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The results of the first round of voting in the two-round French presidential elections are in! Pro-EU businessman Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen are the two candidates who will face off in the second/final round of voting within a fortnight.
French presidential elections do not normally attract this much fanfare internationally, but the results of the first round of the 2017 race are interesting for two main reasons. The first is that there is a 50% chance that there could be a Le Pen presidency which would add to a growing string of political upsets globally. The second is that neither candidate is from the mainstream political parties in France, a firm rejection by the French people of the entrenched political establishment, not unlike what occurred in the US with the election of Donald Trump.
France has a two-ballot presidential election system which means that in the event of no one candidate winning over 50% of the votes in the first ballot, the two front-runners have to face off against each other in a second ballot. As of the time of this article’s writing, Emmanuel Macron is estimated to have won this first run-off with 23.9% of the vote, while Ms. Le Pen came second with 21.4%, beating the other candidates.
France at the moment is facing lacklustre GDP growth, high unemployment, high debt and an increase in high-profile and deadly terrorist attacks, which means the anti-establishment, anti-business as usual mood comes as no surprise. Incumbent President, Francois Hollande, currently faces low approval ratings and has decided not to seek a second term.
The Two Candidates
While Macron and Le Pen are ‘outsiders’ from the political mainstream, the two candidates represent two diammetrically opposed worldviews. Emmanuel Macron is a former investment banker who has never held elected office, but had worked for Mr. Francois Hollande during the 2012 Presidential Election campaign. He also subsequently served as Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs under then Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2014 until August 2016. Mr. Macron founded his own party En Marche! in April 2016 which currently has 253,907 members, according to the Party’s official website. The centrist Mr. Macron is pro- Europe, socially liberal and believes that France’s prosperity can be ensured through pursuing pro-trade and outward-looking policies and through continued membership in the EU.
Marine Le Pen is a lawyer, a Member of the European Parliament since 2009 and the leader of the populist Front National, a far-right party which had been on the dark fringes of French politics until recently. She is the daughter of Front National co-founder, Jean Marie Le Pen, a far-right ethno-nationalist. She sought to distance herself from some of her father’s most extreme views as she sought to broaden the Party’s appeal, and succeeded in having him ousted from the party. Ms. Le Pen, however, has strongly anti-immigrant, anti-EU views and has expressed enthusiastic support of both Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US.
The polarity in the views of the two candidates means that the election of either will have completely opposite global implications.
What’s at stake with the French presidential election?
Although polls are showing a Macron victory, Le Pen still has a chance of winning the final run-off on May 7. A Le Pen victory on May 7th would be the continuation of a nationalist, inward-looking turn in advanced western economies, with both economic and geopolitical implications. Domestically, she has indicated her intention to pursue protectionist economic policies and champion anti-immigration reforms. She is anti-globalisation and anti-free trade. She has vowed that she would pull France from the EU and the eurozone, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). She has voiced her intention to strengthen relations with Russia and had forcefully condemned the EU decision to extend its sanctions on Russia until mid-2017.
In their forecasts for the global economy and world trade respectively, both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have forecast higher growth rates but noted the vulnerability of the forecast growth to trade, monetary and other policies pursued by governments. IMF Managing Director, Christine Legarde (who is a former French Minister of Finance) has been reported as stating that a Le Pen presidency could lead to political and economic upheaval.
First, France is the 6th largest economy in the world. A founding member of the EU, it is also the eurozone’s second largest economy. A more isolationist France would impact on the global economy and have implications for western approaches to current global threats and a reshaping of global alliances. Moreover, a French withdrawal from the EU (termed ‘Frexit’), coming on the heels of the UK’s withdrawal from same, could plunge the EU into an existential crisis more so than Brexit would.
Any implications of the French election for the Caribbean?
Will there be any implications of a possible Le Pen presidency for the Caribbean? The specifics of Ms. Le Pen’s policies are still not fleshed out. However, a French withdrawal from the EU would reduce the amount of EU development assistance which the region currently receives under the European Development Fund (EDF).
But what about trade? Thanks to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed between the EU and CARIFORUM in 2008, the countries which make up CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) currently enjoy preferential market access for their goods and services to the EU market, including to the French market (and to French Caribbean Outermost Regions, by extension).
However, should France leave the EU, it would no longer be a party to the EPA. On its own, the lack of preferential access to the French market would be unlikely to have any significant economic impact on the anglophone Caribbean trade-wise as the volume of trade between English-speaking Caribbean countries and metropolitan France is limited.
There are, however, small but growing trade links between some CARICOM countries) and the FCORs, which are Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. Martinique, for example, is one of the most important source markets for tourists to St. Lucia. While there are issues which have inhibited greater CARIFORUM trade with FCORs including the language barrier and the ‘octroi de mer’ (dock dues) charged on all imports into FCORs (despite the EPA), the FCORs are also seen as stepping stones for exporting to continental Europe using the EPA. A French withdrawal from the EU if Ms. Le Pen wins means the latter will not be possible.
It is the democratic right of the French populace to choose which of the two candidates is in their country’s best interests. However, given France’s economic and geopolitical importance globally, and the political upsets of late, the results of the final round on May 7 will reverberate far beyond its borders.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.