Runners and riders in race for French presidency

The FT guide to the 2017 French election candidates

France will elect a new president with voting in April and May, in what is set to be an unpredictable and closely fought battle between traditional and ‘outsider’ candidates.

This is the FT’s guide to the contenders.

National Front candidate

Marine Le Pen


Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is predicted to qualify for the second ballot in this year’s runoff - and has been further galvanised by the election of Donald Trump and the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

During her 2012 presidential campaign, the head of the National Front developed a nationalist and protectionist programme - pledging to leave the euro, restore tariffs and national border controls for people and goods and cut immigration by 95 per cent to 10,000 a year.

But she has also targeted voters disillusioned by the traditional left with plans to lower the retirement age to 60 and bolster public services.

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Republican candidate

François Fillon


François Fillon, a former prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy once dubbed “Mister Nobody” by the French media, became the surprise winner of the centre-right Republican nomination in November, beating both his former leader and the pollsters’ favourite Alain Juppé.

An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, 62-year-old Mr Fillon has put forward a radical programme to roll back the state: he wants to scrap the 35-hour working week, raise the pension age to 65 and slash public sector employment by half a million.

Beyond his deregulatory agenda, the practising catholic is appealing to France’s ageing and affluent bourgeoisie with the promise of a return to social conservatism - he has previously voiced his opposition to gay marriage - and his hardline stance on immigration and Islamist terrorism.

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Independent candidate

Emmanuel Macron


Emmanuel Macron was unknown in French politics until he became François Hollande’s economy minister in 2014, but launched an outside run for the Élysée last November on a centrist platform.

Openly shunning the existing party structure, Mr Macron, 39, has fashioned his own cross-party organisation En Marche! - borrowing from both the left and right, and using social media to woo younger voters. He is fielding prospective MP candidates through an open online application process and has ruled out deals with other parties.

The former Rothschild banker is yet to publish an official policy programme but, under the Hollande government, was a proponent of increased labour market flexibility, economic reform and social mobility.

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Socialist candidate

Benoît Hamon


Benoît Hamon, whose rebel status has won him comparisons with Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, beat favourite Manuel Valls to become the candidate for France’s beleaguered socialist party.

The leftist hardliner quit Mr Valls’ government in 2014 to spearhead a rebellion against the ex premier’s labour reforms. Nicknamed “Little Ben” when he first entered national politics in the 1990s, his policies include plans to bring in a universal basic income, introduce a 32-hour working week, tax industrial robots and legalise marijuana.

The 49-year-old says economic growth has become an overrated “quasi-religion” for policymakers and he has attracted core leftwing voters irked by Mr Hollande’s pro-business shift. Polling in fourth place, he says he will seek an alliance with far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon - currently projected to come in fifth place.

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Independent candidate

Jean-Luc Mélenchon


Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left firebrand and former Socialist minister, is running in this year’s race without the backing of the socialist or the communist parties.

The 65-year-old MEP came fourth in the 2012 election with the Left Front, a union of radical parties including the communist party, by tapping into France’s long tradition of revolutionary politics through fiery speeches and a successful youtube campaign.

This year he has created a new movement, La France Insoumise (Rebellious France), with a promise to share the country’s wealth, raise the minimum wage, prioritise environmental issues and renegotiate European treaties in order to end austerity.

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