PARIS – The French will decide on April 24 whether to re-elect business-centric president Emmanuel Macron or blow up decades of mainstream consensus in favor of far-right Marine Le Pen.
Here’s what to expect from them on the major issues:
Le Pen: The far-right heir has transformed the former National Front, turning his father’s free-market, small-government party into a big-spending, protectionist party.
He wants to implement a “buy French” policy for public tenders, lowering the minimum retirement age for those who started working 20 years ago to 60, abolishing income tax for those under 30 and reducing VAT on energy from 20% to 5.5%.
He will spend 2 billion euros ($ 2.18 billion) over 5 years to raise the salaries of hospital staff and hire an additional 10,000 of them. Teachers’ salaries will increase by 15% in 5 years.
Giles Evaldi, a political scientist at Science-Po, says his party’s economic program has been more than left-wing for decades.
Macron: The French leader plans to double the supply-side reforms implemented during his first mandate, with the main thrust of his manifesto being raising the minimum pension age from 62 to 65.
Mr Macron promises conditional welfare benefits over 15-20 hours of training, similar to the policies of countries like the United States or Britain.
Unemployment insurance, which currently guarantees workers up to two-thirds of their salary for two years if they lose their jobs, will add to the strength of the economy.
In an effort to live up to his “not left or right” policy, he has promised to automate benefits for eligible ones instead of applying to eligible ones.
LE PEN: Although she has abandoned her earlier plans to leave the euro to repay France’s debt to the newly created franc, Miss Le Pen has promised to reduce her contribution to the European Union (EU) treasury. Such a move would put Paris at odds with the European Commission and other EU members.
He stressed that French law should prevail over EU rules, challenged in the bloc’s apex court, and said he wanted to eventually replace the EU with a “nation of Europe”, although he did not yet see it as such.
Mrs Le Pen will hire thousands more customs agents to inspect goods entering France, including other EU countries, to fight fraud. Analysts say it will hurt the single market.
Macron: The enthusiastic Eurofile will continue its efforts to develop Europe’s “strategic autonomy” in defense, technology, agriculture and energy, and reduce the bloc’s dependence on other energy.
Over the past five years, Mr Macron has sought to redirect the EU to a more protectionist stance, blocking some free trade agreements with other blocs such as Merkosur, and creating a system that would increase outside scrutiny of strategic EU companies.
Mr Macron is likely to push for more control over US technology giants, saying he wanted to create a “European metaverse” to compete with Facebook.
Le Pen: Mrs Le Pen wants to take France out of the Transatlantic Military Alliance’s NATO-led command to challenge the West’s post-Cold War security architecture.
Opponents accuse him of being too close to Moscow. His party received a bank loan from a Russian bank in 2014 and was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin shortly before the 2017 presidential election.
He condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, but said Moscow could be a post-war ally again.
In an interview with Reuters, he called himself a “golist” after wartime leader Charles de Gaulle and said he would pursue a foreign policy equivalent to Washington and Moscow.
Asked if he had any messages from France’s traditional allies, Britain and the United States, he said: “Leave out your preconceived notions about me.”
Macron: Although Mr Macron has shed feathers across the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, especially in Eastern Europe and Germany, when he called NATO “brain-dead” in 2019, he said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine “revived it.”
Yet he would like to make Europeans less dependent on the US military for security.
Mr Macron urged the EU to pay more attention to the Indo-Pacific and China’s growing influence in the region. However, he clashed with Washington, London and Canberra after Australia canceled a huge submarine deal with France.
He has warned that he would seek to cooperate with the new US-UK-Australia security alliance against China – called AUKUS – to try to persuade the EU to pursue its own independent policy against China or Beijing. – Michael Rose / Reuters