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French election crucial for future of Europe

Editor: zhenglimin 丨Xinhua

04-23-2017 10:15 BJT

PARIS, April 22 (Xinhua) -- After a long and chaotic campaign, 47 million French voters will go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of a historic presidential election.

The election goes beyond national stakes and will have decisive impacts on the future of the European Union (EU) and the Old Continent.

Marine Le Pen (Xinhua file photo)

Marine Le Pen (Xinhua file photo)

Following a series of unexpected events on the global stage including "Brexit" and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President, the world's attention is now focused on France, wondering how the EU's third largest economy will respond to the rise of populism, protection and sentiment against globalisation.

The atmosphere of uncertainly will linger until the last moment for Sunday's vote, while in 2012, the duel for the second round was known in advance as they were the clear favourites in polls.

Out of the 11 candidates running for presidency this year, four are currently neck-and-neck in polls, the centrist former Minister of economy Emmanuel Macron, the far-rightist Marine Le Pen, the right-wing conservative Francois Fillon and the far-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Most polls indicates that Macron and Le Pen are the most likely to face off in the runoff on May 7, but no one can really predict as differences among voting intentions for the four remain narrow.

Whatever choice the French people make will undoubtedly go beyond their national borders, as it is the second of several elections in major European countries, followed by those in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Although the Dutch election in March gave a sign of relief to traditional political elites in Europe as the conservative party was able to trump populist candidate Geert Wilders, the situation in France is more complicated. Some political observers even consider the election as "a referendum on the EU."

Different positions on France's place in the EU have been highlighted thorough the election campaign.

Among the 11 candidates, eight have expressed a a Eurosceptic positioning, with Le Pen being the most prominent.

She has promised a "Frexit" if elected, pledging to "recover the monetary, economic, legislative and territorial sovereignty" of France, re-establish national borders, and leave the Schengen area of free circulation.

Meanwhile, Melenchon, who has seen a big surge in polls in the final sunup, also has very critical of the EU and calls for more reforms, including renegotiating European treaties.

"The EU, we change it or we leave it," he said.

Only Macron appears to be truly pro-EU and pleads for the revival of the Franco-German duo to "strengthen the monetary union," hence the favourite candidate for Berlin and Brussels.

He proposes to "launch democratic conventions throughout the EU by the end of 2017," with an objective to develop a "short road map" laying down the union's priorities for action and their implementation timetable for the next five years.

Right-wing candidate François Fillon pleads for a "Europe of Nations". He wants to "end the permanent enlargements of the European Union", "negotiate a European agenda for tax harmonization," and has made the reduction of the public deficit its battleground.

Fillon also highlights his experience as a former prime minister but his image remains tainted by a "fake jobs" scandal.

The French public long had a certain ambiguity when it comes to the EU, as surveys show that people are consistently in favour of the euro, but 54 percent of them also voted against a drafted European Constitution in 2005.

The morose economic context, an unemployment rate close to 10 percent, the still half-mast growth, and continuous security threats are all crystallising resentments towards the EU, often blamed as the culprit.

Therefore, handling the relationship with the EU will be a very difficult task for whoever gets into the Elysee Palace.

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