With the dawn of the New Year, the presidential hopefuls from France’s mainstream political parties have begun to set out their plans ahead of the vote in the spring.
The centre-right candidate Francois Fillon has defended his programme of slashing public spending and cutting half a million public sector jobs.
He says the policies are needed to give corporate France a shot in the arm and boost economic growth.
“I think 500,000 jobs is an achievable figure, particularly if we negotiate an increase in working hours,” Fillon said, referring to plans to scrap the 35-hour working week.
He rejected repeated charges that his proposals for welfare and public health service reform are brutal.
“I am a Gaullist and I am a Christian: that means I would never take a decision that is contrary to the respect for human dignity and the human being,” he continued.
Marine Le Pen
The French National Front leader Marine Le Pen says her party is “ready, determined and organised” for this year’s presidential election.
Speaking during her New Year news conference in Paris, Le Pen said she has been preparing for the spring election for months now.
The far-right leader says she offers order and stability:
“I have seen candidates come and go, who appear and then disappear. I have seen presidents who declare their candidacy, then fade away as if their term were just a political hiccup. Faced with this chaos, we offer an organised campaign. An organised campaign to put France back in order.”
Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls promised to avoid draconian public spending cuts as he laid out his pitch for traditional left-wing voters in the Socialist Party on Friday.
Valls resigned last month to run for the Socialist presidential nomination.
The 54-year-old is also proposing to overhaul the welfare system.
“I completely accept what has been undertaken since 2012 with the president, Francois Hollande. That is what responsibility means to me. I also demand the right to be freely creative, because I am a candidate for the presidency.”
While pollsters say Valls is likely to secure the Socialist ticket in a primary vote this month, the left is in disarray.
Commentators say any Socialist candidate will face a struggle to make it beyond the first round of the two-stage ballot in April and May.
Who is Emmanuel Macron?
- A former investment banker
- Former economy minister in the current Socialist government
- Comes a regular, if distant, third in polls of voting intentions
Macron has yet to produce a detailed programme.
However, he has portrayed himself as an independent, reformist candidate who wants to break from the tradition of left-versus-right politics.
What the polls say
Opinion polls have consistently shown Marine Le Pen making it to the second round of presidential election.
However, they also predict she will lose the run-off to a mainstream candidate.
An opinion poll before Christmas (link in French) suggested most French voters, including National Front supporters, think independent Emmanuel Macron would make a better president than conservative election frontrunner Francois Fillon.
However, other surveys have suggested Macron is unlikely to qualify for May’s runoff vote, which Fillon is tipped to contest against Le Pen.
According to the Odoxa poll, the preference for Macron over Fillon was clear among left-wingers as well as supporters of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front.
The poll questioned 1,015 people on December 21 and 22.
Other regular polls focusing on actual voting intentions suggest Macron will be eliminated in the first round of voting on April 23.
They have also consistently shown former prime minister Fillon, the candidate for the Les Republicains party, winning the run-off against Le Pen.