On Thursday evening, Francois Hollande announced his decision not to seek the Socialist Party’s nomination for next year’s Presidential election. It appears that he has taken this decision out of a desire to do what he can to deny Le Pen the Presidency. His personal approval ratings are appalling, and have been so for years. His mismanagement of the economy was the initial cause of this: his 75% top rate of income-tax looked punitive, and failed to raise any significant revenue. The main consequence of the tax was to drive successful French businessmen abroad; notably to London, apocryphally described as ‘the 6th biggest French city’ due to the large number of French immigrants resident there.
The latter part of Hollande’s Presidency has been overshadowed by the many acts of violent jihad, most notably the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan massacres in January and November 2015. His personal approval ratings improved after the former act of terrorism, but it didn’t take long for them to fall back again. The Bataclan massacre followed hard upon a summer full of tension over the migrant crisis. Subsequent to it, Hollande closed the border between Italy, presaging Sweden’s decision to close the Øresund bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö later that year. Such incidents might well foreshadow the slow winding-down of the Schengen project.
Hollande’s (dis)approval ratings make it almost impossible for him to win next year’s Presidential election. He must therefore be hoping that an alternative Socialist candidate will stand a better chance. But such a candidate is unlikely to succeed. The most commonly predicted result of the first-round of voting will produce a final ballot between Marine Le Pen, of the Front National, and Les Républicains’ newly chosen nominee, François Fillon.
It has been typical in French elections, that if the Front National make it to the final run-off, all the other parties would support their opponent. This is what happened in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen surprisingly made it to the final ballot against Jacques Chiraq. The support of everyone not affiliated to the FN meant that Chiraq gained over 80% of the vote – more than any candidate in any previous Presidential election, including Louis-Napoleon’s triumphal victory in 1848.
It is widely assumed that the same thing will happen next year. I agree this is the most likely outcome. But the nomination of Fillon might complicate this picture. Even the traditional right-wing politicians in France tend to be rather centrist and dirigiste. Le Pen’s economic policy is generally left-wing. But Fillon is a Thatcherite, and an Anglophile. Such a candidate would usually be anathema to the French Left, yet it will have to be their votes which deny Le Pen the Presidency.