25/03/2007 - Analysis - 1st round
On 22nd April next over 44.5 million French voters will be called to ballot to appoint the President of the Republic. For the first time since the first presidential election by universal suffrage in 1965 the candidates from the two main political parties – the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the Socialist Party (PS) are running for the first time. Each symbolises the rise of new generations within the French political community. The present President, Jacques Chirac (UMP) announced on 11th March that he would not run for a new term in office. Although until a few weeks ago the final match appeared to be between Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP) and Ségolène Royal (PS) the recent breakthrough by François Bayrou (Union for French Democracy) in the opinion polls has somewhat disturbed matters since the UDF candidate is catching up on his UMP and PS adversaries. Although according to the polls the National Front leader (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen who is running for the supreme office for the fifth time does not seem to be a threat to the other three candidates, he is all the more present since his real influence is still hard to assess.
The presidential election on 22nd April and 6th May will be followed on 10th and 17th June next by general elections that will lead to the renewal of the 577 members of the National Assembly, the lower house in the French Parliament.
The French Political System
Since 1962 the President of the French Republic has been elected by direct universal suffrage in a majority vote in two rounds. If none of the candidates wins the absolute majority of the votes in the first round a second round is organised the following Sunday. All candidates must be 23 years and over and collate at least 500 signatures of elected representatives (MPs, regional councillors, general councillors, mayors) from at least 30 departments or overseas communities without one tenth of them being elected in the same department.
Head of the Army, the President of the French Republic holds executive power. He appoints the Prime Minister and ends his office on the presentation of the government's resignation by the latter. The Head of State declares laws within the fifteen days that follow the transfer over to the government of texts that have been adopted. On a proposal by the government or by both Houses of Parliament he may submit a law or the ratification of a treaty to referendum. After consultation with the Prime Minister and the chairmen of the two Houses the President of the Republic may also pronounce the dissolution of the National Assembly.
On 19th March the Constitutional Council drew up a list of 12 politicians, four less than during the election on 21st April and 5th May 2002, who are to stand officially in the presidential election on 22nd April and 6th May 2007:
- Nicolas Sarkozy (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP), 52 years old, former Budget Minister (1993-1995) in Edouard Balladur's government (RPR), subsequently Home Minister, Home Security Local Freedom Minister (2002-2004), Economy and Finance Minister (March-November 2004) under the governments of Jean-Pierre Raffarin (UMP) and Home and Urban Development Minister (2005-26th March 2007) in the government led by Dominique de Villepin (UMP). Lying to the right on the political scale he was appointed by his party on 14th January last;
- Ségolène Royal (Socialist Party, PS) is supported by the Radical Left Party (PRG) and the Republican and Citizen's Movement (MRC). Aged 53, Ségolène Royal is MP and president of the Region Poitou Charentes; former Environment Minister (1992-1993) in Pierre Bérégovoy's government, delegate Minister for Education (1997-2000 and delegate Minister for the Family, Children and the Elderly (2001-2002) in the governments led by Lionel Jospin. The leftwing social democrat candidate was appointed by her party on 16th November 2006 easily winning the primary elections that brought her up against Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Laurent Fabius;
- François Bayrou (Union for French Democracy, UDF), is supported by Cap 21, the Federalist and Liberal Alternative Party. Aged 56, François Bayrou is the chairman of the centrist party, general council for the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and former Minister of Education (1993-1997) in the governments led by Edouard Balladur and Alain Juppé (RPR) – he is also a former MEP. He ran in the last presidential election on 21st April and 5th May 2002 winning 6.84% of the vote in the first round;
- Jean-Marie Le Pen (National Front, FN), is supported by the National Republican Movement (MNR). Aged 78 the president of the extreme rightwing party is an MEP. He ran for election in 1974, 1988, 1995, reaching the second round in 2002 with 16.86% on 21st April and 17.79% on May 5th.
- Olivier Besancenot (Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) is 33 years old. Mr Besancenot stood in the last presidential election and is an extreme leftwing candidate winning 4.25% of the vote in the first round;
- Marie-George Buffet (Communist Party, PC), 58 years old, MP and former Minister for Youth and Sport in the government led by Lionel Jospin (PS) (1997-2002);
- Arlette Laguiller (Lutte ouvrière (Workers' Movement, LO), 67 years old is a former MEP and has been an extreme leftwing candidate in the last five presidential elections (1974, 1981, 1988, 1995 and 2002 when she won 5.72% of the vote) ;
- Philippe de Villiers (Movement for France, MPF), 58 years old represents the sovereignist right, is an MEP and president of the General Council of the Vendée – he is former Secretary of State for the Ministry of Culture and Communication (1986-1987) in Jacques Chirac's (RPR) government;
- Dominique Voynet (Greens), 48 years old, former Urban Development and Environment Minister (1997-2001) in the government led by Lionel Jospin and Senator for Seine-Saint-Denis;
- José Bové, is supported by the leftwing alternative movements – he is cofounder and former spokesperson of the agricultural union "la Confédération Paysanne" (CP) ;
- Gérard Schivardi, is supported by the Workers' Party (PT), is a former member of the Socialist Party from which he resigned in 2003, Mayor of Maihlac and General Councillor of Aude.
