Among the 11 candidates in the French presidential election, only four were expected to have any chance of advancing to the second round: centrist Emmanuel Macron, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, far-left hopeful Jean-Luc Mélenchon and conservative François Fillon.
According to the latest exit polls, the two increasingly likely to make it to the second round are Le Pen and Macron.
Here is what you need to know about what they stand for and what their victory or defeat in the May runoff election could mean for France and Europe.
– Emmanuel Macron, centrist candidate
He is the favorite candidate of European governments, probably because he is the contender with the least radical changes on offer. Like German Chancellor Merkel, Macron, 39, has distinguished himself with a mixture of pragmatism and a refusal to take a clear stance on certain issues.
Whereas all other leading candidates either clearly want to extend or roll back the state of emergency that was implemented after the November 2015 terrorist attacks, Macron has said only that he will evaluate it. Like Merkel, Macron has taken a strong stand in favor of immigration and the European Union, however.
At times when populists on the far right and the far left have gained momentum, Macron has united voters who do not want radical change.
A former member of the Socialist Party with a previous career as an investment banker, Macron leads a movement called En Marche! (Forward!)and has tried to avoid any suggestion that he represents the political establishment.
– Marine Le Pen, far-right candidate
Marine Le Pen has shaped France’s politics for years and is one of the country’s most polarizing politicians. A former lawyer, she has spent much of her political career trying to move the party founded by her father into the French mainstream – something with which she still struggles.
Her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, once referred to the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail of history.” Since taking over the party leadership, his daughter has tried to distance herself from him to make the National Front more appealing to a wider range of voters. But critics have called her policy proposals similarly dangerous and divisive.
Le Pen has vowed to introduce sweeping legislation to expand police powers if she gets elected and would leave the borderless Schengen zone as well as the euro zone. France’s E.U. membership also would be at stake.
The prospect of a Le Pen presidency frightens many liberal and centrist French, and at times she has drawn criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. Two weeks ago, she suggested that France was “not responsible” for deporting Jews during the Holocaust – although the French role in the incident to which she was referring is undisputed among historians.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Rick Noack · WORLD, EUROPE · Apr 23, 2017 – 3:40 PM