Abstract The 2017 French presidential and parliamentary elections were among the most eventful in the history of the Fifth Republic. Both elections saw a rejection of the two political forces of Left and Right that had dominated electoral politics for decades, with neither candidate from the Socialist Party or Les Républicains even qualifying for the second round of the presidential contest. Instead, the second-round run-off was between a newcomer to electoral politics, Emmanuel Macron, and the standard bearer of the extreme right, Marine Le Pen. Macron’s success was followed by the victory of his new party in the parliamentary contest. Yet, while political renewal was an outstanding feature of both elections, in several key areas President Macron’s reformist agenda represents a significant degree of continuity with the practice and policies of previous presidents. The book, published in November 2016 to coincide with the launch of his presidential campaign, in which Emmanuel Macron sets out his views on why and how France should be transformed is entitled Révolution (Macron 2016). The title is not fortuitous, but rather reflects the scope of Macron’s ambition that his election to the presidency should mark a major change in the way in which France would be governed. In particular, Macron believed that the traditional main parties of Right and Left no longer reflected the main cleavages in French society and that they had become ossified in fighting battles that had lost much of their relevance. He also believed that recent presidents had shied away from the necessary modernising reforms that France needed if it were to succeed in the interdependent global economy and single European market. Macron thus presented himself as the representative of much-needed political renewal that would be driven forward under his dynamic leadership as president. Macron’s success in the presidential election was followed by the victory of his new party in the parliamentary contest a few weeks later. The results of both the presidential and parliamentary elections thus provided Macron with the platform for the programme of reforms he wished to introduce. In an unprecedented fashion, both elections saw a rejection of the two political forces of Left and Right that had dominated electoral politics for decades (Grunberg and Haegel 2007), with the candidates of both the Socialist Party and Les Républicains failing even to qualify for the second round of the presidential contest. Instead, the second-round run-off was between Macron, a total newcomer to electoral politics, and Marine Le Pen, the standard bearer of the extreme right. The result of the presidential and parliamentary elections was not simply a changeover of personnel, as had routinely happened since the early 1980s, but a radical transformation of the party system and a major renewal of political office-holders at both executive and legislative levels. Yet, while Macron’s election to the presidency and the subsequent parliamentary victory of his party, La République en marche, may constitute a revolution in electoral competition, in certain respects they also represent a significant degree of continuity, notably in major policy fields where Macron is largely pursuing rather than breaking with the legacy of his immediate predecessors. 1. Out with the old One of the most striking aspects of the 2017 presidential electoral cycle was the extent to which established politicians across the political spectrum were cast aside or, in the case of the incumbent president, François Hollande, chose not to participate in the race. An early sign of the times in this respect was the failure in October 2016 of Cécile Duflot, former leader of the green party Europe Écologie les Verts and a government minister during the first two years of the Hollande presidency, to win the presidential nomination of her party. Although her defeat was unexpected, few commentators had any idea that this was just the start of what was to become a new norm. By the end of the two open primary contests held first by the main party of the Right, Les Républicains, and then of the Left, the Socialists, no fewer than five top politicians (and a plethora of second-rank figures) had been eliminated from the 2017 campaign proper: two former presidents, Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, two former prime ministers, Alain Juppé and Manuel Valls, and a former minister of the Economy under Hollande, Arnaud Montebourg. In the primary contest of the Right and the Centre in November 2016, in which over four million voters participated, the unpredictable nature of the presidential electoral cycle was firmly established. The decision to hold an open primary, the first in the history of the Right, can be explained with reference to two sets of factors. The first was the success of the open primary held by the Socialists prior to the 2012 presidential election. The Socialist primary had proved attractive with voters, obtained extensive media coverage and raised significant funds for the subsequent presidential election campaign. It had also given the victor, Hollande, substantial legitimacy as the party’s presidential candidate, because he had emerged the winner from a democratic process of popular participation that had gone beyond a simple consultation of party members. In emulating what the Socialists had done five years previously, the Right and the Centre hoped to benefit from the same positive advantages of an open primary. Secondly, the primary was seen by the leadership of the Right as a way of addressing the clear fractures that had come to the surface after the twin presidential and parliamentary defeats of 2012. The defeat of Sarkozy in the presidential contest and of the UMP in the subsequent parliamentary election had opened up schisms in the UMP, underpinned by differences over policy, leadership and electoral strategy (notably what line to follow if the Front national was up against a candidate of the Left in the second round of a local/regional election). Sarkozy’s re-emergence as party leader in late 2014 did not recreate the mood that had preceded his successful presidential campaign in 2007; instead, he was regarded by many within the upper echelons of the party as ‘damaged goods’ (Paillé 2013). While prior to 2007 he had been the natural choice as the party’s presidential nominee, this was not the case in 2016, partly because of his chequered record as president and partly because of his implication in a variety of financial scandals that had received considerable media coverage. A primary contest thus seemed an obvious way to resolve the question of selecting the party’s presidential nominee as well as bringing the party together in the presidential campaign. The two front runners going into the primary of the Right and the Centre were Sarkozy