On Sunday, in a surprise win, former prime minister François Fillon was elected the right’s presidential candidate for the 2017 French elections. He beat the more moderate Alain Juppé, as well as his former boss, and former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, winning around 67 per cent of the vote. Fillon is now considered the favourite to win the presidential election. Considering the more moderate Juppé was originally tipped to win in Sunday’s polls, this could be the first example of a ‘Brexit effect’ in the drawn-out French elections.
Known as ‘l’eternel second’ (‘always second’) for having spent five years in the shadow of Sarkozy, Fillon seems to have come out of nowhere. Who is he and what does he stand for?
Unusually for a French politician, he’s an outspoken supporter of Margaret Thatcher and her economic policies. Declaring yourself a Thatcherite in France will mean being ridiculed by the French left, as illustrated by last week’s front page of left-wing newspaper Libération, which featured Fillon with an iconic Maggie hair-do. Fillon is a fan of Thatcher because he believes the French economy needs a big shake-up, or what he calls ‘shock therapy’, to reinvigorate it and bring down its unemployment rate of almost 10 per cent. He is proposing to cut 500,000 civil-service jobs and scrap the 35-hour working week, bringing the maximum hours limit in line with the EU standard of 48. He also wants to raise the retirement age to 65 and lower unemployment benefits. He holds traditionally conservative, Catholic values and voted against the legalisation of gay marriage in 2013. However, he has said he would not reverse gay-marriage laws, though he has raised questions about gay adoption.
It’s looking increasingly likely that the presidential election will come down to a second round of votes between Fillon and Front National leader Marine Le Pen. However, FN had been banking on Juppé winning the primary. Before Fillon’s victory on Sunday, an elected official told Le Monde, ‘Fillon is the most difficult scenario for Marine. It would be better if it were Juppé, who is easier to caricature.’
The economy and security look set to be key issues in the election, and Fillon’s more hardline stance (in comparison to Juppé’s), alongside his traditional values, could see him take many FN votes. Fillon wants to clamp down on immigration and has published a book called Conquering Islamic Totalitarianism. In the summer he said he would support an anti-burkini law. He is also anti-multiculturalism and pushes a message of pride in French values and culture; immigrants must respect the French way of life, he says.