France held a landmark election yesterday, 23 April 2017. With turnout of around 80% (around the usual level for a French election), Emmanuel Macron, the center-left leader of the movement En Marche! (created only a year ago) came first with close to 24% of the votes, in front of the far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen with around 21.5%, confirming what the polls had predicted for the past few months.

François Fillon (right-wing – Les Républicains) and Jean-Luc Melenchon (far-left, La France Insoumise / former member of the Socialist party) came third and fourth respectively with 19.91% and 19.64% of the votes, both consequently being eliminated from the second round. Benoît Hamon (Parti Socialiste, left-wing) was chosen by 6.35% of voters and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Debout la France, sovereigntist) by 5.75%. The other five candidates gathered less than 1.5% each. If pollsters had underestimated voter turnout, abstention is rising and with 22% is slightly above the levels of the 2012 presidential election.

After a rather unpredictable and highly unusual campaign, this election marks the start of a new era and a “re-boot” or end of the old “political software”. Key takeaways include

  • A clear call for a renewed French political landscape from French voters:
    • At 39 years old, Emmanuel Macron could become the youngest ever French President and the only one who has never previously held elected office.
    • The likely fragmentation of the political landscape around four distinct political programs could be confirmed in the June legislative elections, leading to the need for the new President to build coalitions - which would be a first for the Fifth Republic.
  • The defeat of traditional political parties, who are left without any leaders:
    • While the French political scene had been organized around two main parties for the last 30 years, namely the Socialist party and the Republicans’ party, for the first time in the Fifth Republic, none of these parties have reached the second round of the Presidential elections, having been relegated to the fifth and third places respectively.
    • Both the candidates from the Socialist party and the Republicans’ party had been designated through primary elections against all odds. Given the result, such a process, uncommon in French politics, is likely to be questioned for the future.
  • Though not ahead in the race, this was still an historic record for the far-right and for populists’ programmes:
    • Even if the final results are at the low end of what polls had predicted, Marine Le Pen did score an historic record with 7.5 million votes.
    • Together with Jean-Luc Melenchon’s results, this means populist parties achieved more than 40% of the vote.

Emmanuel Macron now very likely to become the next president of France, being notably supported against Marine Le Pen by François Fillon and Benoit Hamon, as well as receiving support from many prominent figures from both the right and left wings of the French political establishment.

As of today, the focus is now not only on the second round of the presidential election on May 7, but also on the third round, which will be the parliamentary elections taking place in June. The official support voiced by traditional parties for Emmanuel Macron’s election against the far-right does not mean they will support him later on and he already said on Sunday night that he would start building up his parliamentary majority. The “voting discipline” (meaning that voters at the parliamentary elections vote the same way as in the presidential election to ensure the president of the Republic has a governing majority) may not be as strong as usual and, in the case of one party not having an overall majority in June, this will mean the need to form coalitions, a first for the Fifth Republic. Unlike traditional parties, who are already preparing for the parliamentary election, Emmanuel Macron’s movement will only make the names of its 577 candidates official in the following two weeks. Thus, many of his candidates will be unknown and without local connections. Coupled with the end of cumulative political mandate, the parliamentary elections should lead to an unprecedented renewal of MPs.  

All in all, this looks like interesting times for France, which may soon have a pro-European, pro-business and “open minded” president and a renewed political landscape with potentially new figures from across the civil society and economic circles.

Key Milestones Ahead

  • 3 May: TV debate with the two presidential candidates in the second round
  • 5 May: the end of the campaign for the second round
  • 7 May: the second round of the presidential election
  • 11 May: the official proclamation of the next president of the French Republic
  • 11 June / 18 June: first and second rounds of the general election, to renew the National Assembly
  • 27 June: Opening of the extraordinary session at the French Parliament (a potential 2017 corrective budget bill to be discussed)
  • 24 September: Senatorial election (half of the Senate is up for election)

Perspectives from APCO Colleagues Around the World

A Global View by Brad Staples

The results clearly mark a significant change in the traditional French politics with two “outsider” candidates rising to the second round for the first time. It is a clear rejection of the tired agenda and predictable politics of the traditional parties.

From an international standpoint, clearly the focus is on the radically different visions of the world - and most notably of the European Union - between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. The first-round result of this election confirms again that western political parties need to be overhauled in terms of infrastructure, communications and ideology if they are to appeal to individuals empowered by social media and seeking energized and focused leadership.