and Juppé, a former prime minister during the first presidential term of Jacques Chirac. Both had considerable political experience, with each providing voters in the primary a quite different perspective on issues such as French identity, relations with the Front national and France’s position in Europe. They concentrated their fire on each other, with Juppé the poll’s favourite to win (Boyer 2017). It was not until late in the campaign that François Fillon started to make his mark, attracting disaffected Sarkozy supporters in an electorate sympathetic to his combination of economic liberalism (his economic policies were presented as ‘Thatcherite’ by his opponents), social conservatism (for example, his opposition to gay marriage) and anti-Islam (he had published a book entitled Conquer Islamic totalitarianism a few weeks before the primary) (Fillon 2016). Fillon also made his personal probity a central part of his appeal. Even though his success had not been anticipated just a few weeks before the vote, Fillon’s margin of victory was impressive (Table 1). Table 1 Primary of the right and the centre First round (20 November 2016) Votes cast 4,298,097 Blank and spoiled votes 9883 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 1,890,266 44.1 Alain Juppé 1,224,855 28.6 Nicolas Sarkozy 886,137 20.7 Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet 109 655 2.6 Bruno Le Maire 102,168 2.4 Jean-Frédéric Poisson 62,346 1.4 Jean-François Copé 12,787 0.3 Second round (27 November 2016) Valid votes 4,404,812 Blank and spoiled votes 13,040 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 2,919,874 66.5 Alain Juppé 1,471,898 33.5 First round (20 November 2016) Votes cast 4,298,097 Blank and spoiled votes 9883 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 1,890,266 44.1 Alain Juppé 1,224,855 28.6 Nicolas Sarkozy 886,137 20.7 Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet 109 655 2.6 Bruno Le Maire 102,168 2.4 Jean-Frédéric Poisson 62,346 1.4 Jean-François Copé 12,787 0.3 Second round (27 November 2016) Valid votes 4,404,812 Blank and spoiled votes 13,040 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 2,919,874 66.5 Alain Juppé 1,471,898 33.5 Source: Primaire ouverte de la droite et du centre http://www.primaire2016.org/resultats/ (accessed 14 January 2017). Table 1 Primary of the right and the centre First round (20 November 2016) Votes cast 4,298,097 Blank and spoiled votes 9883 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 1,890,266 44.1 Alain Juppé 1,224,855 28.6 Nicolas Sarkozy 886,137 20.7 Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet 109 655 2.6 Bruno Le Maire 102,168 2.4 Jean-Frédéric Poisson 62,346 1.4 Jean-François Copé 12,787 0.3 Second round (27 November 2016) Valid votes 4,404,812 Blank and spoiled votes 13,040 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 2,919,874 66.5 Alain Juppé 1,471,898 33.5 First round (20 November 2016) Votes cast 4,298,097 Blank and spoiled votes 9883 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 1,890,266 44.1 Alain Juppé 1,224,855 28.6 Nicolas Sarkozy 886,137 20.7 Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet 109 655 2.6 Bruno Le Maire 102,168 2.4 Jean-Frédéric Poisson 62,346 1.4 Jean-François Copé 12,787 0.3 Second round (27 November 2016) Valid votes 4,404,812 Blank and spoiled votes 13,040 Candidate Votes Percentage of valid votes cast François Fillon 2,919,874 66.5 Alain Juppé 1,471,898 33.5 Source: Primaire ouverte de la droite et du centre http://www.primaire2016.org/resultats/ (accessed 14 January 2017). The open primary held by the Socialist party and its immediate allies, which saw two million voters participate in the second round, was also marked by the eviction of front-ranking politicians, notably Valls and Montebourg. The defeat of Valls was understandable, as he was the ‘establishment’ candidate. He was too closely associated with Hollande’s policy record, notably controversial economic and employment reforms, not to be seen as Hollande’s successor in this particular contest. In contrast, the victor, Benoît Hamon, had been a leading opponent of Hollande from within the ranks of the Socialist Party, having participated in several parliamentary rebellions against government reform measures. In the primary contest, Hamon continued to appeal to the left of the Socialist Party and once he had defeated Montebourg, a fellow rebel, in the first round, his victory in the primary was assured (Table 2). Table 2 Primary of the socialist party and allies First round (22 January 2017) Votes cast 1,655,919 Blank and spoiled votes 21,880 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 596,647 36.03 Manuel Valls 521,238 31.48 Arnaud Montebourg 290,070 17.52 Vincent Peillon 112,718 6.81 François de Rugy 63,430 3.83 Sylvia Pinel 33,067 2.00 Jean-Luc Bennahmias 16,869 1.02 Second round (29 January 2017) Votes cast 2,046,628 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 1,181,872 58.69 Manuel Valls 831,871 41.31 First round (22 January 2017) Votes cast 1,655,919 Blank and spoiled votes 21,880 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 596,647 36.03 Manuel Valls 521,238 31.48 Arnaud Montebourg 290,070 17.52 Vincent Peillon 112,718 6.81 François de Rugy 63,430 3.83 Sylvia Pinel 33,067 2.00 Jean-Luc Bennahmias 16,869 1.02 Second round (29 January 2017) Votes cast 2,046,628 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 1,181,872 58.69 Manuel Valls 831,871 41.31 Source: Socialist Party 2017 http://www.parti-socialiste.fr/evenement/primaires-citoyennes/ (accessed 2 February 2017). Table 2 Primary of the socialist party and allies First round (22 January 2017) Votes cast 1,655,919 Blank and spoiled votes 21,880 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 596,647 36.03 Manuel Valls 521,238 31.48 Arnaud Montebourg 290,070 17.52 Vincent Peillon 112,718 6.81 François de Rugy 63,430 3.83 Sylvia Pinel 33,067 2.00 Jean-Luc Bennahmias 16,869 1.02 Second round (29 January 2017) Votes cast 2,046,628 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 1,181,872 58.69 Manuel Valls 831,871 41.31 First round (22 January 2017) Votes cast 1,655,919 Blank and spoiled votes 21,880 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 596,647 36.03 Manuel Valls 521,238 31.48 Arnaud Montebourg 290,070 17.52 Vincent Peillon 112,718 6.81 François de Rugy 63,430 3.83 Sylvia Pinel 33,067 2.00 Jean-Luc Bennahmias 16,869 1.02 Second round (29 January 2017) Votes cast 2,046,628 Candidate Votes Percentage of all votes cast Benoît Hamon 1,181,872 58.69 Manuel Valls 831,871 41.31 Source: Socialist Party 2017 http://www.parti-socialiste.fr/evenement/primaires-citoyennes/ (accessed 2 February 2017). The two open primaries showed significant dividing lines on policy and ideological positioning between the leading candidates. More importantly, even after their