After the difficult term of current Socialist President Francois Hollande, France is ready for a change of approach. That looks set to arrive this May, with centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine Le Pen currently leading the polls.
The 39 year-old Macron is a left-leaning fiscal conservative whose upstart political movement, En Marche! (Forward!) has gained significant traction over the last year.
Considered something of a turncoat by political rivals – he was until recently a radical economy minister under the current government – Macron is polling well with young and middle class voters.
Macron’s success is somewhat unusual given his actions in government. He fought hard to reduce the power of unions and to introduce longer working hours, including working on certain Sundays.
This inspired strikes at the time, as France’s unique workers rights are seen as sacrosanct by many blue collar workers. However there is also a growing recognition that French business needs reforming, given the sluggish economy over the past 5 years.
Many voters may feel that they will have little choice come the final round of voting. Following a scandal in the campaign of frontrunner Francois Fillon, hard right candidate Marine Le Pen has become Macron’s chief opposition.
Le Pen’s Front National party has gone to great lengths to separate itself from past accusations of racism and fascism. However, its chief campaign platform still centres on slashing immigration, solidifying its rural economy, and eventually removing France from the European Union.
Polls by Odoxa currently show that Le Pen is polling around 25%, with Macron on 27%. While this seems like a tight race, it is likely that voters who picked other left and centrist candidates in the first round of voting would rally to Macron, in order to avoid the divisive Le Pen.
Although Brexit has yet to severely impact the UK economy, many businesses would rather avoid the uncertainty of a ‘Frexit’ under Le Pen. Macron has also shown a desire to improve the competitiveness of businesses, and has been a particular champion of the digital economy.
With Macron about to release his full manifesto and other candidates continuing to campaign, we’ll endeavour to bring you the latest on France and what the elections mean for its business climate.