A DEBATE ABOUT DEBATING (OR NOT)

An analysis of our partner GFC Net: Shan

French voters expected to watch at least three TV debates ahead of the first round of the elections. The first one, that gathered only the five most important candidates according to polls was held on March 20 on the commercial television network TF1 and lasted more than three hours. The second one, prepared by the news network BFM TV is expected to welcome all the 11 candidates tonight. During one and a half minute, the candidates will expose their views on each issue selected by journalists. Needless to say that candidates have been criticizing the format and the usefulness of a TV debate in which they do not have ‘enough’ time to develop their key measures.

The third debate (which will be held by public TV network France 2 on April 20) has been at the center of the attention. Even the state’s High Council for Audiovisual has already expressed its concerns on the matter. The communist-backed candidate Jean-Luc MĂ©lenchon (now fourth in the polls) said he will drop out of the third debate. According to MĂ©lenchon, “it is risky to attend a debate less than one week before the first round, while the priority is to follow the schedule of my campaign’s agenda”. As for Emmanuel Macron, the independent candidate favors one final debate for all 11 presidential candidates rather than the two that are currently planned. “The debates do matter, however this one (on April 20) seems very late”.

Curiously, the question about debating (or not) has been raised by both the candidates that have extremely been present on digital campaign, especially on social media. Jean-Luc MĂ©lenchon launched his own YouTube channel on which he discusses one point of his program every single week. These videos have been watched 150, 000 times. (He also started using a “hologram” so he could be ‘present’ on two meetings at the same time).

On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron has aired his live public meetings on Facebook and YouTube. In addition, he uses the video platform to either directly address a specific public or to clarify polemic points, which have been pointed out by his competitors – very often, the videos last much more than three minutes instead of one and a half minute. He does not expect the TV shows or the debates to express his views on key matters.

Therefore, the debate about debating (or not) is not about the format proposed by TV channels. The candidates have already realized that TV debates do not necessarily reach the “good audience with the good messages”. Instead, it seems to be more effective to the candidates being on the ground discussing the program and addressing the voters through other “informal” platforms such as YouTube and social media.

Despite the critics over the TV debates, this format is likely to remain as the ultimate platform in order to provide voters with an opportunity to compare programs and candidates. However, citizens have henceforth the liberty not to wait seating on their couch on a very specific day in order to make their choice.

FOCUS: THE 5 MAIN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES’ BUDGET PLANS 

Emmanuel Macron, 39 (En marche, centre)

The frontrunner of the campaign offers to lower income taxes and increase annuities taxes. He also wants to launch a public investment plan in digital, transportation, renewables, in order to boost employment. Macron aims to lower the level of public spending by reducing the number of civil servants. The target is to maintain the deficits under the limit of 3% during his whole 5-year term. He also wishes to obtain a 7% unemployment rate (against about 10% today).

Marine Le Pen, 48 (Front National, far-right)

Marine Le Pen offers a restoration plan of the national budget and a recovery plan at the same time. The growth target is 2% by 2018. The FN admits that such a policy is going to widen the deficit at start. However, they will be stemmed at 1.3% of GDP by 2020, according to the party. Her platform rests on 1) the exit of the common currency, 2) the exit of the EU, 3) the halting of immigration. Protectionist measures would be implemented to protect the local economy.

François Fillon,  63 (Les Républicains, right)

Fillon offers a liberal austerity plan that combines cuts in public spending – except for sovereign functions – and tax cuts, as a priority for companies and then for high and middle-income households.  The weight of the public spending will be lowered from 57% of GDP today at 50% by 2019. The French deficit would reach 3.7% at the end of 2017 et less than 3% by 2019.

BenoĂźt Hamon, 49 (Parti Socialiste, left)

Hamon offers a recovery plan based on higher incomes, employment, investment, the increase of the public spending and wealth reallocation. The financial assessment of its platform could not be done because the implementation process of the universal basic income has not yet been specified. Moreover, some proposals must be taken into account at the European level: a €1000bn energetic investment plan, the corporate tax harmonization, a ceiling of VAT, a specific tax for GAFA. So far, Hamon has not said whether he would maintain the deficit below 3% or not; but he said he will not consider public investment and defence spending to calculate the deficit

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65 (La France insoumise, far-left)

Mélenchon wants to set up an ambitious recovery plan as of the beginning of his term. Such a plan would trigger a new 5-year growth cycle and would be financed by a significant increase of high-income households taxes. Public spending would reach 4.8% in 2018 and 2.5% in 2022.