victories, neither Fillon nor Hamon succeeded in fully bringing their respective formations together in support of their candidacies. Neither contest resolved the issues of strategy, policy and leadership within the respective formations. Moreover, since both Fillon and Hamon came from the less moderate/centrist wings of their respective parties, neither could be assured of mobilising voters not already committed to their programmes. In short, both could be seen as bold, rather than consensual, choices. The failure of Fillon and Hamon to win through to the second round of the presidential election inevitably cast doubt on the desirability of open primary contests as a means of selecting candidates. Yet, without some form of primary contest it is likely that Sarkozy and Hollande would have been the candidates of their respective parties, a rematch of the 2012 election that a huge majority of French voters regularly stated in opinion polls that they did not want. In between the two primary contests, in December 2016, Hollande had announced that he would not be standing for a second presidential term. He was the first incumbent since the foundation of the Fifth Republic in 1958 with the possibility of seeking a second term who declined to do so. Deeply unpopular with voters throughout most of his presidency, Hollande had seen his party suffer defeat after defeat in a series of second-order elections. His record, notably on unemployment, was open to criticism, while for many he failed to project a successful image of strong presidential leadership (Bazin 2017). Opinion polls showed that not only would he be defeated in the 2017 presidential election, but also that like Lionel Jospin in 2002 he would not make it into the second round. There was not even any guarantee that he would win the Socialist primary in the light of the widespread opposition to him from within the party. The publication in late 2016 of a book based on a series of conversations between Hollande and two journalists from the leading daily newspaper, Le Monde, in which the president made critical comments about fellow Socialist politicians and key institutions of the Republic, bewildered and angered many at all levels of the party (Davet and Lhomme 2016). This was a final act of self-harm that saw Hollande effectively disqualify himself from running for a second successive presidential term. 2. The presidential election No fewer than 11 candidates obtained the requisite number of 500 signatures from elected representatives such as mayors and local councillors to stand in the presidential election. Initially the media regarded five as so-called ‘major’ candidates, i.e. prior to the start of the official campaign these were credited with at least 10 per cent of voting intentions in opinion polls: Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The other six candidates were considered to be ‘minor’ candidates and this was reflected in media coverage, notably in their exclusion from the first live television debate on the main commercial channel TF1 towards the end of March. Two of the five ‘major’ candidates, Le Pen and Mélenchon, had previously stood in a presidential election; the other three were newcomers to the contest. The first-round campaign was conducted on the assumption that Le Pen would certainly make it through to the second round. Indeed for a long time she had been in lead position in opinion polls, credited with around 26–27 per cent vote share. Since under the rules only two candidates can go through to the decisive second-round run-off, this meant that the other four ‘major’ candidates were effectively competing against each other to fill the remaining slot against Le Pen. The major casualty early on in the first round campaign was Hamon, whose poll ratings started to slide immediately after the TF1 debate where he was judged to have been outperformed by Mélenchon. Hamon’s campaign was hampered by his spending too much time in trying to persuade Mélenchon to withdraw his candidacy so as to ensure a united Left front. Mélenchon, who had been the first to launch a presidential bid and who believed that his party, La France insoumise, could supplant the Socialist Party as the leading party of the French Left had no interest in acceding to Hamon’s desire for left-wing unity. In addition, some of Hamon’s policies, such as universal revenue and a tax on robots were difficult to get across in the relatively short space of an election campaign. Once Hamon started to dip in the polls and lose ground to Mélenchon, his candidacy never recovered; he was squeezed between the social liberalism of Macron to his right and the statist protectionism of Mélenchon to his left. In a vicious circle, the more Hamon lost ground, the less interested the media became in his candidacy. Moreover, while he received the support of the party organisation and was the second-largest campaign spender (behind Macron), various leading Socialists more or less explicitly lent their support to Macron. They included Valls, who reneged on his promise to support Hamon as winner of the Socialist primary, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, Hollande’s minister of Defence, who went on to become President Macron’s minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Hamon’s first-round vote share of 6.36 per cent was the second lowest for a Socialist candidate in the Fifth Republic—an ignominious result for a party that in 2012 was by far the dominant representative force in French politics (Bell and Criddle 2014). Hamon’s swift decline in the polls meant that the first round effectively became a contest between four candidates, with all four having a realistic chance of acceding to the second round. While all could be situated on a simple left-right spectrum (from left to right: Mélenchon, Macron, Fillon and Le Pen), each represented a more complex set of values: pro-European cultural and economic liberalism (Macron); Europhobic anti-liberal populism (Le Pen); economically liberal social conservatism (Fillon); and Eurosceptic statism, mixed with cultural progressivism (Mélenchon). Recognising the electorate’s desire for new faces in the presidential contest, all four presented themselves as ‘outsider’ candidates, including Fillon who had been Sarkozy’s prime minister for five years. One of the paradoxes of the 2017 campaign was the success with which Macron reinvented himself as a ‘transgressor’ and anti-establishment figure, despite a cv that included an elite background as a member of one of France’s top civil service corps, employment as a merchant banker with Rothschild, a top advisory post at the Élysée under Hollande and a government post as minister of the Economy (also under Hollande) (Endeweld 2015). The result of the first round (Table 3) marked a break with every previous presidential election in