The recent defeat of the overtly nationalist and populist candidates in Austria and The Netherlands indicated a small trending shift, which could be confirmed by the outcome of the French election if Macron is to prevail. Importantly, the results of this election will probably define the near-term future for the EU, confidence in the EU economy and in the future of the Euro. The last stages of the French campaign will be heavily scrutinized around the world over the coming two weeks. 

A View from Brussels by Claire Boussagol

As the only candidate out of eleven with a clear European outlook and a business friendly agenda, Emmanuel Macron’s leading presence in the second round of the 2017 French presidential election is a hugely reassuring factor for the Brussels bubble and its institutional elite. The latter is slightly divided over the potential consequences for the EU should Marine Le Pen be elected: while President Juncker rather optimistically thinks that “it would not be the end of the European project”, most other leaders, including French Commissioner Moscovici, think it would be a “fatal blow to the EU”.

The question, however, is not whether “the EU is strong enough to survive even if the Eurosceptic candidate wins”, as Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokesperson said on 21 April. In the context of the unprecedented rise of populism and Euroscepticism, the question is really about the EU’s revival, which can only happen with a clear agenda supported by a clear majority in EU countries such as France, one of the founding members of the EU. 

A View from Berlin by Robert Ardelt

Germany has been following the French campaign and Sunday’s election very attentively, not only because the result will have fundamental implications for the future of the European Union, but also because the result will affect the close, political friendship – the “amitié étroite” – between Germany and France. 

Relief seemed to be the prevalent mood in Germany on Monday morning as German policy makers assumed that Macron is set to win the run-off on May 7. German Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, is confident that “Macron will be the next French president.” Steffen Seibert, spokesperson from the German Government, wished Macron the “best of luck” for the upcoming run-off. And Peter Altmaier, Head of the Federal Chancellery, was delighted that the political centre was stronger than the populists. (A hope many of us are also holding out for our own elections in Germany in September 2017).

The results, however, are not just interesting from a “political centre vs. populists” point of view, but also from an economic perspective as well. The Institute of the German Economy for example underlined that the preliminary results are an encouraging sign for Europe, as it could enable “the Paris-Berlin axis” to once again become a strong driver for the European economy.

All in all, Germany is a strong supporter of “En Marche!”. This support mostly stems from a pro-European conviction. At the same time, however, Germany is very well aware that with Macron as new president, France could become a much stronger competitor in international trade. 

A View from London by Will Wallace

“Hurdle number 1 (of about 1000 remaining) has been cleared on the UK’s path to Brexit.” It is in these pragmatic, realpolitik terms that the UK’s political establishment is seeing last night’s result. The key reaction in Westminster this morning is relief, as opposed to any great enthusiasm for Macron himself. It is more about ‘balance of powers’ than ‘En Marche.’ Perhaps it was ever thus.

There was a small body of opinion that a Le Pen- Mélenchon run-off, despite being chaotic and uncertain politically, might potentially yield dividends for the UK. Their argument was based on the assumption that two Eurosceptics in the Elysée would give the UK more bargaining power and the French would be more likely to give us concessions in the Brexit negotiations. Yet the emotionally charged nature of these candidates would have meant jumping off the cliff - not just in terms of Brexit, but also in terms of the fragile European recovery and the impact for the many UK citizens based in France. In the medium term, an EU collapse is not what the British government wants – and that was the very real risk with a Le Pen- Mélenchon run-off scenario.

The first round outcome last night is definitely preferable from a UK perspective. Despite Macron’s perceived pro-EU institutional stance, having a liberal reformer who is open to deals and compromises (who does not come from any avowedly UK antagonistic stance) is a decent result in terms of Britain’s forthcoming Brexit negotiations. A less ideological, pro-market reformist candidate (with a vaguely pro Anglo stance) is no bad thing and may also help in the important defence and security relationship between the two countries. Le Pen being in the run-off was already expected. The fact she has not run away with it and, crucially, does not look likely to triumph in the final contest, reduces the clout of those on the right wing of the UK Parliament who are pushing for the hardest, most populist Brexit. The preferred result from the British government’s perspective would be a Macron Presidency with a strong Eurosceptic Assembly keeping him honest on EU reform, as well as with regards to the EU institutions’ approach to the final Brexit deal.

