Despite last minute jitters over a late surge by far-left candidate Lean-Luc Melenchon, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen were the frontrunners. At the end of the first vote the pair held significant leads over the initial four key contenders in presidential race.
With so much at stake, what can we expect from Macron or Le Pen? This will have consequences far beyond France. Like Brexit in the UK or Trump in the US, one of the big questions after the second and final vote, will likely focus on who is appointed to the winning candidate’s team. Campaigning for the second round in the French election will start in earnest, with behind the scenes manoeuvring by both camps as the seek support for their candidacies.
If Macron wins, then the Socialists have indicated they will support whoever he chooses to appoint as prime minister, but only under certain conditions. Macron will also seek support from the centre-right. But the shift from Les Republicains could be much smaller than the Socialist defections. The center-right is structurally and historically the majority party in France, and they will want to protect their position, if they are to win the next legislative elections, even under a Macron presidency. And so with no absolute majority for Macron in the National Assembly, there would be a need to seek support from within the reformist wing of the Socialist Party, the UDI, and the left wing of the Republicans.
Taking a different path
But Macron could take a different path in choosing his Prime Minister. He could select a PM with a high political profile, someone experienced and knowledgeable of the political in-fights of parliament. Names being floated include Richard Ferrand, current defense minister Yves Le Drian, and Gerard Collomb. The new President could also flip the table and appoint a woman with a political profile, perhaps Laurence Parisot, Liberal MEP Sylvie Goulard, or IMF President Christine Lagarde, who has not given up on her political ambitions in France.
There are serious concerns in French political circles that a victory for the National Front’s Le Pen, could be followed by a period of civil unrestDr. Mohamed A. Ramady
Macron could appoint a PM who combines the two qualities, while also being little known. That would point to Bariza Khiari, a woman and a senator since 2004, who has the advantage of knowing the parliamentary mechanism, without being widely known to the general public, and who would also tick an interesting diversity box.
Political insiders expect Macron to tap a slate of experienced people for other key government posts. This would start with Jean Pisani-Ferry, an economist who has contributed to Macron’s program, and is expected to get an economic ministry. Spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, who may be appointed minister of health, and Laurence Haïm, who could get spokesman of the government or the ministry of culture. Macron will also draw from a number of young local administrators with hands-on government experience who have enthusiastically supported his campaign.
There are serious concerns in French political circles that a victory for the National Front’s Le Pen, could be followed by a period of civil unrest. It is feared there could be clashes between her supporters and her opponents, on the streets of Paris following the first round results. It’s also feared she could use that unrest to consolidate authority by drawing on wide presidential powers provided in the Constitution of the Fifth Republic.
In the event of major disturbances, which the National Front could fuel during the run-up to parliamentary elections, the call to introduce Article 16 of the Constitution (relating to full powers) should not be ruled out. Full powers are typically limited to 30 days, but Le Pen’s opponents fear that could well be enough time to encourage a concerned electorate to spring an elections surprise, which is a very Putin or Erdogan-styled show of strength. With a platform that appeals to French nationalism: abandoning the Euro, a new referendum on EU membership, fighting “Islamic” extremism and tougher immigration controls, a future ‘President Le Pen’ would certainly require even more sweeping presidential powers .
If that doesn't give Le Pen a working majority, the second option for the National Front would be to conclude a government agreement with Les Republicains, which for now seems like a stretch given the differences in economic policy between the two parties.
Will Le Pen become more mainstream?
But it was apparent that in the presidential debate on April 4, Le Pen attempted a turn towards more mainstream economic policies. Probably already with an eye on fighting the second round, she proposed a reduction in taxation for small and medium-sized enterprises. Both Macron and Le Pen are now positioning themselves as champions of the forgotten fringes, as well as appealing to the centre, a hard act to follow under normal circumstances.
A blue-brown coalition supporting a right wing government would be put to the test from the outset with the first parliamentary votes – not least the vote on the budget. The scenario of a relative majority for the FN in the National Assembly, while difficult to envisage – given the widespread opposition throughout France, would lead to opponents sending plenty of candidates to the Assembly that are opposed to FN policies. For example, it is unlikely that even one of the 18 constituencies of Paris will go to the FN.
If Le Pen aims at luring more traditional Gaullist voters, she could decide to give the post of Prime Minister to a right-wing personality like Gérard Longuet, Philippe de Villiers, Thierry Mariani (who is also in the race for foreign minister) or Claude Guéant. Other hard-right personalities like Eric Ciotti, Guillaume Peltier, Geoffroy Didier, Henri Guaino, Nadine Morano or Lionnel Luca could also join the government team. Finally, a former adviser of Nicolas Sarkozy, Patrick Buisson, could return to the Elysée or a ministry, along with cadres of the micro-party “Common Sense,” now close to François Fillon.
However, in the event of a small victory, and with a view to seeking unity within her party, Le Pen is expected to appoint a good number of more “mediocre,” extreme party loyalists. The Ministry of the Interior could be given to David Rachline or Steeve Briois, with the latter also in the race to be appointed Minister of Finance. The Justice Department would seem likely to go to Gilbert Collard. But his strained relations with a number of FN executives could work against him to the benefit of an experienced personality like Jacques Bompard, despite announcements to the contrary by Marine Le Pen.
For the Gulf countries, a Macron presidency would mean following the same French policies on Syria and the Middle East. But a Le Pen presidency would see France recalibrate some of its Middle East and global foreign policy relations. This would mean especially rebooting warmer relations with Russia - and rather paradoxically - also with the USA. President Trump is seemingly rooting for her, given Le Pen’s EU reformist agenda and vow to fight the “establishment” and globalization. On May 7, French voters will tell us which candidate they resonate with, and bring some modicum of centrist stability or another political earthquake in Europe .
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady is an energy economist and geo political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran , Saudi Arabia.