the Fifth Republic, with the candidates of the two political formations that had alternated in power since 1981 both eliminated from the race (Courtois 2017). While on two previous occasions (1969 and 2002) the Socialist candidate had failed to progress to the second round, this was a new and unwelcome departure for the mainstream Right. Fillon had been compelled by his own past behaviour as revealed in the media to fight a nightmare of a campaign (Fenech 2017). His support fell away in two stages: first, at the end of 2016 when some of the more radical aspects of his reform programme, including cuts in health spending, were subject to critical scrutiny; and second after revelations in the satirical weekly newspaper Le Canard enchaîné in January 2017 that his wife, Penelope, had been paid as his parliamentary assistant even though there was no evidence that she had ever actually done any work. The scandal, which dominated media coverage for weeks, overshadowed Fillon’s campaign: leading members of his campaign team resigned, especially after the candidate was subject to judicial investigation, and there was speculation of a replacement candidate for Les Républicains. Yet, Fillon staggered on, relying on his status as the victor in the primary and the party’s lack of an alternative procedure and source of funds to replace him. Although he never dropped much below 18 per cent in the polls, he was always outdistanced by Macron from January onwards. His 20.01 per cent national vote share (he scored particularly highly among the elderly and practising Catholics) put him in third place. This was a humiliating result for a candidate who at the end of 2016 had been widely tipped as the favourite to become the next president of France. Table 3 Presidential election: first round: results Candidate Votes % of registered voters % of votes cast Emmanuel Macron 8,657,326 18.19 24.01 Marine Le Pen 7,679,493 16.14 21.30 François Fillon 7,213,797 15.16 20.01 Jean-Luc Mélenchon 7,060,885 14.84 19.58 Benoît Hamon 2,291,565 4.82 6.36 Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 1,695,186 3.56 4.70 Jean Lassalle 435,365 0.91 1.21 Philippe Poutou 394,582 0.83 1.09 François Asselineau 332,588 0.70 0.92 Nathalie Arthaud 232,428 0.49 0.64 Jacques Cheminade 65,598 0.14 0.18 Total 36,058,813 75.78 100.00 Candidate Votes % of registered voters % of votes cast Emmanuel Macron 8,657,326 18.19 24.01 Marine Le Pen 7,679,493 16.14 21.30 François Fillon 7,213,797 15.16 20.01 Jean-Luc Mélenchon 7,060,885 14.84 19.58 Benoît Hamon 2,291,565 4.82 6.36 Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 1,695,186 3.56 4.70 Jean Lassalle 435,365 0.91 1.21 Philippe Poutou 394,582 0.83 1.09 François Asselineau 332,588 0.70 0.92 Nathalie Arthaud 232,428 0.49 0.64 Jacques Cheminade 65,598 0.14 0.18 Total 36,058,813 75.78 100.00 Source: Ministry of the Interior 2017 https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Archives/Archives-elections/Election-presidentielle-2017/Election-presidentielle-2017-resultats-globaux-du-premier-tour (accessed 25 August 2017) Table 3 Presidential election: first round: results Candidate Votes % of registered voters % of votes cast Emmanuel Macron 8,657,326 18.19 24.01 Marine Le Pen 7,679,493 16.14 21.30 François Fillon 7,213,797 15.16 20.01 Jean-Luc Mélenchon 7,060,885 14.84 19.58 Benoît Hamon 2,291,565 4.82 6.36 Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 1,695,186 3.56 4.70 Jean Lassalle 435,365 0.91 1.21 Philippe Poutou 394,582 0.83 1.09 François Asselineau 332,588 0.70 0.92 Nathalie Arthaud 232,428 0.49 0.64 Jacques Cheminade 65,598 0.14 0.18 Total 36,058,813 75.78 100.00 Candidate Votes % of registered voters % of votes cast Emmanuel Macron 8,657,326 18.19 24.01 Marine Le Pen 7,679,493 16.14 21.30 François Fillon 7,213,797 15.16 20.01 Jean-Luc Mélenchon 7,060,885 14.84 19.58 Benoît Hamon 2,291,565 4.82 6.36 Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 1,695,186 3.56 4.70 Jean Lassalle 435,365 0.91 1.21 Philippe Poutou 394,582 0.83 1.09 François Asselineau 332,588 0.70 0.92 Nathalie Arthaud 232,428 0.49 0.64 Jacques Cheminade 65,598 0.14 0.18 Total 36,058,813 75.78 100.00 Source: Ministry of the Interior 2017 https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Archives/Archives-elections/Election-presidentielle-2017/Election-presidentielle-2017-resultats-globaux-du-premier-tour (accessed 25 August 2017) Mélenchon’s 19.58 per cent vote share put him in fourth place. He campaigned on a radical left programme, firmly opposed to what he regarded as the social liberalist economic project of Hollande, which he argued would be further embedded if Macron were to win the presidency (Mélenchon 2017). He was critical of Germany’s dominance of the European Union and of what he regarded as the constricting impact of the Growth and Stability Pact on French economic policy-making. Mélenchon was an excellent orator, who clearly enjoyed being in the public eye, using his rhetorical skills to good effect in his well-attended public meetings and on television to rally ‘the people’ to his cause. A stern critic of the mainstream media, he skillfully used social media, notably his YouTube channel, to reach out to voters, especially among the young. As leader of the Front national (FN) since 2011, Marine Le Pen had followed what was called a detoxification (dédiabolisation) strategy in an attempt to mark a break with the anti-semitic and racist excesses of the party under her father’s long leadership. While arguably this represented a superficial makeover that was more about presentation than substance, the strategy helped to improve the electoral fortunes of the FN during Hollande’s presidency (including winning over more women voters): 24.86 vote share in the 2014 European elections, 25.24 vote share in the 2015 departmental elections and 27.73 per cent vote share in the 2015 regional elections. In early 2017, Marine Le Pen was widely regarded as a credible presidential candidate, although no opinion poll indicated that she might win the top office. As anticipated, she qualified for the second round. With over 7.5 million votes and a vote share of 21.30 per cent, her first-round score represented the highest number of votes and vote share of any far-right candidate in a presidential election in the Fifth Republic (Bréchon 2013). Her result significantly bettered her father’s first-round performance in 2002, which was the only previous occasion when a far-right candidate had qualified for the second round. Marine Le Pen performed well in villages and small towns, but less well in urban areas, including Paris. Her rejection of the negative balance sheet of globalisation and European integration appealed in particular to workers, the young and the less well-educated. Yet, her first-round success was highly qualified. Her vote share was nowhere near as high