The first round is done, the final is to follow on May 7th. We now know that the next French president will be either Marine Le Pen or Emanuel Macron; and it seems that for once the great generation divide that split voters in the UK and US last year, has gone in favour of the younger voter.
Brexit saw the older vote win – surveys show that the vote had a clear divide between the younger voter – the millennial generation in particular who voted Remain, and the older voter, especially baby boomers and older, who typically voted Leave.
In the US, we saw much the same pattern.
There was also a rural urban split – with most of the biggest cities in the UK and US voting for Remain/Clinton.
In France, centrist Emanuel Macron is the clear favourite to become the next French president – opinion polls can get it wrong, but the extent of their error would need to be massive for there to be a victory for the Far Right French National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen.
And Macron, who, if he wins, will be the youngest leader of France since Napoleon, is most popular with the younger/urban voter in France.
In fact, on this occasion, the opinion polls were pretty close to smack on. They had forecasted a very close race, with less than five percentage points between the top four candidates, but that Le Pen and Macron would be the two highest scorers; and that is what happened.
In the French system, the first round of voting is open to all-comers, the second round is between the two most popular candidates.
In fact, at the time of writing, Macron has won 23.87 per cent of the vote, Le Pen got 21.43 per cent, followed by Fillon – the Republican candidate who got 19.94 per cent of the vote, followed by the Far-Left Candidate Melenchon, on 19.6 per cent, and with Hamon, the socialist candidate – that is the party of the current French president Francoise Hollande – securing 6.35 per cent.
There is a lot that is unprecedented about this election – for one thing not only was the socialist party, that had also produced President Mitterrand, as well as the present incumbent, not represented, but the Republicans, the party of Sarkozy, and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is without a candidate too.
So, it is a straight fight between the Far-Right and Centre – a potential president that wants to pull France out of the EU, end open borders, and take a protectionism approach to trade, and a candidate who wants to see modest reforms.
A Le Pen has been here before, Jean–Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, made it to the final round and went against Jacques Chirac in 2002, where he was thrashed winning just 17.8 per cent of the two-way vote.
Opinion polls suggest Macron will win around 60 per cent of the vote – it will take a major upset, scandal or somekind of disaster, for Le Pen to win, but it is clear, the French National Front is getting more popular.
The French economy has major problems, that is for sure. Unemployment stands at 10 per cent, more than double the UK rate, public debt is at 96.2 per cent of GDP.
The French labour market needs reforming, there is no doubt about that.
But how does it need reforming?
Besides, even if France gets a president Macron, will he be able to get support from Parliament? Macron’s party, En Marche is very unlikely to gain a majority in the upcoming election, but then the National Front is even less likely to win a majority. To carry out any reforms, or indeed in the case of Le Pen, call a referendum to leave the EU, the support of parliament in required, they have to form coalitions – Le Pen will probably be unable to do this, Macron, by playing the unity card, might.
But what reforms?
The French labour market needs less regulation, and it needs to be easier to fire people, but does France really want to remove the 35 hour working week?
And in five years’ time, when the next election comes around, if a President Macron is unsuccessful, then the odds of a President Le Pen in 2022 improve.
But there is one thing a President Macron has in his favour. The global economy is looking good, the French economy is picking up, maybe the after-shocks emanating from the 2008 crisis have finally finished.
Maybe we are in for a period of economic recovery, and if that is the case, then whoever wins the French election on May 7th, the odds are good they will win again in five years-time.