that. The received wisdom was that whoever the Republicans chose as their presidential candidate would be able to win the election easily. This was because there was no serious candidate on the left and because Marine Le Pen is unelectable at the second ballot. So, when Fillon won the party nomination in November, he seemed to be a shoe-in. However, things are perhaps changing.

Fillon won the primary by appealing to the conservative element within the Republicans. This made sense if we assume that the median voter in the party is also conservative. However, once selected, it would appear to make sense for him to move to the centre. He has to win 50% of the  popular vote to win the second round of the presidential election and he will need the vote of people other than traditional conservatives to reach that figure. Yet, since his selection he has pretty much maintained his conservative stance on moral issues, welfare policy, and public sector cuts. Perhaps he assumes that he is bound to go through to the second ballot. On that assumption, then he may also assume that he actually has to avoid moving to the centre too soon and in so doing cede ground on the conservative right to Le Pen, thus continuing to pen her in as it were on the extreme-right. However, his refusal to move anywhere close to the centre has merely created a wide-open centrist space for Emmanuel Macron to move into. What’s more, last week a story broke about Fillon’s wife. It has become known as ‘Penelopegate’ after his English wife’s first name. The allegation was that Fillon had employed the aforementioned Penelope from his parliamentary allocation, but that she had done no work in return. If so, this is a so-called ’emploi fictif’, which is a crime. In an attempt at political damage limitation, Fillon said that he would withdraw from the contest if he was formally put under investigation. The long timeframe that it would most likely take for a formal investigation to start works in his favour, so it was probably a safe declaration to make. However, his problem is that even if nothing comes of the allegations before the election or indeed ever, which is quite possible, it has painted Fillon as a person of the establishment, remunerating his wife, and it turns out his sons as well, from the public purse. Relative to Sarkozy and Juppé, he was able to position himself as a sort of outsider, despite the fact that he lives in a castle. (Sorry, manoir). Not any more. His poll ratings have dropped and he is now in a tight race to qualify for the second round.

Fillon’s main first-round challenger has emerged as Emmanuel Macron, who has positioned himself somewhere on the centre-left. Perhaps more importantly, while he has some ministerial experience, he too is presenting himself as an outsider. In the context of France, Europe, most of the previously civilised democratic world, and, who knows, perhaps the universe generally, this seems like a winning electoral strategy at the moment. He has been helped by Fillon’s political positioning and #Penelopegate. He should also be helped by the Socialists’ choice of Hamon, who is on the left of the party. Already some PS deputies have said they are going to support Macron ahead of their party’s official candidate. In the most recent poll, Macron came in at 21% on the first ballot, one point behind Fillon. We all know that polls are no longer worth the pixels they’re reported in, but it looks like a closer first-round race now than at any time before. Indeed, all polls show that, like Fillon, if Macron qualifies for the second round, then he will easily beat Le Pen. So, there is now much talk of President Macron.

However, some caution may yet be in order. Macron is still behind Fillon, though only just. More importantly, he has no campaigning experience. He has been astute so far, but the campaign is only really beginning. He could come a cropper, especially as he comes under more scrutiny. More than that, he has no policy programme yet. It’s promised some point soon. But, as it stands, we don’t really know exactly what he is proposing. When it appears, it could raise issues that he has difficulty responding to. Also, he doesn’t have the backing of the Socialist party. More than that, the party establishment, or parts of it at least, would probably wish to see him lose, maximising their chances of maintaining their position as the main force on the left, rather than helping him win and then having to play second fiddle to him and his new movement!. At some point, not being the candidate of a major party might be a problem, especially if the Socialists play dirty. So, while Macron is currently better placed now than ever before and while recent events have been favourable to him, as yet he is no certainty to qualify for the second round.

In terms of Mélenchon and Hamon, we can think of it as a battle for what’s left of the left of the left. Mélenchon would have preferred Valls to win the Socialist primary. This would have allowed him to take up the mantle of the anti-establishment left candidate unopposed. However, Hamon is a Socialist frondeur. He’s been a thorn in the side of the Hollande administration and has gained some popularity by proposing the idea of a ‘universal income’. With Hamon campaigning in the same general space, it’s difficult to see Mélenchon breaking through. The same can be said of Hamon, though. There’s probably around 15-20% of the population that might be tempted by a credible truly left-anchored candidate. However, Mélenchon and Hamon are likely to fight out that vote between them. In fairness to Hamon, though, he has revitalised a certain previously demoralised Socialist electorate that feels hard done by under President Hollande. Hamon has the wind in his sails for a short time at least. He too can credibly position himself as an outsider. He may well beat Mélenchon, but it’s difficult to imagine the circumstances in which he would make it through to the second ballot.

This leaves Marine Le Pen. She is still ahead at the first ballot in all the polls, though sometimes not by much. Her problem is that she loses to everyone at the second ballot by a large margin. Her hope is that she will be the Donald Trump of France. In fact, she had herself pictured in Trump Tower in New York just before the inauguration. She wants to bring together the usual anti-immigrant, extreme-right vote that has been loyal to the FN for a while now, but add to it a working-class electorate that is worried about economic issues and that doesn’t like the EU. She is pushing a certain social welfare agenda, pressing on populist economic issues, and, as usual, identifying lots of enemies at home, the near abroad (read Brussels), and further afield still. It’s a strategy similar to ones that have worked in the US, Austria (nearly anyway), and in the Brexit referendum. In terms of getting elected, it’s a strategy that might have legs, especially if Fillon and the right implodes, and if she faces Macron at the second ballot in the context where Macron’s own campaign has become derailed somehow. In other words, it’s not beyond the bounds of imagination that the polls are underestimating her support, that some of the filloniste right could vote Le Pen at the second round ahead of even Macron, and that some of the left might even stay at home and not vote for Macron, in which concatenation of probably unlikely circumstances Le Pen could perhaps just squeak through. (Did you see all the qualifications I put in there).

But even then it’s a long shot. While Le Pen’s strategy has allowed her to emerge as the first-placed candidate at the first ballot, there are still no signs that she has sufficient support to win at the second. In France, there is already a certain populist left. This makes it more difficult for Le Pen to build a populist left/right coalition that might be possible in other countries. She, and the party, also have their own corruption issues. Indeed, the FN was relatively slow to jump in on the #Penelopegate furore last week, at least partly because of those troubles. More generally, there is still a solid set of voters on the left, the centre, and on the right that sees the FN as illegitimate and that will not vote for it whatever the circumstances. Finally, if you tie your colours to the Trump mast (bright orange presumably), then while you may rise with Trump, you can also fall with him too. No doubt some of the things Trump is doing in the US also appeal to FN voters in France, notably the immigration ban from certain Middle East countries. However, for at least as many voters the prospect that a Le Pen presidency might engender the same sort of chaos in France as Trump is currently causing in the US is likely to be off-putting.

There was a time when the 2017 French presidential was very predictable. No longer.