France′s next leader - who will sit at the presidential desk? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.01.2017
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France's next leader - who will sit at the presidential desk?

France's Socialists have shifted to the left and the conservatives to the right. Who will succeed President Francois Hollande? DW introduces the candidates who are still in the French presidential race.

After the first preliminary round of the French presidential elections, the group of potential Hollande successors has thinned out. Who are the candidates running for France's highest political office? What do they stand for? How do they feel about the European Union? And what are their chances of winning?

Francois Fillon - the conservative

He has already been chosen to run for the Republicans: Francois Fillon is considered to be ultra-conservative. The former prime minister has already announced that he will make the family unit "the core of politics." He does not believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children. He wants to set a cap on refugees, make access to the social system more difficult for foreign nationals and he would like the state to monitor Muslim communities and mosques. The professed Catholic's family and social policies have especially struck a chord with rural, Catholic French people who find traditions important. He has the support of traditional Catholic groups that in recent years have been mobilizing masses of demonstrators against same-sex marriage. At first, polls indicated that Fillon was the favorite to win the presidential vote; however, his popularity among the electorate has waned somewhat.

Marine Le Pen - the right-wing populist

Marine Le Pen's policy of un-demonizing the right has made the National Front (FN) socially acceptable in mainstream society. Nonetheless, the party platforms are still at the far right end of the political spectrum. Le Pen completely rejects the idea of a multicultural society and she campaigns against the alleged Islamization of France. She wants to cut social services for foreign nationals and demands the immediate deportation of foreigners who have committed crimes. She is also an advocate for the death penalty. Economically, she pursues a protectionist course along the lines of "France first." Le Pen wants France to leave the euro and have the franc reinstated. Furthermore, she wants to transfer powers back from Brussels to France. If she wins the elections, she has already promised a referendum on France's exit from the EU. She presents herself as an anti-capitalist and the voice of the "neglected in France," meaning the people outside large cities who see themselves as losers of globalization. Polls have her a nose ahead of the conservative Francois Fillon. It is near certain that she will run in the second round of the presidential elections.

Emmanuel Macron - the renegade politician

The former investment banker entered politics under Francois Hollande. First, he served as the president's advisor and then he became minister of economic affairs. In 2016 he resigned as minister and left the Socialist party. He founded the party "En Marche!" and announced his candidacy for the presidency. That is why many representatives of the Socialist Party consider him to be a traitor. However, in light of the left's weakness, the 39-year-old has become a beacon of hope for those who do not want to see the conservative Catholic Fillon or the right-wing Le Pen in the Elysee Palace. And now, even prominent Socialists, such as former presidential candidate Segolene Royal, stand behind him. Macron wants to reform the EU and revive French-German friendship and emphatically praises Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy. He is young, a talented speaker and even though the ELN graduate belongs to the French elite, he is also popular in the country's poor regions. In polls, he has managed to close in on Fillon and Le Pen. It is, however, unlikely that he will make it to the second ballot.

Benoit Hamon - the utopian

In the preliminary round, he surprised everyone and pushed France's favorite Socialist, Manuel Valls, to second place. The former minister of education is considered to be a sharp critic of President Hollande and stands for the leftward shift of French Socialists. He wants to raise the minimum wage, abolish the liberalization of labor laws, legalize cannabis use and create 37,000 teaching jobs. Political commentators in France consider Hamon's stance to be utopian. He also demands an unconditional basic income of 750 euros for all French people. Despite his victory in the Socialists' preliminary elections, his chances of becoming president are slim. Polls predict that he will garner around 8 percent support in the first round of the presidential elections.

Manuel Valls - the 'leftist' Sarkozy

Manuel Valls has long been considered a favorite of the French left. But the Socialists' leftward shift could become a threat to him. In the first preliminary round, his party colleague pushed him to second place. Valls also has a credibility problem as he was prime minister under the extremely unpopular President Hollande and embodies his policies. This proves to be a burden. The 54-year-old is seen as the right-wing representative of the Socialists and critics sarcastically refer to him as the "left-wing" Sarkozy - a comparison to the former conservative French president.

Under Hollande, he provided tax relief for businesses and loosened labor protection laws. He has found much criticism within the French left for his proposal to amend the 35-hour workweek and raise the retirement age. Valls has almost no chance of winning the presidency. Polls predict that he will win around 5 percent of votes in the first round.

Jean-Luc Melenchon - the provocateur

 Jean-Luc Melenchon sees himself as a thorn in the side of Socialists and the establishment. He always leads the group "La France insoumise" ("rebellious France") in demonstrations against French reform policies or European austerity policies. His declared enemy is Chancellor Merkel and he was heard chanting "Merkel in the trash can" at a rally. He says her social and economic policies are as sour as Bismarck herring, referring to the pickled fish delicacy. The former Socialist municipal politician and later member of European parliament enjoys the support of the French communist party. He is predicted to win up to 13 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election.

Yannick Jadot - the green candidate

The French Green party is entering the presidential race with Yannick Jadot, a man known for his realistic policies. He holds a seat in European parliament and is deputy head of the Committee on International Trade (INTA). As the Green party has been weakened by internal disputes, no one believes they have any chance in the elections in April and May. Polls have the Greens at below 3 percent.

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