as opinion polls had registered earlier in the year and she failed to secure any psychological advantage of coming top of the poll—a result which, if it had been achieved, both national and international media would no doubt have made the most of. Instead, the leading candidate in the first round was Macron, with a 24.01 per cent vote share. This was a huge success for a man who had never previously stood in any electoral contest and who had come to the attention of most voters only after being appointed to a ministerial post in 2014 (Prissette 2017). Macron had started his public journey to the top office in spring 2016 with the launch of his movement En marche!, which commentators noted had the same initials as its founder. Macron believed that the system of political representation in France could be radically changed only through the creation of a new political force that would transcend the established left–right bipolarity. He argued that his new movement was of both the left and the right, selecting the best aspects of both. In so doing Macron was seeking to deny (or at least minimise) one of the classic cleavages of Fifth Republic politics and replace it with a cleavage of ‘progressives’ versus ‘conservatives’ (Marine Le Pen preferred to talk of ‘globalisers’ versus ‘patriots’). In electoral terms, he was trying to overcome the bipolarising logic of the institutions and electoral system of the Fifth Republic. The main pro-Europe candidate, he obtained financial support from private donors, who regarded him as a credible proponent of economic and social reform, and in a highly mediatised ‘photo opportunity’ won the political endorsement of François Bayrou, who had stood unsuccessfully as the centrist candidate in the 2002, 2007 and 2012 presidential elections. The main political event between the two rounds was the live television debate between Macron and Le Pen. Such a debate had become a staple of presidential elections since the first one in 1974 between Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand; only in 2002 had one not taken place, with Chirac refusing to debate with Jean-Marie Le Pen. The 2017 version was characterised by the aggressivity of Marine Le Pen in launching a series of verbal attacks in an attempt to destabilise her opponent. Not only did she fail to secure this objective, but also on key aspects of her programme, notably a possible withdrawal of France from the eurozone, Le Pen was clearly ill at ease. She was not helped by the contrast with Macron who was clearly familiar with the details of economic, monetary and fiscal policy. The longer the debate went on, the less comfortable Le Pen appeared. In the verbal exchange with her opponent, she was not just defeated, but humiliated, with even her own supporters admitting that she had seriously under-performed. Going into the second round there was little doubt that Macron would be the eventual winner. The main questions centred on turnout and the extent of his winning margin, with both relating to the legitimacy of his victory. The turnout figure of 74.56 per cent was the second lowest in the history of Fifth Republic presidential elections. It was also lower than in the first round, the first time that this had happened since 1969. Moreover, in the second round, over 11.5 per cent of votes cast were either blank or invalid, with an unusually high percentage of voters willing to participate but unwilling to make a choice between the two candidates on offer. While Le Pen obtained over ten and a half million votes, by far the highest score for the extreme right in the history of the Fifth Republic, her vote share of 33.90 per cent was well below her target figure of 40 per cent. At 66.10 percent Macron’s vote share was the second highest of any second-round winner, exceeded only by Chirac’s 82.21 per cent in 2002 against Jean-Marie Le Pen. At first sight Macron’s vote share was an impressive result. However, post-election surveys indicated that almost six of every ten Macron voters had voted primarily to block Le Pen, rather than give a positive vote (vote d’adhésion) for Macron. The result, therefore, was far from a ringing endorsement for Macron and his reform project (Paris Match 2017). 3. The parliamentary election The French president is often said to be one of the most powerful chief executives in Europe. Yet whatever the impressive array of constitutional powers available to the president and the legacy of executive dominance bequeathed to his successors by the first president of the Fifth Republic, General de Gaulle, in reality any president needs a supportive parliamentary majority if they are to function as an effective policy-maker. This was as true of President Macron as it was of his predecessors. Macron certainly did not want a return to so-called ‘cohabitation’, the arrangement whereby a president of one political complexion is faced with a parliamentary majority from an opposing side. During the Fifth Republic there have been three periods of such ‘cohabitation’, during which the president essentially relinquished responsibility for policy-making in domestic affairs (though not in European and foreign policy) to a prime minister from the other side of the left-right divide. To try to ensure that such a situation would not recur, the constitution was amended in 2000 to shorten the presidential term of office from seven to five years (the same length as the parliamentary term) and to run the presidential contest immediately prior to the parliamentary election. The change took effect in 2002, when both presidential and parliamentary elections were held within a few weeks of each other. The assumption was that voters would give the incoming (or re-elected) president a parliamentary majority for their programme, i.e. that voters would behave ‘rationally’ in line with the spirit of the constitution of the Fifth Republic which was designed to give the executive clear dominance over the legislature, rather than some sort of US-style checks and balances system. The question after Macron’s presidential victory was would this work for the new president as it had done for his predecessors in 2002 (Chirac), 2007 (Sarkozy) and 2012 (Hollande), all of whom had benefited from a parliamentary result that confirmed the result of the presidential election. The difference in 2017 was that Macron’s political party, renamed La République en marche (LRM), was a new and untested organisation; like its leader, it had never previously fought an election at any level (local, municipal, regional, European, parliamentary) prior to 2017. In addition, most of its candidates were not simply unknown to voters, but many had no prior political experience as elected representatives. This was uncharted territory, from which other political formations, notably Les Républicains, might reasonably hope to