After beating out nine other candidates, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron will go head to head to become France’s next president when the country votes in a run-off election on May 7. The two candidates are radically different, and the results of the race could impact relationships and policies throughout Europe and the world.
The front-runner in the final election is Macron, a former investment banker who was serving as the country’s economy minister before quitting to run for president as an independent. If elected, the presidency would be Macron’s first elected office.
Macron is viewed by many as a centrist break from France’s traditional left or right leadership and a liberal alternative to his challenger, Le Pen. Macron has been backed by much of France’s political establishment, including former presidential candidate Francois Fillon.
Among Macron’s biggest plans are investing in public health and infrastructure, cutting corporate tax rates, and modernizing workplace rules, including passing a bill that allows more stores to be open on Sundays. Macron wants to integrate France with the EU and advocates supporting free trade and currency reform for the region.
Marine Le Pen
The other contender is a lawyer with political ties. Le Pen took over control of the far-right National Front Party from her father in 2011. She has worked to soften the party’s image and helped the party earn its best-ever results in the 2012 election, but to many she still embodies Europe’s anti-European and anti-immigration viewpoints.
Le Pen’s plans include removing France from the EU, forcibly expelling illegal immigrants, limiting annual migration, closing mosques with ties to extremists, and banning all visible religious symbols worn in public. A so-called “Frexit” would require a referendum to change the country’s constitution, but she has even gone as far to say that she will resign from the presidency if voters chose to remain in the EU.
“It is time to liberate the French nation from arrogant elites who want to dictate how it must behave,” she said.
Effect on Europe
Electing either candidate will make a change in the political landscape of the EU, especially because the two final candidates are both seen as outsider candidates in one form or another. Their views on France’s role in Europe are starkly different and could have vastly different effects.
A victory by Macron would be viewed as a rejection of Europe’s traditional backlash against Muslim immigration and European unity. Macron has called on France to work closer with its neighbors and is an advocate for free trade and the CETA agreement between Canada and the EU. Macron wants stricter controls on immigration, but also wants to make France a welcome country for refugees.
“The surge of support for Emmanuel Macron in France shows that liberal, pro-EU centrists may yet have a future in European politics. This would be good for the EU,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform.
Le Pen believes international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and NATO has undermined France’s control and wants to remove the country from the groups. Her plans to pull France from the EU in a Brexit-like move could affect the entire region.
She also wants to separate France from the rest of the region in many other ways, including taking the country off the euro and get rid of the border-free area. To many experts, a Le Pen victory could be disastrous for the already fragile EU. Le Pen, who has stated her campaign has received funds from Russia, advocates closer ties between Russia and France.
A presidential victory by either Le Pen or Macron would change France’s course and cause ripples to felt through the EU and the rest of the world. Voters will have a chance to make history when they vote on May 7.