The concerns in London today are over Macron’s ability to rally the ‘rest’ to hold their nose and vote for him in the final round, as well as whether he is politically experienced enough to drive reform, do well in the Assembly elections and manage Parliament (which could drive some to vote for Le Pen). What optimism there is, however, might be short lived if he is successful in reforming the state and business culture enough that the bankers and others in the financial industry based the City of London decide to up sticks and set up shop in La Défense instead…

A View from Rome by Rossella Carrara

A feeling of relief is the main reaction from the Italian establishment to the results of the first round of the French presidential elections. Many in Italy are treating the French results as a reassuring sign that it is possible to stem the rise of populism and anti-Europeanism. The game is not over yet, of course, but most assume that Marine Le Pen is highly unlikely to emerge victorious in the next round. On the other hand, the results have already been cited by some populist parties in Italy to underline how traditional parties have lost grip on the electorate, with Macron emerging as an independent candidate and founder of a new political movement. This being said, each political party in Italy is trying to spin the French results in its favour to try and gain political advantage in the local political arena, given the upcoming Italian General Election to be held by Spring 2018 at the latest.

The Democratic Party (the current ruling party) is in the middle of a primary election and its likely winner, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, has strongly identified himself with Macron as his French counterpart. He shares with him the same political slogan, “In cammino” (Italian for “En Marche”) as well as the political goal of reforming the EU. Pro-European members of the Democratic Party have also praised Macron’s courage in defending the EU and hope a similar stance will be taken at a national level.

The French results are exposing the divisions within the centre-right in Italy, where an internal struggle for the leadership is currently taking place. Matteo Salvini, leader of the populist right-wing party Lega Nord, underlined the great result obtained by Le Pen and emphasised that her loss should not be taken for granted before May 7; on the other hand, former prime minister and leader of the centre-right party Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, pointed out how an excess of populism is dangerous and stands in the way of the centre-right’s political chances. 

Finally, the anti-establishment force Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five Star Movement) has taken a more cautious stance, simply underlining that the results show the end of the traditional parties in France, but avoiding strong comments on the two candidates who will compete in the run-off.

A View from Dubai by Nicholas Labuschange

No immediate disappointment was noticed in the markets and among the MENA business community. The overall mood of cautious optimism seen in Europe is mirrored across much of the Middle East region. The political leadership in this region is not expected to comment before the results of the second round. Media here has mostly simply recycled foreign stories, offering limited commentary.

A Macron victory in the second round would mean mostly good news for French-Arab relations and economic cooperation, as he is representing a pro-EU, pro-international stance for France.  Aerospace and  defense, and energy – renewables in particular, are two industries in MENA that would be set to contribute from Macron’s election, judging from his electoral plans and expressed policy position. His banking experience is also viewed favorably, especially in the UAE, the economic hub of the region.

On the other hand, some governments in the region might secretly prefer the “strongwoman”/nationalist approach to governance embodied by Le Pen. There are alleged reports of strong back-channel relations between some regional governments and the Le Pen campaign.  Despite such preference, they would have to be careful in a situation where Le Pen did manage to win, as she is running on an openly anti-Islam platform. A similar mechanism for dealing with Trump might be applied by the MENA governments - a cautious, business and security-focused relationship, with “soft” issues on the sidelines.

While Macron has clearly captured the electoral momentum, the leadership in the MENA region has been extremely careful so far not to express any opinion. Such a stance is in line with a historic position of non-interference and avoiding premature commentary on leadership transitions in other countries.   The position of Russia in this election has also been followed with interest, particularly at a time when Russian and Iranian interference in the region is deeply scrutinized.

A View from Istanbul by Deniz Gungen

In the aftermath of the constitutional referendum characterized by heated debates and controversies involving Turkish citizens living also in Europe, Turkey remembered the elections in France with the French Interior Ministry’s official tweet of the popular Turkish butcher Nusret’s “saltbae” photo, calling French citizens to vote.