DOES THE SOCIALIST PARTY INTERNAL WARREALLY HELP MACRON?

On March 29, Manuel Valls (former President Hollande’s Prime minister and BenoĂźt Hamon’s main contender during the left primary) announced that he will be voting for Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the upcoming election, preferring the centrist frontrunner to his own Socialist party’s candidate.

Mr. Valls is not the only significant socialist figure to announce his support for Mr. Macron, instead of Mr. Hamon. Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did so last week, and 50 other socialist MPs already said they will support Mr. Macron’s party, En Marche!, which he created last year.

Relegated to the fifth position by the polls, Mr. Hamon tried to tie-up with Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of La France Insoumise, a far-left movement, who wants to impose a 90 per cent top income tax rate. Speculations around a possible alliance sparked fears amongst contenders (and foreign investors), as together the two candidates would be arithmetically able to qualify for the second round against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. However, they did not manage to find an agreement.

Upset by these attempts of tie-up with Mr. Melenchon, a number of centre-left figures, including emblematic members of the unpopular Hollande government, decided to endorse Mr. Macron, by doing that, they might lose their official socialist nomination for the upcoming legislative election in June.

The question now is whether these endorsements are either positive or negative for Mr. Macron. All his campaign is based on the pledge to renew the political landscape, especially by replacing well-known leaders with new faces. However the latest endorsements come essentially from people who have been in politics for decades. And everybody is wondering now when President Hollande is going to publicly announce his personal endorsement to Mr. Macron. Needless to say that it would be a serious crisis to handle for the young frontrunner, considering Hollande’s poor approval ratings.

WHY ARE THE PRIMARIES A FAILURE?

WHY ARE THE PRIMARIES A FAILURE?
In the framework of the Fifth Republic set up by the General de Gaulle, the presidential election is viewed as an encounter between a man and the people.

Well, the primaries, which were not thought to fit within this institutional architecture in 1958, have gradually been implemented over the past ten years to avoid that members of the same political party compete and defeat their own camp. It was the case during the 1995 presidential election between Edouard Balladur and Jacques Chirac, both members of the RPR (a right wing party founded by Mr. Chirac in 1978), who hardly fought each other. At the end, Mr. Chirac won but the party remained divided for a long while.

So far, French primaries could be seen as a complete failure. As a matter of fact, polls suggest neither the traditional right nor the socialist candidate will be qualified for the second round.

Despite his large victory at the socialist primary, Benoüt Hamon did not manage to gather his own camp so far and has been abandoned by a large number of socialist figures. It is also worth noting how strong Mr. Fillon has been challenged by his own camp, following the succession of financial scandals he was involved in during the last two months. Even President Hollande recently stated in Ouest-France that “Primaries were a failure for this election and for the Fifth Republic”.

Meanwhile, Mr. Macron, who decided to run for the presidency outside the political parties – and their primaries – has been leading the polls with 27% ahead Marine Le Pen – who has not been nominated through a primary process either.

Does it mean that candidates need to wear the general de Gaulle’s suits to have a chance to win the presidential election?

It may be partly true if we take into account that the Fifth Republic had been set up for one person: the general himself. However, it is more accurate to say that the failure of primaries is above all the failure of the traditional party themselves, which did not manage to maintain people’s interest and failed to offer new solutions to improve people’s standard of living.

AXA IM PEDICTIONS FOR FINAL VICTORY

AXA IM released on March 27 its probabilities of who is going to win the next month’s presidential elections. According to the asset manager, Emmanuel Macron has the better chance to win the race with 64%. Marine Le Pen comes behind with 21%.

Read the complete study: https://www.axa-im.com/fr/french-elections-poll-monitoring