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Beyond the Discourse, Macron and Le Pen’s Programs for France

  • Marine Le Pen (L) and Emmanuel Macron (R).

    Marine Le Pen (L) and Emmanuel Macron (R). | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 May 2017  

The media has painted the French election as historical, because two “outsiders” will be facing each other on Sunday.

Beyond the left and right traditional party system?

Both candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, officially refuse labels in a bid to appear detached from the unpopular traditional center-left and center-right parties that have ruled over the French Fifth Republic. Both candidates, however, are clearly identifiable on the French political spectrum.

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Le Pen has been involved in politics since she was born, following the steps of her infamous father, the racist and xenophobic Jean-Marie. During her campaign, opponents recalled that she was the heiress of the far-right dynasty, since she grew up in the family castle in Saint-Cloud and inherited important real estate. Anti-capitalist Philippe Poutou touched on a sensitive point during a televised pre-election debate when he accused Le Pen of branding herself as “anti-establishment” while her party was being probed for alleged misuse of public funds. Poutou also mentioned that Le Pen used her parliamentary immunity to protect herself from criminal prosecution.

But Marine Le Pen has tried hard to appear both as an outsider and as the leader of an anti-establishment party while softening her National Front party’s racist and homophobic image. She distanced herself from radical and violent groups in the party, including her own father. She also opted for a more subtle form of Islamophobia when she stigmatized Muslims in the name of French secularism and slammed Muslim garb in the name of women’s rights. In October 2013, Le Pen threatened to press charges against anyone labeling her party as “extreme right.” She also suspended her position as the head of the party as soon as she began campaigning for the run-off vote in order to appear like a potential president for all French citizens.

As for Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker at Rothschild, he officially started politics three years ago, as socialist President Francois Hollande’s economic adviser and Economy Minister.

Because Hollande has become the least popular French President in modern history, Macron made huge efforts to appear as a complete outsider. He had to play along a fine line between “neither…either” to a dangerous point, making him sound completely tautological and empty.

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During his campaign, his empty discourse was often ridiculed on social media — he once misquoted one of France’s most popular hip hop bands about social inequalities in a bid to appear close to the working class.

Even the French mainstream media, which largely contributed to building his image as France’s future president since he quit the government and created his own party “En Marche” one year ago, started worrying that the “Macron bubble” superficially built around his candidacy could explode before the end of the elections.

Their programs certainly don’t defend the interests of “the people.”

Macron’s neoliberal agenda remains obvious despite the candidate’s efforts to stick to a very vague program. He was the mastermind behind most of Hollande’s most contested policies, including layoffs, a labor reform pushed by the business sector, and unprecedentedly reducing French workers’ rights.

His program includes cutting corporate tax from 33 to 25 percent. The 35-hour legal workweek would remain but negotiation of real work hours would be left to the company level. He set a target of 60 billion euros for savings on public spending. Macron also sees savings of 15 billion euros in public health spending due to greater efficiency. Macron also embraced France’s current paranoia about security and public order. He promised to build 15,000 extra prison places, to hire 10,000 police, raise defense budget to two percent of GDP, from just under 1.8 percent in 2016.

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As for Le Pen, she radically shifted from her father’s pro-European Union, neoliberal discourse. Instead she has moved towards a stance officially defending public services, workers, and state interventionism. This tactic copies most of her direct rival’s programs, such as the progressive political movement Left Front, now called the Unbowed France, led by Jean-Luc Melenchon.

In practice, however, Le Pen’s party has not done much for the working class. For instance, in October 2016, 18 National Front European MPs, including Le Pen, voted against a legislation meant to avoid social dumping. This is a phenomenon that occurs when a company fires workers before relocating in a country where the workforce is cheaper.

One of her most feared measures, even within her supporter base, is the “Frexit” and the return to the Franc currency. When she started campaigning for the run-off vote, she tried to reassure potential voters, saying she would hold a referendum on EU membership at the end of six months. She stated France would leave if she does not manage to radically change the block from the inside.

She would also boost security, despite the crucial issue of police brutality and police killings, especially in France’s suburbs. She plans to hire 15,000 police and build jails to make room for another 40,000 inmates. She would also automatically expel foreigners who have been convicted and make it impossible for illegal migrants to legalize their stay in France. Her program intends to curb migration to a net 10,000 people per year. Certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, would become reserved to French citizens only.

The polls show Macron as France’s next President, but Le Pen still has a chance. 

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Opinion polls show Macron holding a hefty lead of 59 percent to 41 percent ahead of Sunday’s vote, with around a third of voters set to abstain.

According to a Kantar Sofres Onepoint survey, 47 percent of people who will vote for Le Pen on May 7 will do so not to support her, but in a bid to block Macron’s victory, while 58 percent of Macron’s voters will do so in order to block Le Pen, without wanting Macron as France’s next President.

Another survey, published by Ifop, found that half of Melenchon’s supporters — almost 20 percent of the total voters in the first round — will support Macron on Sunday, 37 won’t vote, and 13 percent will vote for Le Pen. In the case of conservative candidate Francois Fillon’s supporters — also about 20 percent in the first round — 44 percent will support Le Pen, 26 percent won’t go to the polling stations, and 30 percent will vote for Le Pen.