French presidential election: Who’s who in the race to replace Macron?

The list of people hoping to create an upset and unseat Emmanuel Macron is quickly growing with six months to go before France’s presidential election.

Macron has not yet announced he will be running for a second term but is widely expected to do so. His main challenger within the centrist La Republique en Marche party was thought to be former prime minister Edouard Philippe, but the mayor of Havre has unequivocally rejected throwing his hat into the ring.

Polls, for now, all point to a Macron victory but the French presidential election is notoriously unpredictable. Macron, himself, is the perfect example having launched a political movement just months before the 2017 election that he went on to win.

Key issues for the election include work and the cost of living — a debate ignited by the 2018 Gilets Jaunes protests — as well as the environment, immigration and security.

Euronews takes a closer look at those in the running to challenge Macron.

Marine Le Pen – Rassemblement National

Seen as Macron’s main rival and projected to join him in the second round of the plebiscite is Marine Le Pen.

The far-right leader, 53, is sticking to her preferred themes, namely immigration and security.

Among the measures she has outlined are the end of naturalisation by marriage and of automatic citizenship for people born on French soil.

She also plans to restrict access to family allowances to French people exclusively with a five-year waiting period for foreigners.

She also wants to abolish subsidies for “intermittent energies”, including wind and photovoltaic power.

She has however abandoned the idea of taking France out of the European Union, Schengen Area or euro.

Le Pen has sought to soften her party’s image since taking over from her father — who was sentenced multiple times for his antisemitic and negationist comments. This has made the party more mainstream but she now risks being outflanked on the right by new personality, Eric Zemmour.

Her main challenge will be to build her credibility on issues not pertaining to immigration and security. Her lack of experience and economic knowledge saw her eviscerated by Macron during a televised debate in 2017.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon – La France Insoumise

The left-wing populist leader, 70, came fourth in the last presidential election, capturing nearly 20% of the first-round vote. Right now, polls credit him with around 10% of ballots.

Up to now, his proposals have been solidly on social issues and the cost of living.

He has for instance announced that he plans to create a “social emergency law” that would allow for the price of basic necessities to be frozen, including fuel, gas, electricity and some food items.

He also wants to boost the monthly minimum wage from €1,258 net currently to €1,400 net.

Mélenchon is a controversial figure. He was given a three-month suspended prison term and a €8,000 fine in December 2019 for intimidating officials who were carrying out a search at his office in a probe over funding irregularities.

Anne Hidalgo – Socialist Party

The 62-year-old is the current mayor of Paris, after winning a second term in 2020.

She has called for the education and health systems to be “rebuilt” and said that “the question of work should once again become a central issue.”

Like Melenchon, she plans to boost wages. She has said that one of her first acts as President would be to convene negotiations with unions “to put the French back in a position where they can live with dignity from their work”.

She is also positioning herself as an ecologist. Among the measures she has rolled out in the French capital are restrictions on car traffic in parts of the city and more bike lanes. Her new mandate plans for the plantation of 170,000 trees, the energy renovation of buildings and an end of plastic in school canteens.

She faces two major challenges. The first one is that she is seen as a local politician, tied to Paris. The second is that she is the candidate for a floundering party. The Socialists’ candidate in 2017 secured just 6.2% of the vote — a record low for the party. This was followed by heavy defeats in the legislative and European parliament elections.

Polls currently credit her with between 4 and 7% of the vote.

Yannick Jadot – Green Party

Jadot, 54, is an MEP who already won the Green party ticket for the presidential election in 2017, only to rally behind the Socialist candidate.

This time, such an alliance appears unlikely even though the two left-wing parties joined forces to win the Paris and Marseille mayoral elections.

His programme includes pledges to put an end to intensive livestock farming and to weaken lobbies, which he said “swallow up subsidies and public policies so that the climate, health, the environment and social justice finally take precedence”.

“Every euro of public money will be conditional on the protection of the environment. Not a single euro for Total until Total breaks with its logic of always looking for more oil and more gas in the ground,” he has said.

He also plans to restore a tax on wealth and to tax financial assets that invest in fossil fuels more.

Finally, he has unveiled a plan to inject €50 billion a year during the five-year mandate to “repair” the country and “rebuild” the economy. The funds would go towards infrastructure projects, housing, transport and help the economy transition into “a virtuous circle of investment and responsible consumption.”

Polls give him between 6 and 9% of the vote.

Les Republicains

The main right-wing party has yet to select its candidate. Members of Les Republicains (LR) will be voting for their candidate in early December.

The three front-runners vying for the ticket are Xavier Bertrand, Valérie Pécresse, and Michel Barnier.

Xavier Bertrand

Bertrand, 56, is president of the Hauts-De-France region. A former minister for health and then labour, he is currently the one to beat for his fellow LR presidential hopefuls.

He has presented himself as “the one who wants to make our (the right) ideas win, and reconcile the French”, and developed his programme of “three priority areas”: “authority, work and territories”.

Items on his programme he has outlined already include a big “social conference” to negotiate wages, a review of the goal to bring the share of nuclear in the country’s energy mix down to 50%, and a ban of Salafism.

Valérie Pécresse

The head of the populous Ile-De-France region, in which Paris is located, is also a two-times minister for higher education and budget.

She has pledged to review plans to close nuclear reactors, conceding however that nuclear will not suffice and that renewables need to be boosted. Other proposals include a carbon tax at Europe’s borders and “European preference in public procurement”.

She also called for wages to be brought up and for reforms of the unemployment and pension systems and promised to bring down public debt.

Michel Barnier

If he got the ticket, Barnier, 70, would be the oldest person in the race. Like his two LR colleagues, he has also been minister twice — Agriculture and European Affairs — but a sizeable chunk of his career was made on the European stage. He was EU Commissioner twice but is perhaps best known now as “Mr Brexit”, after leading the bloc’s divorce negotiations with the UK.

“I want to be the president of the reconciliation of the French”, he has said.

His proposals include wage increases for teachers and health workers, lower social benefits charges for employers, and lower taxes on production as well as a referendum on immigration. He has also called into question the “overzealousness” of the European Court of Justice.

One of his main challenges, should he be picked to carry the party’s nomination, will be to differentiate himself from incumbent Macron, with whom he shares many positions.

Eric Zemmour

Controversial columnist, television pundit and author Erix Zemmour is also expected to throw his hat into the ring.

Zemmour, 63, is famed for his provocations on Islam, immigration and women which have seen him sued multiple times. He was convicted of provoking racial discrimination in 2011 and provoking hatred towards Muslims in 2018.

He argues France is in decline both geopolitically and economically which he blames on immigration, and the “Islamisation” and “feminisation” of society.

His possible candidacy is taken so seriously that France’s media regulator ruled last month that he should be seen as a politician, not a journalist, and that his airtime should thus be subject to limitations.

A bid for the Elysée by Zemmour is likely to harm Marine Le Pen as the two have similar positions on a number of issues. Several prominent figures in her party have already called for Zemmour to rally behind her. It could also lead the candidate from Les Republicains to veer to the right on certain themes including immigration and security in order to stem a possible exodus of votes.

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