May 6th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Shocking truth behind soaring power prices

CANBERRA OBSERVED Malcolm Turnbull on the front foot during U.S. VP's visit

VICTORIA Doctors in Secondary Schools program sidelines parents

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Pro-EU technocrat unlikely to solve France's malaise

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE 'Equality' a false promise to end 'discrimination'

GENDER POLITICS NSW, Tasmania scrap Safe Schools program

NORTH KOREA Will to engage enemy key to Korean Peninsula

NATIONAL CENSUS Typical family: married mum and dad, two kids

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Gay intolerance puts on its pushy corporate face

EUTHANASIA Nitschke award goes to couple of artists

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Rare win for the family at UN women's commission

OBITUARY Servant of the public and God departs in peace

MUSIC Allan Holdsworth: Unparalleled technique

CINEMA The Fate of the Furious: Families, fast cars, fantastic action


BOOK REVIEW Two views of our future redundancy

BOOK REVIEW Mounted Division in the Great War

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Pro-EU technocrat unlikely to solve France's malaise

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 6, 2017

After a fiercely fought contest in the first round of France’s presidential election, the independent left candidate, Emmanuel Macron, and the right’s Marine Le Pen will contest the run-off election on May 7.

Under the French Constitution, presidential elections are conducted via run-off voting to ensure that the elected president obtains a majority. If no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round of voting, the two highest-scoring candidates contest a run-off.

Emmanuel Macron

Macron, a former member of the Socialist Party and a strong supporter of the European Union and immigration, will face off against Le Pen, who wants France to withdraw from the EU and opposes further immigration into France.

The first round was the closest for many years, with four candidates vying to win the coveted top two positions.

There were 11 candidates overall, covering the full spectrum of French politics, from the far left, moderate left, greens, republicans and the right. The unpopular retiring President, Socialist François Hollande, declined to renominate last year, after it became clear that he could not win a second term.

Opinion polls right up to the election showed that the election was a four-horse race, with the four leading contenders quite close together, and amassing over 80 per cent of the popular vote.

The 39-year-old leading candidate Emmanuel Macron, who secured 24 per cent of the first round vote, broke away from the Socialist Party in 2016 to form his own party, En Marche!, the initials of which are those of Macron himself.

Macron was appointed economy minister by François Hollande in 2014, and served in that role until he resigned last year. The most explicitly pro-EU of the candidates, Macron says he will implement reforms to modernise the French economy.

Just behind him, with 22 per cent of the vote, was Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, the right-wing party whose main concerns have been immigration, terrorism, opposition to the EU, and law and order. She has broadened the party to deal with the whole range of public issues, including social and economic policy.

Her campaign program emphasises the national interests of France, and she supports France’s withdrawal from the EU, exit from the Eurozone, and re-establishment of the franc as the national currency.

Behind Le Pen was François Fillon, the candidate of the Republicans, the party of ex-President Nicholas Sarkozy. Fillon was prime minister from 2007 to 2012 and was a front-runner after winning the Republican pre-selection last year.

He is strongly pro-EU, and is standing on a free-market economic agenda, including ending the 35-hour working week, dismissing 500,000 civil servants, abolishing the wealth tax, streamlining the labour code, and reforming the health insurance system.

His free-market agenda is strongly opposed by the French left and the powerful trade union movement. However, he faces accusations of corruption surrounding his employment of his wife and family members on the government payroll. Despite promising to withdraw his candidature if placed under formal investigation – which has been the case since March 15 – he insisted on remaining in the race.

The scandal probably cost him the presidency, as some of his supporters clearly defected to Macron, pushing him out of the run-off election.

A surprise fourth candidate, with nearly 20 per cent of the vote, was Jean-Luc Melénchon, whose Left Party is to the left of the Socialists.

Melénchon left the Socialist Party in 2008, and stood for election in 2012 with the support of the French Communist Party, winning 11 per cent of the vote. A strong critic of Francois Hollande’s Socialist Government, Melénchon has run a high-powered social media campaign, like Bernie Sanders in the United States.

Interestingly, he is unhappy with the role of the EU, and wants to renegotiate the terms of France’s membership.

It is a sign of the loss of strength of the Socialist Party that its candidate, Benoit Hamon, was polling about 6 per cent after negotiating to be the joint candidate with the French Greens.

It is expected that the defeated candidates will throw their support behind Emmanuel Macron, to ensure him a comfortable election on May 7.

However, it will not be plain sailing for the new president.

Le Pen’s good result in the first poll, even if she makes it no further, will ensure that the issues she is fighting for will remain firmly on the national agenda, and repeated terrorist attacks have turned more French voters towards her policies.

Separately, Macron seems certain to face a hostile National Assembly, after elections are held in June.

The Socialist Party of François Hollande has a clear majority in the current National Assembly, but polls suggest that there has been a strong swing against the Socialists since 2012, with the combined vote of Macron and the Socialists being about 30 per cent of the total in the first round of the presidential election.

With a weak president, high unemployment, low economic growth and the continuing problem of terrorism, the causes of popular discontent in France are likely to grow stronger.

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