France will vote over two rounds in April on whether to give President Emmanuel Macron a second five-year term or entrust a different candidate with the presidency in an unpredictable election that could mark a shift to the right in French politics.
The first round of voting, which includes all candidates who get enough signatures to run, takes place on April 10.
The two contenders with the most votes will then face a showdown on April 24. Based on the latest polls, Macron will be one of those in the run-off, but the other place looks up for grabs.
The winner’s prospects after securing the presidency will depend on another set of voting: legislative elections in June. Securing a majority among the 577 députés in the National Assembly, the lower house, will be crucial to be able to enact policies. A president whose supporters do not control the assembly faces a potentially difficult and unproductive “cohabitation” with hostile legislators.
Emmanuel Macron, the centrist incumbent, comfortably leads the first-round polls. France’s strong post-pandemic economic recovery will probably boost his ratings. His campaign will also focus on his efforts to liberalise the economy. But Macron must convince voters he is more than a president of the rich and that he can be trusted with immigration, a key battleground in the debate.
Valérie Pécresse, elected leader of the Île-de-France region around Paris, won the nomination for the centre-right Les Républicains. Polls suggest she could pose a serious challenge to Macron in a run-off. Self-described as two-thirds Angela Merkel and one-third Margaret Thatcher, Pécresse has taken a hard line on immigration, wants to slash public spending and fight sexual harassment. To become France’s first female president, she must win over centrist voters and conservatives who are flirting with candidates from the far right.
Marine Le Pen
Despite Pécresse’s solid performance so far, polls suggest it could be Marine Le Pen of the far-right Rassemblement National who will face Macron in the final round, as she did in 2017. Le Pen’s attempts to “detoxify” her party’s racist image, however, could put her in a tricky spot: hardline rightwingers might feel more at home with far-right rival Eric Zemmour, while Pécresse and Macron are better placed to capture centre-right votes.
Eric Zemmour, an anti-immigration television polemicist recently convicted of hate speech, is another contender for the rightwing vote. Rising from nowhere to second place in the polls last autumn, he has shaken up the campaign and provoked tensions by calling for “immigration zero”. But his support has waned since he declared his candidacy in November, and he is now polling narrowly behind both Le Pen and Pécresse.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a leftwing veteran who founded La France Insoumise, or “France Unbowed”, after defecting from the Socialist party, is the best-supported candidate on the left of French politics. He wants to lower the retirement age, legalise cannabis and welcome migrants. With France’s fractured left unable to unite behind one candidate, however, his chances of reaching the second round look slim.
Yannick Jadot, an MEP and leader of the Green party Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, calls himself a pragmatic environmentalist. He led the Greens to third place in the EU elections in 2019 and like Macron he refuses to be branded as from the left or right.
Fabien Roussel, a journalist, became general secretary of the French Communist party in 2018. He favours re-industrialisation, a shorter working week and retirement at 60, but has also discomfited some on the environmentally-minded left — and attracted bons vivants from the Socialists — by arguing cheerfully that a higher minimum wage would allow people to enjoy “good wine, good meat and good cheese” to benefit the economy and improve eating habits.
Anne Hidalgo, Socialist mayor of Paris since 2014, is best known for her efforts to rid large parts of the French capital of cars, winning her fans internationally but enemies in Paris and its suburbs. But her poll numbers are in the low single digits and have recently declined, suggesting her hopes for the presidency are remote.
Christiane Taubira, justice minister in François Hollande’s Socialist government, entered the race after winning an online “people’s primary” organised by leftwing activists. Her rivals have ignored that vote and refused to unite behind her. She has represented the French territory of Guiana in South America in the National Assembly for nearly two decades and is considered an LGBT icon for her work to legalise same-sex marriage. She withdrew from the race on March 2 after failing to secure the 500 sponsors among elected officials required to become a candidate.