emerge in a strong position; certainly, there was no guarantee that LRM would either on its own or with possible coalition allies secure a stable majority in the National Assembly. The first notable feature of the parliamentary election was the unprecedentedly low level of voter participation, with only 48.7 per cent turnout in the first round. Turnout in the second round was 42.6 per cent, the lowest ever in a parliamentary election in the Fifth Republic. With 28.21 per cent first-round vote share LRM emerged as the leading party; after the second round of voting it had 308 seats (53.38 per cent) from the 577 parliamentary constituencies. This meant that LRM had sufficient seats to form a parliamentary majority on its own, without requiring the support of its coalition partner, MoDem, the centrist party led by Bayrou, which secured 42 seats. Although single-party parliamentary majorities are not unprecedented in the Fifth Republic (for example, the Gaullists in 1968 and the Socialists in 1981), the success of LRM in 2017 was remarkable in the light of its short history as a political force. LRM’s victory played a huge part in the renewal of parliamentary representation in 2017, with 415 deputies being newcomers to the legislature. Largely thanks to LRM, which had chosen to respect parity legislation in candidate selection, the number of women representatives increased from 155 (26.9 per cent) in 2012 to 223 (38.6 per cent) in 2017. Macron had also committed the party to having half of its candidates from civil society, with the result that many LRM deputies were novices to electoral politics. As in the presidential contest, Les Républicains and the Socialist Party ended up on the losing side. The former secured a 15.77 per cent first-round vote share and ended up with 112 deputies after the second round. In theory, this meant that Les Républicains emerged as the most important opposition group in parliament; it was certainly the largest. However, the party was divided as to how to respond to the victory of Macron and LRM, with some members of Les Républicains forming a parliamentary group with the centrist UDI in what they termed a ‘constructive’ group that was sympathetic to the new government. Macron’s government included important figures from Les Républicains, including the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, and the minister of the Econony, Bruno Le Maire (both were soon excluded from the party). In the immediate aftermath of the election defeat, Les Républicains lacked clear leadership and a strategy to deal with the new political situation. It was not even certain that the party would hold together, with clear tensions emerging on issues such as Europe and how to deal with the challenge from the far right. The Socialist Party was in an even more difficult situation, with a vote share of only 7.44 per cent in the first round and a total of 30 deputies following the second. The party was totally obliterated in its traditional heartlands of the Nord and Pas-de Calais. For a party that in 2012 had dominated the representative institutions of the Fifth Republic at both national and sub-national levels, the disastrous 2017 presidential and parliamentary results came on top of a series of second-order electoral defeats during the Hollande presidency. Many of the leading figures in the party, including Hamon and the party first secretary, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, were defeated in the parliamentary election. Valls had already left the party prior to the parliamentary contest and narrowly retained his seat as a Macron supporter, even although he was not officially sponsored by LRM. In the wake of the debacle, the Socialist Party faced a huge uphill struggle to rebuild an electorally credible force with a coherent strategy and attractive policies around a leader popular with the electorate. Not the least of its initial problems was funding. Since parties in France receive public funding calculated on the basis of electoral support and parliamentary seats, the Socialist Party would see its public funding drop from over €25 million a year to around €7 million after the 2017 election. One immediate consequence was the decision to sell the party headquarters in the Rue de Solférino in Paris, which had been the home of the party since 1981, the year of Mitterrand’s first presidential victory. Symbolically, the sale brought to an end the cycle in the history of French socialism that had begun with Mitterrand’s takeover of the party in 1971. Both the FN and La France insoumise also struggled to win parliamentary seats. These two parties faced a series of problems. First, the parliamentary contest was less focused on policy issues and leadership than the presidential campaign, and more on the question of whether the newly elected president would gain a parliamentary majority. The figures of Le Pen and Mélenchon were less significant (though, of course, not unimportant). Moreover, both party leaders had to focus much of their energy on campaigning in their chosen parliamentary constituencies in Pas-de-Calais (Le Pen) and Marseille (Mélenchon), with both being elected. Second, in some parts of France the two parties were not well implanted locally and their candidates were neither well known nor particularly well funded. Third, the two parties were hampered by the reluctance of sections of their respective electorates, notably the young, to vote. After the long presidential campaign it proved difficult to enthuse many voters for another electoral contest. Finally, and above all, the two-round electoral system punishes parties who are unable or unwilling to forge alliances or at least win over voter support between the two rounds. There is certainly no proportionality between first-round vote share and the allocation of seats in the National Assembly after the second round. The FN, for instance, won 13.20 per cent of the vote in the first round, but secured only 8 seats (1.38 per cent) after the second, insufficient to form a recognised parliamentary group. La France insoumise performed less well than the FN in terms of first-round vote share (11.03 per cent), but ended up with 17 seats after the second round. The Communist party, which put up separate candidates from La France insoumise, won 2.72 per cent of the first-round vote and 10 seats after the second round, forming a parliamentary group along with some deputies from overseas constituencies. 