Another popular topic of the election was a photo of a ballot taken in France with President Erdogan’s name as the choice of president. Apart from popular news, political debate on the French elections in Turkey has been limited, and focused predominantly on polarization in France; the possibility of France’s exit from the EU; and the growing concerns regarding the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, which was expressly emphasized by the Turkish government and President Erdogan in the pre- and post-referendum period, along with the incipient topic of Turkey’s future with the EU. Media close to the government also urged the OSCE to prepare a report on France similar to the one OSCE published on the Turkish referendum, since both elections were implemented under the state of emergency. Despite the fact that France has been one of Turkey’s major business partners, Turkish business has been relatively quiet on the elections due in large part to the expectations that Macron would ultimately win the elections, which means “business as usual” for many in the Turkish business community.

A View from New Delhi by Rameesh Kailasam

France and India have traditionally enjoyed a warm relationship built on fundamentals of mutual trust and respect, irrespective of who was in power in both countries. This cooperation extends into areas such as defense, space, security, energy, technology and culture.

In India the perceptions of both candidates carry different perspectives, but the belief is the bilateral relations will continue to remain intact. Emmanuel Macron is seen here as a pro-European leader, who is business friendly and therefore would continue to benefit India from a trade standpoint. Whereas Marine Le Pen is a right wing anti-immigration leader and many of her views may resonate well in France's continued support to India on some areas of cooperation including counter- terrorism.

A view from Tel Aviv by Lana Osher

For observers from Israel, the first round of French elections, which were held on the eve of Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial Day, echoed dark shadows of the past and the rise of far-right-wing parties in Europe. With about 70,000 Israelis eligible to vote in the French election, the French Embassy in Tel Aviv and consulates in Netanya and Jerusalem saw a strong mobilization of French voters - with dual-citizens waiting for hours to have their voices heard in France’s most contested election in recent memory. While commentators noted that most French citizens living in Israel have ‘conservative leanings’ and would likely support Republican François Fillon, polls which indicated fears that Fillon could not reach the next round in the election drove voters to support Macron.

Le Pen’s extreme nationalist tendencies, previous warnings that she would prohibit dual citizenship for citizens of non-European countries, and a history of anti-Semitic rhetoric, sparked fear for the French-Israeli community and concern among a number of Israeli leaders – for whom the situation is made more complex by the relative strong support Le Pen has indicated for the war on Islamic Radicalism. In a conversation with Chancellor Kern of Austria who was visiting Jerusalem yesterday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin remarked, “anti-Semitism and fascism have not disappeared – not in Austria, and not in Europe. Last year, in my speech on Holocaust Memorial Day, I said that Israel cannot and will not give legitimacy to any kind of anti-Semitism, even when it is disguised, hiding, as pro-Israel or anti-Muslim.”

A View from Tokyo by Seiko Indo

Here in Japan, there has so far been limited reporting regarding the impact of the first round results in France yesterday.  This is mainly because Japan is nervously watching the situation closer to home, with the country on high alert regarding the possibility of North Korea conducting a nuclear test tomorrow, to mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of its military. The Japanese business community is, however, widely relieved that France has avoided the prospect of a run-off between Le Pen and Mélenchon – with the huge uncertainty such a result would have brought to the future of the European Union.  With Macron now widely expected to win in the next round, the predominant feeling is one of relief  that France will remain a leading Member State in the EU.

A View from Washington by Gadi Dechter

The French elections are the second top political story in the United States today, behind a possible U.S. government shutdown on Friday, amid funding disagreements between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. President Trump did not endorse Marine Le Pen, but her views on foreign policy, immigration, and domestic economic nationalism are similar to the U.S. president’s - and she would be a crucial ally to Trump on the world stage, where he is ideologically isolated among developed nations. Political observers will be watching for Trump to tweet his views (or to muster the discipline to stay out of it, as his national security advisers no doubt would prefer).

Insofar as the political contest in France is viewed as a litmus test for the global populism that swept Trump into office, Macron’s top-spot in the initial round will come as a relief to establishment Republicans and Democrats alike. Macron is the ideological opposite of Trump (he favors a tough policy on Russia, deeper EU integration and multilateral approaches to global issues like climate change), and relations between the United States and France, should Macron win, could be frosty. Macron received the tacit support of former President Obama, who personally called the novice politician earlier this month.

Nicolas Castex

Nicolas Castex is managing director of APCO Worldwide in France and has more than 20 years of experience in corporate and financial communications. Read More

Véronique Ferjou

Véronique Ferjou, deputy managing director of APCO Worldwide's Paris office, has 15 years of professional experience and benefits from a dual French and European public affairs expertise. Read More