- Frédéric Nihous (Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Tradition, CPNT), 40 years old, defender of rural life and former campaign director for Jean Saint Josse (CPNT) in the presidential election of 2002.
Since 1981 when François Mitterand (PS) was elected as the first leftwing President of the V Republic the French have opted for political change in every general election. However over the same period they have chosen to elect the same President in office back into power twice (François Mitterand in 1988 and Jacques Chirac in 2002). This gave rise to several periods of cohabitation (1986-1988, 1993-1995, 1997-2002) between a President lying to one side of the political scale and a parliamentary majority which tended to the opposite side. The presidential election on 22nd April 2007 is specific in that it is the first in twenty years not to be taking place after a period of cohabitation.
In 2007 France faces problems common to all European societies: an ageing population, difficulties in adapting to the rise of emerging countries and more generally to globalisation, the defence of its values of peace and equality in a world which is still unequal and potentially dangerous. To this we might add the problem of unemployment which is particularly high (8.6% of the working population in February 2007). Both national and international polls show that the French are amongst the most pessimistic people in the European Union and the greatest in number to be against free enterprise and the market economy. Hence according to the poll undertaken by Globescan in May-June 2006 only one third of the French (36%) say they agree with the statement "free enterprise and the market economy are the best systems for the future of the world," versus 66% of the British, 65% of the Germans, 63% of the Spanish and 59% of the Italians. The most recent national election, the referendum on the European Constitution on 29th May 2005 when the French voted NO by 54.47% revealed the population's concern with regard to developments in the world that it finds difficult to understand and which is a source of fear.
The future President of the Republic will therefore have a good deal of work to do in bringing confidence back to a country which far from being deprived of major advantages does however require reform in order to succeed in playing its role and finding its rightful place in the globalized world.
The programmes of the three main candidates
Nicolas Sarkozy, who is against the "35 hour regime" does not want to turn back the clocks but he does however suggest exempting all overtime from tax and social charges. The UMP candidate would also like to create a single working contract in order to encourage people to return to work, increase the minimum pension and the "small" pensions and also to pool together the social minima into one single allocation. With regard to taxation he would like to reduce tax pressure by reducing fortune tax (IFS) and create a fiscal threshold of 50% on income. Finally he is promising to reduce obligatory contributions by four points during his Presidency.
For her part Ségolène Royal is promising to increase the minimum salary to 1,500 euros and if she wins she promises to convene a national meeting on salaries. The socialist candidate is promising that young people will not remain unemployed for more than six months without benefiting from "a transitional job", paid counselling or training. She also hopes to promote a type of mass trade unionism similar to that which exists in Scandinavia.
With regard to employment François Bayrou is suggesting the elimination of existing work contracts to be replaced by a progressive full contract unlimited in time, which would be exempt of social contributions for five years for companies who would create two new jobs and a bonus of 35% for all overtime as well as an exemption from contributions for the company. He hopes to organise a referendum on a reform of the retirement system for the establishment of a universal point dependent retirement system – this would include special regimes and free choice for workers who have reached retirement age. Finally the UDF candidate would like to include a clause to prohibit a government from presenting an annual budget that is in effective deficit.
Ségolène Royal, who is in favour of organising a referendum on the establishment of a VI Republic, is against the plurality of mandates on the part of MPs. She also wants to abolish article 49-3 of the French Constitution that allows the Prime Minister to make the government responsible before the National Assembly on the vote of a text, two proposals which also feature in François Bayrou's programme who is also suggesting the creation of a VI Republic. Nicolas Sarkozy would like to limit the number of ministers to fifteen, establish a minimum service in public services and promotes the replacement of only one civil servant in two on retirement.
Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy share the same view in their request for the protection of Europe. The Socialist candidate wants to do away with European subsidies for companies who relocate from one Member State to another (or impose reimbursement on the part of those which relocate outside of the Union) and establish "capped tax rates" along with social and environmental rules for companies in order to put a halt to relocations. Nicolas Sarkozy speaks in favour of "Community preference". François Bayrou would like to keep a share of the public markets for European companies and establish social charges at a level whereby it is in companies' interest to create jobs in Europe and keep them there. He is also in favour of the establishment of a tax on products that come from countries which do not respect certain social and environmental values.
