More upheaval in European politics over the weekend—this time in France. Reuters:
Former prime minister Francois Fillon is favorite to become the French center-right’s presidential candidate after a voting upset that puts him in pole position for a showdown with far right leader Marine Le Pen in next year’s election.
Fillon, who has said he will cut public sector jobs and rein in government spending, won 44 percent of votes in Sunday’s first-round of voting for the center-right’s nomination. He faces a second-round vote against another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, who trailed him by 15 percentage points.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy came third and, after being eliminated, endorsed Fillon for the second-round vote next Sunday.
Fillon’s win over Juppe was true to form in recent electoral contests insofar as it came as a surprise. With Sarkozy throwing his weight behind him, Fillon is now projected to win the run-off primary next weekend. What this means for the likely showdown with Marine Le Pen in the general election next year is hard to parse—all the more so given the sorry record polling has had this year.
Fillon’s market-friendly labor reforms might present an opportunity for Le Pen to set up a contrast with voters; Le Pen, for example has advocated a more gradual phasing out to the 35-hour work week, whereas Fillon has called for its abolition. On foreign affairs, however, Fillon has narrowed the distinctions. On Russia, for example, Fillon favors lifting sanctions (just like Le Pen). On Islam, he does not hold his tongue. “There are no problems with religion in France. There is a problem linked to Islam,” he has said. He favors joining forces with Russia to combat ISIS.
Winners from this latest European electoral twist? Almost certainly Vladimir Putin. Losers? Predictability. May you live in interesting times.