Eight Things You Need To Know About The French Elections

Published: 2017/04/04
There is a lot of noise being made about the upcoming French national presidential elections. The first ballot will be on Sunday, April 23. But why are they so important? And how will they affect you? Read on for everything you need to know.


By Emma Clark 


Political uncertainty

This is one of the most unpredictable French elections for decades. It comes amid global political uncertainty, following the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US.


Centrist Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in Lyon

As voters steer away from traditional parties, alternative candidates, such as the far-right Marine Le Pen, are expected to outperform mainstream politicians. It is also notable because the vastly unpopular President Francois Hollande is the first French President since the war not to run for a second term.


Europe is watching

The elections are a test of support for the under-threat European Union. Le Pen has threatened to hold a UK-style referendum on the EU if she gets to power.

It’s also being closely watched by fellow member states, particularly close ally Germany, as an indication of the extent of rising nationalist sentiment and populism on the continent.


The Front Runners

There are 11 candidates in total, but five are leading the race.

The most controversial candidate is Marine Le Pen, the leader of the right-wing Front National who is popular with voters disillusioned with traditional politics. She wants to drastically reduce immigration, ditch the Euro and hold a referendum on EU membership if a renogitation of terms fails.

Independent front-runner Emmanuel Macron has had a swift rise through politics. Once a member of the Socialist Party, he quit Hollande’s government to create his own centrist movement, En Marche! (Onwards!).

He would inject the economy with a large investment package, cut taxes and push for more integration with Europe. He welcomes refugees.

He has drawn support from across the political spectrum (the socialist mayor of Lyon Gérard Collomb was one of the first to join its movement), including from Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls – a move than shock the sinking Socialist Party.


Francois Fillon, the centre-right Republican leader, was the early favourite until allegations surfaced that he paid his family for work they didn’t do. He wants to slash public spending and public sector jobs and also wants closer integration with Europe.

Far-left independent Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came fourth in the last presidential race, is a Euro-skeptic who wants France to quit European treaties and promises to share the country’s wealth.

Socialist Benoit Hamon, who has struggled to make an impression in the presidential race, is pro-EU and wants France to accept more refugees. He wants to increase public spending and boost the police force.


The Voting

Electing a French president is a two-round process.

The first ballot will be on Sunday, April 23 between 11 candidates. In theory, one candidate could win the round outright by taking 50% or more of the vote. However, that has never happened.

Instead, the two candidates with the most votes will go head-to-head in a second round of voting two weeks later on Sunday May 7.


Far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Who will win?

Polls suggest Le Pen is tipped to come out on top in the first round of voting. However, she is widely expected to lose the second round when up against a more mainstream candidate.

This is most likely to be Macron as support continues to fall away for Fillon. It means Macron could become the youngest French president in modern history. But after pollsters failed to correctly predict Brexit and Trump’s win, the indications are being viewed with some caution.


Only those with French citizenship, including people with dual-nationality, can vote in the French elections. Those who are eligible must be registered on the electoral roll.

Since 2011, ex-pats have been given the right to vote in local elections but they continue to be barred from taking part in national elections. EU residents living in France are able to vote in the European Parliament elections.



With France still in a state of emergency following a string of terrorist attacks, the topic of security has been high on the agenda. Immigration has been one of the most controversial areas, with Le Pen insisting she would tighten the borders and put the rights of French citizens above those of foreigners.

The economy and unemployment has also played an important role – France has the eighth highest unemployment figures in the EU. The rural population are a key demographic for any candidate to win over, but as agriculture suffers as a result of globalisation, their support is drifting away from traditional parties.


What happens next?

The elections do not end here. Voters will go to the polls again in June to vote for a local representative , known as deputy, in the legislative elections. These elections will be important for the new president, who will need a parliamentary majority to be an effective leader.