As for European governance Nicolas Sarkozy is in favour of the creation of geometrically variable groups and of putting an end to the unanimity rule by the extension of the super qualified majority (70% or 80% of the votes) so that States who want to act can do so. Ségolène Royal would like "Europe via proof", which means combining "emulation, social and fiscal harmonisation and mutualization," re-opening debate on what Europeans are really expecting of the Union in their daily lives with regard to social matters, economic governance and notably the environment. With regard to the European Constitution the UMP leader is suggesting the writing of a mini treaty which would only include parts one and two of the constitutional treaty and which would be adopted by the French Parliament in the Summer 2007 before being ratified by the other Member States and prior to the European elections in 2009. He would postpone all debate on the future of Europe and the writing of a new text for which he recommends the assembly of a "Grand Convention" until after this date. Ségolène Royal is against ratification in Parliament. Her project plans for the launch during the German presidency of a major European debate in the shape of a large scale consultation bringing together national and local representatives from all Member States, social partners and associations (a citizens' consultation might be organised via the internet) leading to a Convention under the French presidency (as from 1st July 2008) responsible for writing an institutional treaty that would be submitted for ratification on the same day across Europe according to the method chosen by each State (submitted to referendum in France). The Socialist candidate would like this treaty to include a social chapter bearing a "base of minimum rights for workers." Finally François Bayrou would like a referendum on a new simplified constitutional treaty (without part three on European policies) and in addition to this suggests a "review clause" that would allow the regular revision of the Union's common policies and competences.
With regard to enlargement both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Bayrou are against Turkey coming into the European Union – the Socialist candidate is the only one to be in favour planning however this entry with care and pragmatism after Turkey recognises the Armenian genocide and not for another ten to fifteen years.
What the other candidates are proposing
Two extreme leftwing candidates, Arlette Laguiller and Olivier Besancenot that laying people off should be made illegal and the increase of all salaries by 300 euros monthly. The Revolutionary Communist League candidate would also like to reduce working hours to 32 hours per week, a measure which also features in the programme of the anti-globalisation candidate José Bové. The latter is also in favour of prohibiting the farming of genetically modified plants in open fields as well as their development for use in foodstuffs. Olivier Besancenot and José Bové are requesting the abolition of all existing European treaties including the Rome treaty and the dismantling of the Union's institutions.
Gérard Schivardi is in favour of renationalising key economic sectors. He is the only candidate to demand an "immediate departure from the European Union."
Marie-George Buffet (PC) is recommending an increase of the minimum salary to 1,500 euros gross and the raising of all social minima by 300 euros. She promises a rise of 10% in all civil servants' salaries. Dominique Voynet (Greens) would like to bring the share of organic farming up to 15% of total production and to reduce the share of nuclear energy by 30% in ten years. With regard to Europe the Communist candidate is also suggesting the "end of the present treaties and their replacement by a new one."
Philippe de Villiers would like to abolish the 35 hour system and reduce obligatory contributions to 33% of the GDP. The candidate for the Movement for France also wants to establish an obligatory uniform to be worn in all schools and the creation of an obligatory military service of six months. Although he admits that some challenges can only be settled Europe wide Philippe de Villiers is however requesting greater freedom for Member States and says that he favours the writing of a "Founding Charter for a New Europe."
On the extreme rightwing Jean-Marie Le Pen would like to establish national preference with regard to housing, allocations, social benefits etc... He would also like progressively to do away with income tax. Although the National Front candidate would like to re-introduce border controls within Europe he no longer recommends, unlike in 2002, that France leaves the Union immediately now contenting himself with the request to return to the use of the Franc.
Finally the programme put forward by Frédéric Nihous is focussed on the revival of the rural world (creation of free zones and tax rebates for those who take up disused agricultural ventures) and of course on hunting (acknowledgement of traditional hunting dates of migratory birds).
At just one month from the election Nicolas Sarkozy is ahead of his adversaries in the polls. He does however have Ségolène Royal following hot on his heels – CSA says they are running neck and neck (26%) in the most recent polls undertaken on 21st and 22nd March. In the same poll François Bayrou rises above the 20% mark (21%), whilst he is credited with 17% of the vote in a poll undertaken by BVA on 22nd March (versus 31% for the UMP leader and 24% for the Socialist candidate). According to IFOP Nicolas Sarkozy is due to win 28% of the vote, versus 24% for Ségolène Royal and 21% for François Bayrou. Jean-Marie Le Pen is due to win 13% of the vote in the polls undertaken by CSA and BVA and 14% in that undertaken by IFOP. The "minority" leftwing candidates represent around 12% of the voting intentions, whilst Philippe de Villiers does not make it beyond 1% and Frédéric Nihous 0.5%.
The official campaign will begin on 9th April and end on 21st April (20th for the French living on the American continent who will be voting for the first time the day before the official election on mainland France). Revealing the lesser known candidates it might change the state of play to a degree. Hence Olivier Besancenot, unknown to the man on the street just before the 2002 election rose from 0.5% of the vote at the beginning of April to 5% the day before the first round of the election. There is however total uncertainty about the two candidates who will win on 22nd April next and a fortiori about the person who will succeed Jacques Chirac at the Elysee Palace on 16th May.
Résultats de l'élection présidentielle française des 21 avril et 5 mai 2002
Résultats de l'élection présidentielle française des 21 avril et 5 mai 2002 First Round
Turn out rate: : 71,61%
Source : Centre de données socio-politiques (CDSP)
Turn out rate: 79,71%
Source : Centre de données socio-politiques (CDSP)