4. President Macron As a candidate, Macron may have written about the need for a revolution to bring about much needed change in France. Certainly, the lengthy succession of electoral contests in 2016–2017 (primaries, presidential and parliamentary elections) brought about a renewal of personnel at the top with the arrival of a new generation of politicians in key posts, not least the presidency itself. Politicians with long-established careers in the upper echelons of the political system, including Hollande, Sarkozy, Juppé, Fillon (and, perhaps, Valls) bade their farewell to frontline politics to be replaced by relatively new personalities, such as Macron and Philippe (although there were still some ‘old-timers’ such as Le Drian and Gérard Colomb, the minister of the Interior, in Philippe’s government). The National Assembly had a new party, loyal to the incoming president and with an overall parliamentary majority, as well as more women representatives than ever before. In addition, the two major forces of electoral competition since the late 1970s (the Socialist Party and the mainstream Right under a succession of different labels), who had for many years taken turns in office at the highest levels of the political system, were now faced with crises that called into question their very raison d’être. The French party system, so long based on bipolar competition between coalitions/parties of left and right, was radically transformed by the result of the 2017 elections. In all of these respects, perhaps ‘revolution’ was an appropriate term. In other ways, however, Macron did not represent such a clean break with the past. For instance, he seemed perfectly at ease with the institutional framework of the Fifth Republic, with a strong presidency at the apex of the political system. His proposed constitutional reforms—included limiting the number of mandates served by parliamentarians so as to ensure turnover of personnel, a reduction in the number of parliamentary representatives and an element of proportionality in parliamentary elections (but not the abandonment of the two-ballot system)—did not call into question the fundamental structure and working of the political system. Macron was clearly at ease with all the trappings, power and patronage of the office of head of state as forged by de Gaulle in the so-called republican monarchy. He believed in the pre-eminent position of the president and marked this, for instance, by a solemn address to both chambers of parliament assembled at Versailles on the day before his prime minister made his own policy speech to the National Assembly; in so doing, Macron was clearly showing the hierarchical nature of the relationship between his prime minister and himself as president. In line with all his predecessors at the Élysée, Macron took the lead role in the classic fields of presidential policy-making (foreign affairs, defence, Europe), but also set the main guidelines of policy in key domestic fields such as the reform of labour law. In the early weeks of his presidency Macron was keen to project the image of a self-assured head of state, who despite his youth and relative lack of political experience would ensure that France would exert its full influence in the international sphere. Mediatised images were central to the creation of this authoritative presidential figure. These included his carefully stage-managed public address in the Louvre square on the night of his election, receiving the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, in all the pomp of the chateau of Versailles, speaking as commander in chief on board a nuclear submarine, his appearances at EU, NATO and G7 summits and the alpha male handshake competition at his meeting with US President Donald Trump (with Macron the widely acknowledged victor of this encounter). The images of these events needed no words or commentary to convey the substance to the public—the medium was the message. France had a president who was in charge (with the implied and not too subtle sub-text that this had not been the case with Macron’s immediate predecessors at the Élysée). Initially, Macron eschewed close relations with the mainstream media, a strong contrast with Hollande’s practice of cosying up to newspaper journalists, apparently subscribing to the dictum of Mitterrand’s communication advisor, Jacques Pilhan, that the impact of presidential utterances was magnified by their rarity. In a break with tradition he did not even participate in a live television interview on the 14 July national holiday. His desire to control executive (and not simply presidential) communication itself became an important news story and, initially at least, contrasted with the chaotic communication management of Hollande and his government. For the first couple of months, this image projection worked as Macron benefited from the post-election honeymoon, a largely uncritical media and the disarray of political opposition. In May 2017, 62 per cent of voters were satisfied with Macron, while in June this had increased to 64 per cent (IFOP 2017a), figures very close to his second-round presidential score. This popularity did not last. Following various policy announcements during the summer, including a well-publicised spat with the head of the military, General Pierre de Villiers, over cuts in the defence budget, reductions in local government finance and a lowering of the accommodation subsidy to students, Macron’s popularity dropped sharply to a 54 per cent positive rating in July, lower than that of either Sarkozy or Hollande during the same period of their presidential terms (IFOP 2017b). It then further dipped vertiginously to a 40 per cent positive rating in August. In response, Macron revised his communication strategy to engage more closely with political journalists in an attempt to explain and defend controversial government policies. These included the reform of employment legislation (code du travail), which now occupied centre stage on the political agenda, with street demonstrations organised by the CGT trade union and La France insoumise in September. In certain key policy areas, it would also be more appropriate to talk in terms of continuity or reform rather than revolution. These include the moralization of public life, the first major legislative reform of the new presidency. This was a response to public concern about the behaviour of the political class in the wake of the Penelopegate scandal and other allegations of financial malpractice involving the FN, MoDem and assorted political figures from across the political spectrum. The legislation continued the work done by Hollande following the Cahuzac scandal in 2013, when the Minister of the Budget in charge of clamping down on fraud had been shown to have held illegal bank accounts abroad so as to avoid tax (Chaffanjon 2013). In a clear response to the scandal surrounding Fillon and his family one feature of the new legislation was a ban on the employment of family members by parliamentarians (Le Monde 2017). A second element of policy continuity is in the area of labour reform, where Macron’s proposed changes were in the spirit of various measures introduced under Hollande. The main contrast with