Francois Fillon: From Nobody to President of France?

Francois Fillon has won the Les Republicains Party primary (former Gaullists – UMP) and is well poised to win the French presidency. The temperature is rising in Brussels.

Former Premier Francois Fillon (AFP PHOTO)
Former Premier Francois Fillon (The Times of Israel, November 27, 2016, via AFP)

In a recent article I mused as to whether Alain Juppé might win the primary. With former President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-12) down in the primary polls, Juppé’s optimism and socially moderate views looked popular. An elder statesman who was Premier under former President Jacques Chirac from 1995-97, Juppé took on grandfatherly persona that seemed for a time to be drawing significant attention. Juppé’s support for multiculturalism, a “happy identity” as he called it, was at odds with the general mood on the French right. Fillon and Juppé eliminated Sarkozy, whose stale rightist rhetoric foreshadowed yet another unremarkable presidency. The two proceeded to a runoff in which the more socially traditionalist Fillon trounced Juppé 2 to 1.

Francois’s Coup D’etat

Francois Fillon served as Premier in Sarkozy’s government from 2007-12 despite the fact that the two men do not get on well. He has long been a Euroskeptic, he opposed France’s membership in the European Union (EU) in the first place. With frustration in the EU reaching a boiling point, might he consider a referendum on Frexit? Fillon could also press for serious reforms of the EU.

Fillon is also a social conservative, which pleases France’s Catholics. While conservative, he is not lacking in pragmatism: he would not repeal France’s law permitting homosexual marriage, nor would he push for a ban on abortion. He supports some adoption for homosexual couples as well. Generally, he will promote more traditional French values. Fillon’s family life reflects his political positions, he has been married to his wife Penelope since 1980 and they have five children. Such devotion is rare among France’s ruling elite.

The economy is a critical issue in this election, and Fillon’s support for free market policies promises a return to prosperity from the current stagnation. During his tenure as Premier, Fillon improved the flexibility of labour laws and made substantive reductions in spending. His present platform includes proposals to allow younger workers to work longer hours and earn more money, remove the burden of 500,000 public sector jobs, repeal the wealth tax that has driven wealthy citizens to other countries, and increase the retirement age to prolong the solvency of public pension programmes.

Fillon is also ready to set political correctness aside to address France’s security concerns. He rightly identifies militant Islam as the primary threat to peace and freedom in Europe, but unlike French rightists, he does not blame Islam as a whole or Muslims altogether. It is curious just how well Fillon’s positions fit the over all mood of the French right as it stands. He may well fit the general mood of the French electorate. History has set the stage, and Fillon is the right man to take the lead role.

The General Election

Few opinion polls have even been taken in which Fillon is included, such is his meteoric rise from dark horse status. Mostof the  recent polls for the general election considered only Sarkozy or Juppé as the likely Les Republicains nominee. Several runoff scenarios have been polled, however, in which Fillon easily defeats rightist Marine Le Pen, the most likely runoff contender, and incumbent President Francois Hollande who needs something of a miracle to make the runoff. It seems very likely that Fillon will advance to the runoff wherein he will prove a formidable opponent.

French President Francois Hollande (AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)
French President Francois Hollande (The Times of Israel, June 30, 2016, via AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)

Hollande’s Despair

In 2012, Francois Hollande bested Nicolas Sarkozy to become only the second Socialiste Party President since the beginning of the Fifth Republic. His policies included high taxes, taking in large numbers of refugees from the Middle East, and trying to appease France’s powerful public employee unions. The result has been the alienation of virtually the entire electorate. High taxes drove many of France’s wealthiest citizens out of the country and have contributed to slow economic growth. There has also been unprecedented violence and terrorism during his presidency including the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, the Paris Massacre, and the ramming attack in Nice. Voters are right to be concerned about security.

Neither has the left felt placated by his policies. Polls show Hollande polling in fifth place. The centre-right Fillon and the rightist Le Pen are ahead of the left with 26% and 24% respectively. Unless this changes before the April 23rd general election, these two candidates will advance to the runoff. In 2002 Marine Le Pen’s father advanced to the runoff against incumbent President Jacques Chirac and was defeated nearly 4 to 1.

French newpspaper La Monde has called France’s left “comatose.” It is certainly divided and incoherent. Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in Hollande’s cabinet who resigned in frustration with the government, is running independently and is polling at about 14%. Jean-Luc Melenchon of the leftist Left Front is approximately tied with Macron around 13-14%. Incumbent President Francois Hollande who leads the traditionally centre-left Socialiste Party, is down at 9%. At this point, either Macron or Melechon would have a greater chance at making the runoff.

It is time for tough decisions. President Hollande has not yet decided whether to run for reelection. It may be time for him to step aside. Even if he does contest January’s Socialiste Primary, there is no guarantee that he will prevail.

About the Author
Isaac Kight earned his MBA at Bar-Ilan University in 2010. He served as a volunteer for the Knesset State Control Committee from 2009 to 2010. Isaac has a broad experience of Jewish community and religion in the US and Israel.