September 8, 2021

Europe

FRANCE: State of the presidential race

BY Antonio Barroso

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( 4 mins)
  • With around 200 days to go to the 2022 presidential election, no credible challenger to the Emmanuel Macron-Marine Le Pen duopoly has yet emerged.
  • The key factor to watch remains whether the center-right can rally behind a single candidate ahead of the contest.
  • Macron’s allegedly upcoming push for a partial pension reform might elicit a backlash from trade unions, but the potential changes are likely to be popular with the public.

FRANCE: State of the presidential race 1

Right-wing mess

The leadership of the center-right party The Republicans (LR) has recently launched an internal opinion poll to grasp whether members would support a primary vote or electing the candidate at a party conference. A final decision on the matter will have to be adopted at a party congress meeting on 25 September. Former Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse and former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier both have gained some momentum in recent opinion surveys. However, the result of a primary vote would be rather unpredictable, given party members and sympathizers tend to be more rightist than the wider center-right electorate. For instance, polls showed in 2016 that former Prime Minister Alain Juppe was in a promising position to win the 2017 election. Still, the party ended up electing the more conservative Francois Fillon as its candidate.

Regardless of who LR chooses, the elephant in the room remains Xavier Bertrand. The president of the Hauts-de-France region will not participate in whatever mechanism LR uses to select a presidential candidate. As a result, the key factor to monitor is whether the LR candidate decides to cut a deal with Bertrand. For instance, one of the LR members running for the candidacy, Philippe Juvin, has suggested Bertrand and the LR candidate could negotiate to wait until January to see who had more support in the polls, which then would lead the less popular candidate to step aside and support the other.

With LR mired in internal quarrels that are handicapping the launch of a presidential bid, Marine Le Pen has tactically stayed out of the political debate in recent weeks. While the far-right candidate has lost some steam in opinion polls in recent weeks, her support base remains solid. She is expected to reappear at the National Rally’s party congress on 11 September, where she will probably focus on promoting her tough approach to security issues.

The fragmented left

There is also considerable movement on the left regarding the presidential contest, with the Greens’ ongoing primary vote expected to deliver a candidate by 28 September. Jean-Luc Melenchon is in full campaign mode, while former Minister of Industrial Renewal and socialist politician Arnaud Montebourg recently launched his own presidential bid. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is also expected to launch her candidacy this week. Hidalgo has not managed to obtain more than 8% of support in the polls so far, but it will be important to watch whether her high name recognition can help her increase her popularity once she announces her bid.

Let them fight

Meanwhile, Macron’s plan seems to be to continue pushing for policy initiatives to show he is above the political fray and still focused on governing. For instance, the government is expected to present its delayed “France 2030” public investment initiative at some point in the coming weeks. The president is also reportedly considering pushing for a limited pension reform, even though trade unions, employers, and his own party seem to be against the idea.

Two of the suggested reform measures, which could be approved through a decree, are eliminating the comparatively generous pension legacy regimes for new hires and setting the minimum pension at EUR 1,000 per month. Trade unions are likely to mobilize against the policy changes if Macron ends up pushing for them. However, according to opinion polls, both measures are widely popular with the public, which explains why Macron could adopt them before next year’s election.

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