Thursday

25th May 2017

Brussels to breathe sigh of relief after French vote

  • Hollande has led in most first round polls and in all second round polls over Sarkozy (Photo: Anirudh Koul)

The first round of France's presidential elections on Sunday (22 April) will bring Brussels a step closer to resumption of normal business, with the EU capital on something of a political lock-down as the campaigning has gathered pace.

Nicolas Sarkozy and his main challenger Francois Hollande are, according to polls, set to make it through to the run-off on 6 May.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Hoping to avoid bcoming the first one-term president since 1981, centre-right Sarkozy (with 27.5% according to a BVA poll) is talking up his economic credentials as the country struggles with a 12-year unemployment high and huge public debt.

Tough anti-immigrant language, the changing of key EU policies and blowing hot and cold on Berlin have also featured in his campaign.

But he has been unable to dislodge Socialist contender Hollande (29.5%) from the lead.

Emerging from the shadows after it became clear that disgraced former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss Kahn would not lead the centre-left party, the low-key Hollande has positioned himself as the anti-austerity candidate, pledging a 75 percent tax on the super-rich. He also makes much of being the anti-Sarkozy in terms of his less showy style.

Both leading candidates are feeling threatened by ones further right and left.

Marine Le Pen (14%), heading up the far-right National Front, is peddling protectionism, xenophobia and Brussels-bashing. She believes she will make it through to the second round of elections, as her father Jean-Marie Le Pen did in 2002.

The genuine surprise of the campaign has been the rise of Jean-Luc Melenchon on the far left. Polling at 13 percent, he is set to poach leftist voters unconvinced by the centrist Hollande, and has called for a 20 percent rise in the minimum wage and a full pension for people older than 60.

The rest of the field consists of centrist Francois Bayrou (12%), Green Eva Joly (2%), rightist Nicolas Dupont (1%) and three far-left candidates - Philippe Poutou (1%), Nathalie Arthuad (0%) and Jacques Cheminade (0%).

The view from outside

For onlookers in Brussels and other national capitals, the challenge has been to sort the wheat from the chaff in campaign rhetoric on European issues.

EU officials have had a typical case of selective hearing since electioneering began in earnest.

This especially concerns Sarkozy's comments on making Europe more protectionist by establishing a 'Buy European Act,' pulling France out of the EU's borderless area unless there is progress on strengthening borders and altering the role of the European Central Bank to focus on growth.

"It's France. Let's wait and see what really happens after 6 May," one EU official said, referring to the second round. "None of these things are issues where France can simply act alone," the contact added.

Hollande's biggest European issue is a pledge to alter the fiscal compact treaty. His talk on this has ranged from full-blown renegotiation to simply adding text on growth measures.

He recently told Germany's Handelsblatt that: "If the pact contains no measures for growth, I can't recommend it for ratification."

But there are doubts that he will do much because the treaty has already been signed by 25 countries and some have ratified it. "There is to be a separate French declaration appended to the treaty. [Hollande] intends to put into it that toughness on spending should be accompanied by pro-growth measures," said one senior EU source.

Many in the EU capital are keen to see the back of the French elections because they cause disruption.

EU pause to end

According to diplomats, once the next president of the fifth Republic is installed, talks on issues such as the EU's multi-annual budget and tweaking the rules on EU borders will begin in earnest.

Early indications of the result are to come after the last polls close at 8pm local time.

Analysts say French voters often use the first round to make a point but the second one to vote in earnest. Hollande has led, just, in most first round polls and in all second round polls over Sarkozy.

While the campaign winds down Friday (20 April) ahead of polling day, a different political storm is brewing.

French authorities are threatening to pursue media outlets that publish exit poll results - available from around 6.30pm - before last poll stations close in big cities such as Paris and Marseilles.

In 2007, French voters flocked to Belgian and Swiss websites to see leaked exit polls. But with the rise of Twitter and Facebook, French commentators are questioning whether the media blackout in France can or should be maintained.

Those breaking the ban, including social media users, could face a fine of €75,000, the French authorities warned on Thursday.

Sarkozy wants new role for euro bank

One week before elections, French incumbent Sarkozy has said the ECB should get a new mandate on economic growth - a no-go area for Germany.

France: Hollande leads, Le Pen shocks in third place

Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy will go through to the second round of the French presidential elections following Sunday's vote but the big winner of the evening was the far-right's Marine Le Pen in third place.

MEPs vote to start democracy probe on Hungary

The European Parliament took the first step towards launching the Article 7 procedure against Hungary for backsliding on democracy. The process might lead to sanctions, but Orban is not backing down.

MEPs preparing to crack down on Orban

The EU assembly's largest group is split by its "enfant terrible", but enough MEPs are likely to abstain or vote Yes on the "Article 7" crackdown over Orban's illiberal rule.

Schulz fails to beat Merkel in German home state

Former EU parliament leader, Martin Schulz, says the defeat of his social-democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia is "difficult". The elections showed that a "Schulz effect" does not (yet) exist.

Austria heading for snap elections

Foreign minister Kurz has taken leadership of the conservative party in what could lead to an alliance with the far-right.

News in Brief

  1. Pressure grows on climate impact of EU timber harvesting
  2. US goes after Fiat Chrysler over emissions cheat
  3. Munich police break up Europe-wide burglar clan
  4. Report: VW threatened with €19.7 billion French fine
  5. Turkey begins mass trial of suspected coup leaders
  6. Merkel's CDU consolidates lead in polls
  7. France to host Russian president
  8. Switzerland votes against nuclear power

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms

Latest News

  1. Openness over Brexit is 'political play', says EU ombudsman
  2. Le Pen's EU group in fresh spending scandal
  3. New EU right to data portability to cause headaches
  4. Cyber threats are inevitable, paralyzing impact is not
  5. Transparency complaints keep EU Ombudsman busy
  6. EU sets out criteria for relocating UK agencies
  7. EU states back bill against online hate speech
  8. Dutch coalition talks collapse again

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Cost of Speaking Out: Human Rights Violations Committed in Belarus
  2. ACCABanishing Bias? Audit, Objectivity and the Value of Professional Scepticism
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Oslo Climate Declaration Focuses on Rising Temperatures in the Arctic
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceAbdominal Obesity: A Causal Risk Factor for Cardiometabolic Diseases
  5. EU Green Week 2017Discuss EU Environmental Policies With Industry Experts and Thought Leaders
  6. GEN Summit 2017Join the World's Leading Media Summit for Thought-Provoking Talks and Experiences
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTogether for Human Rights: A Year in Review
  8. Malta EU 2017EU All Set for Free Roaming Starting 15 June
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersRefugee Unemployment Biggest Drain on Public Purse, Says New Nordic Studies
  10. Dialogue Platform17,000 Women, 515 Babies in Turkish Prisons, a Report Reveals
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  12. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey