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What France's Election Might Mean for the G7 and G20 Summits

Amandine Scherrer, PhD, European Parliamentary Research Service
May 3, 2017

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen hold antagonistic views on almost everything. This is particularly true for what concerns European and International affairs. The outcome of the French election will thus have a significant impact on the next G7 and G20 summits.

On Sunday, the 23rd of April, French voters had to choose between 11 candidates, spanning the political spectrum from those on far left to those on the far right. Emmanuel Macron (an independent centrist, former Minister of Finance for François Hollande) and Marine Le Pen (president of the far-right Front National) won the first round of the presidential elections. Macron scored highest, gathering 24% of the votes, with Le Pen coming in second at 21%. The run-off vote will be held on Sunday, 7th of May.

The first round of these elections showed how French politics have completely changed. The traditional parties have collapsed. The socialist party is significantly divided over Hollande's controversial presidency (its candidate, Benoit Hamon, suffered a crushing defeat, gathering only 6% of the votes) and Les Républicains, the conservative party, was undermined by various scandals that considerably weakened its candidate, François Fillon (who gathered 20% of the vote). Meanwhile, the candidate of France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, managed to score 19%, demonstrating that a more radical left now plays an increasingly important role on the political landscape.

The results of the first round exemplify two visions of the European and International systems that are embodied in the programmes of the two finalists. The outcome of the second round will thus be critical for the future of multilateralism and international relations, especially in a context of European and international tensions.

Europe is probably the most evident divisive topic between the two candidates. Macron is pro-European and a vocal advocate of the European Project. He proposes to create an independent budget, a parliament and a special representative to reinforce the eurozone. He also promotes efforts in transparency in European affairs. Macron furthermore wants to maintain free movement within the European Union and says he will uphold France's commitments towards refugees. On the other hand, Le Pen is a fiercely anti-EU candidate, who repeatedly attacked the European project during her campaign. She proposes a referendum on France's participation in the euro, and is enthusiastic about Brexit. Le Pen also wants to restore pre-Schengen borders to fight terrorism and to reduce migration.

In terms of international diplomacy, beyond the EU, Macron and Le Pen are equally opposed. Macron is a strong supporter of multilateralism, whereas Le Pen favours a much more nationalist approach. She explicitly recognised the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014, thus adopting a much softer stance towards Vladimir Putin, and she advocates a closer relationship with Russia.

On 26–27 May 2017, Italy will host the meeting of the G7 leaders at Taormina. By then, the next French president will be in office. The Taormina Summit will be followed by the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7–8 July. These summits will both focus on the global economy, foreign policy, citizens' security and environmental sustainability. Migration and refugee flows will also be on the agenda. On all these issues, Macron and Le Pen have diametrically opposed positions.

At the moment, days before the second round, Macron has taken the lead over Le Pen, polling at 60%. However, a Le Pen win is not to be excluded, as the abstention rate (or blank votes) may be high. Unlike the 2002 presidential elections, when Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine's father) reached the second round and faced Jacques Chirac, this year's elections do not display a united front against the far-right (the so-called Front Republicain that gave Chirac an 80% landslide victory in the second round in 2002). Some registered voters who did not favour Macron in the first round are reluctant — or hesitant — to give him their votes now. For many convinced left-wingers, Macron is considered too liberal at the economic level, and not ambitious enough on environmental issues. For many conservatives, he is perceived as too progressive on social issues, and too soft on the economy. The results will be known on Sunday, at 8 pm.

In any event, even if Emmanuel Macron wins, the relative success of Marine Le Pen (to pass the first round and, if the polls are confirmed in the second round, to obtain a much more significant portion of the votes than her father did in 2002) indicates that the rise of populism in Europe is not fading. Furthermore, either winner will face a major challenge ahead: to win a majority in parliament from a highly fragmented political stage. Therefore, the French parliamentary elections to be held in June will need to be followed closely.

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Amandine Scherrer
Amandine Scherrer, PhD, is policy analyst at the European Parliament. She produces and coordinates implementation reports of EU law, in particular for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). She holds a PhD in Politics (Sciences Po Paris, 2007).

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