France’s Presidential Election: Campaign, Candidates, and What to Expect

France’s Presidential Election: Campaign, Candidates, and What to Expect

On March 4th, Laure Pallez, an HNC ’11 alumna and an Economic Advisor at the French Embassy in the United States, led a lecture about France’s upcoming presidential election. Laure, who has written extensively before on the 2020 US Presidential Elections for her fellow French citizens, discussed the French community overseas, the institutional background of French elections, the political climate in France, and international implications of the campaign. 

“Today (March 4th) is the deadline of the publication of the official list of candidates for the presidential election of France, so what a great timing to discuss this issue.” 
Laure expressed her personal interest in the French community overseas, numbering about 3 million people (5% of France’s total population). “The French are very patriotic, often nostalgic of their motherland, and see France’s ranking and position in the world as a key issue for them. The French community overseas is traditionally two-thirds conservative and one-fourth liberal.”
French Elections Overview: 
How is the president of France elected?
The president of France is officially the president of the French Republic, head of state, and the Commander-in-Chief of the French Armed Forces for a five-year term (previously, a seven-year term), directly elected by the citizens. France adopted a new constitution in 1958 that split powers between the president as the head of state and the prime minister as the head of government. Currently, the president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
What are the rules to be eligible and be admitted as an official candidate?

Potential candidates must receive signed nominations (or sponsorship) from more than 500 local officials and mayors. There are about 45,000 elected officials in France and overseas, including 33,000 mayors. To become president of France, candidates must receive greater than 50% of citizen votes. If not, a second-round and a runoff election will be held between the two top candidates.
The first round of the 2022 French presidential election will be held on April 10th. However, if no candidate wins a majority of the vote in the first round, a runoff will be held between the top two candidates on April 24th
Campaign Funding: The financing of the campaigns and political parties is highly regulated. There is a cap on spending at 17 million euros and government public financing of 50% of the candidate's expenditure. The biggest spenders usually win, as was the case of Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the 2017 election after outspending Marine Le Pen by more than 4 million euros. Private financing is strictly regulated. Individuals cannot loan money to presidential candidates but can make donations up to 4,500 eurosThose who break the rules face heavy penalties. 
Who’s who in the Election? 
This year, eleven candidates have qualified to run, and Laure focused on seven of them.

Emmanuel Macron, Current President of France: President Macron declared his reelection bid on March 3rd in a letter published in local newspapers in France. In 2017, candidate Macron started a new platform outside mainstream parties, a centralist political party called En Marche, and he was remarkably successful. The former President François Hollande did not believe that could work, having always been supported by traditional parties. Laure further explained that he formed this platform because France has a fundamental divide between conservatives and progressives. She also thinks En Marche is similar to Andrew Yang’s platform, the Forward Party.
In his first few months as President, Emmanuel Macron enacted a package of reforms, such as public ethics and libel taxes. “My previous job was to tell those reforms to American investors interested in investing in France. So, I know this really by heart.” Laure mentioned. One of his first measures was to remove a very symbolic wealth tax. 
Many social issues have marked his five-year term - talks on pensions, unsuccessful talks of reforms aimed at raising the retirement age, and the Yellow Vest Protests—a citizen-driven movement initially for economic justice and later for institutional political reforms. He is a pro-European president. “His polls are stable at 24%, but this number might increase with the Ukraine war, even if he sometimes appears very detached from people’s lives.”
Jean-Luc Mélenchon: The oldest candidate of the 2022 presidential election and a vocal critic of centralism; a Euro-skeptic. He ran in 2017 with his party called the La France Insoumise, a democratic socialist, left-wing populist political party. His voters are young and urban. Laure said, “he claims to gather the life behind his name and is very radical.”
Anne Hidalgo: She is a member of the socialist party that holds pro-European views. She has been serving as Mayor of Paris since 2014 and is the first woman to hold that office. She has strong proposals, but Laure mentions that candidate Hidalgo has a small minority of supporters.

Yannick Jadot: He is a member of the green party and currently a member of the European Parliament. He started his career as an activist for various NGOs. His campaign is aimed at the environment and energy-based voters. “He gathers a small number of intentions at this point.” Laure mentioned.
Valerie Pecresse: She is a conservative candidate and the first-ever female presidential candidate from the Republican Party. She has been President of the Regional Council of Île-de-France since 2015, and she served under Nicolas Sarkozy. She is trying to focus less on national identity and more on freedom. “She knows there is a reservoir of votes on the far-right voters, but her campaign is not developing as well as she expected for many reasons.”
Marine Le Pen: She is famous because this is her third race for this election. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, created the National Front in 1970. Le Pen has a softer message toward French citizens and less educated voters with a traditional platform against immigration, NATO, and the EU. Laure thinks she stands in the “very straightforward populist camp,” which is her last race. She has made it to the second round twice already in the past elections.
Eric Zemmour: He is a far-right politician, a pundit, and a successful writer. He was convicted three times for hate speech. In December, he decided to run for the 2022 election and created his political movement called the Reconquête. He appeals to history and ideas, not just politics. He claims to rebuild a right-wing program. There is a fascinating comparison between Donald Trump and Eric Zemmour, in which his “theories are equal to Trump’s crippled America.” Laure believes that Zemmour might defeat Marine Le Pen and Valerie Pecresse, but is not so sure about his success in the second round.
Domestic and International Implications: 

The 3 top domestic concerns are purchasing power with rising gas and electricity prices, the health system, and climate change. 
Undoubtedly, foreign policy is at the heart of the campaign amid an unprepared Europe during the issue with Ukraine. The candidates have each expressed their opinions but they have been limited. For example, European members agreeing on new sanctions against Russia is a historic breakthrough that makes the candidates’ programs look old. Candidates Jean-Luc Melechon, Marine Le Pen, and Eric Zemmour oppose further European integration while the reality demands a stronger Europe.
Laure also comments: “With Ukraine, the presidential campaign is taking a backseat. There is no passion. There was none before Ukraine anyway, but there is no crystallization on any topic, unfortunately. I would have liked to see candidates discuss the housing crisis, poverty, public services, the reindustrialization of France, and so on. The country’s presidential elections in April will also have EU-wide consequences, and, like I said, lack of participation, abstention, lack of public engagement is a big concern.”
In addition, Laure mentioned transatlantic relations. France Former President Nicholas Sarzoky and President Emmanuel Macron favor alignment with old allies. Last year, French-US relations were quite tense during the submarine crisis due to the fallout of the AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, resulting in France recalling its ambassadors from Australia and US for consultations. However, after a call between President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden, the two leaders agreed to reduce bilateral tensions, and exchanges are still permanent. Candidates also continue to plead for the exit of friends from NATO and denounce American imperialism. Laure expressed concerns about this issue, mentioning Emmanuel Macron's March 3rd statement - “I will defend a strategy of European energy independence because we can no longer depend on others and in particular on Russian gas.”
For more insight, please go check out Laure’s blog at!  

Written by Elizabeth Gonzales