Hollande’s reforms was one of process and timing. While Hollande had towards the end of his presidency abandoned social dialogue with the unions and allowed his government to force reforms through parliament with minimal debate, Macron involved the unions in discussion and introduced his reforms of labour law through a procedure of legislative ordinance in the first months of his presidential term. For Macron the changes to employment legislation form part of a broader package of reform of the French social model that will include employment insurance and the pensions system. In contrast with Hollande, Macron sought to place his employment reform within a broader context and as part of a narrative of ameliorative change. Other policy areas of continuity included France’s continued commitment to an independent nuclear deterrent, about which there was no debate in the presidential campaign, and France’s support of the European Union. Macron attempted to breathe new life into the Franco-German axis that had often failed to function effectively during the Hollande presidency. Macron’s victory was welcomed by politico-media elites in Germany, while his proposed reforms of the French economy and labour market went down well with Merkel and the European Commission. A final element of continuity is in the field of counter-terrorism. During Hollande’s presidency various measures were taken to strengthen the role of the state in counter-terrorism activities. While Macron proposed to end the state of emergency provisions in the autumn of 2017, he also indicated his wish to embed some of them in ordinary legislation. While the form of the state’s response to the threat posed by terrorist attacks may have changed, much of the substance appears to remain intact. In his book, Macron: miracle ou mirage?, the philosopher, Pierre-André Taguieff (2017), stresses this feature of continuity in Macron’s election campaign and early initiatives as president. Taguieff argues that there are three ways of analysing Macron’s presidential election success. First, it could be seen as a miracle whereby a saviour has come out of nowhere—the classic providential leader—to give hope to the nation. The second possibility is that Macron represents a symptom of the emergence of new cleavages in French society, that Macron did not provoke but skilfully used to his electoral advantage. The third hypothesis, and the one to which Taguieff is most inclined, is that Macron represents what he calls a mirage. By this Taguieff means that first as candidate and then in the early weeks of his presidency Macron was particularly adept at exploiting the media and projecting his image; he was an excellent performer (in the theatrical sense of the term). Yet while he may have projected himself as the supplier of something new in contrast to a tarnished political class, in his support of economically liberal policies and his unabashed pro-Europeanism Macron is seen by Taguieff as the inheritor of the ‘reformist Left’ tradition in contemporary French politics, previously represented within the Socialist Party by figures such as Michel Rocard and Dominique Strauss-Kahn (Taguieff 2017: 37). A key difference, of course, is that Macron fostered his political career outside of the ranks of the Socialist Party, which gave him both a rhetorical freedom and space for political manoeuvre that Rocard and Strauss-Kahn never enjoyed. 5. Conclusion In many respects, the 2017 French presidential and parliamentary elections were characterised by radical change and significant renewal. In particular, the two established forces of Left and Right that had dominated Fifth Republic electoral politics for decades suffered important defeats in both contests. This was particularly true of the Socialist Party. In sharp contrast, the victory of Macron and his new party ushered in a new era: a young and comparatively inexperienced president, government ministers from both sides of the traditional left-right party cleavage, a parliamentary majority with a large number of political newcomers and more women in parliament than ever before: in short, what could be termed a peaceful centrist revolution. Yet, in other respects, Macron may represent a significant degree of continuity: in his Gaullian leadership style, his commitment to a leading role for France in the EU and his belief in economic and social liberalism. What perhaps differentiates Macron from his immediate predecessors, especially Hollande, is his determined commitment to pursuing reforms, his total domination of his party and, for the moment at least, the lack of a well-organised opposition. Conflicts of interest No conflicts of interest disclosed. References Bazin F. ( 2017) Rien ne s’est passé comme prévu , Paris, Robert Laffont. Bell D. S., Criddle B. ( 2014) Exceptional Socialists: The Case of the French Socialist Party , Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan. Boyer G. ( 2017) Rase Campagne , Paris, JC Lattès. Bréchon P. (ed.) ( 2013) Les élections présidentielles sous la Ve République , Paris, La documentation française. Chaffanjon C. ( 2013) Jérôme Cahuzac, les yeux dans les yeux , Paris, Plon. Courtois G. ( 2017) Parties de campagne , Paris, Perrin. Davet G., Lhomme F. ( 2016) “ Un president ne devrait pas dire ça …” , Paris, Stock. Endeweld M. ( 2015) L’ambigu Monsieur Macron , Paris, Flammarion. Fenech G. ( 2017) Qui imagine le Général de Gaulle mis en examen ?, Paris, Éditions First. Fillon F. ( 2016) Vaincre le Totalitarisme Islamique , Paris, Albin Michel. Grunberg G., Haegel F. ( 2007) La France vers le bipartisme? La présidentialisation du PS et de l’UMP , Paris, Sciences Po. IFOP. ( 2017a) http://www.ifop.com/media/poll/3802-1-study_file.pdf (accessed 29 June 2017). IFOP. ( 2017b) http://www.ifop.com/media/poll/3821-1-study_file.pdf (accessed 3 August 2017). Le Monde. ( 2017). ‘Moralisation de la vie politique: le texte largement adopté’. http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2017/08/09/les-projets-de-loi-sur-la-moralisation-de-la-vie-politique-definitivement-adoptes-par-le-parlement_5170678_823448.html (accessed 14 August 2017). Macron E. ( 2016) Révolution , Paris, XO. Mélenchon J.-L. ( 2017) L’Avenir en Commun , Paris, Seuil. Paillé D. ( 2013) Sarkozy, Retour Perdant , Paris, l’Archipel. Paris Match. ( 2017) http://www.parismatch.com/Actu/Politique/Sondage-Ifop-Fiducial-qui-a-vote-Macron-et-pourquoi-1250930 (accessed 16 May 2017). Prissette N. ( 2017) Emmanuel Macron: Le Président Inattendu , Paris, Éditions First. Taguieff P.-A. ( 2017) Macron: Miracle ou Mirage ?, Paris, L’Observatoire. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Hansard Society; All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Parliamentary Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 27, 2017
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