The two candidates in Sunday’s French election for the runoff for president: Marine Le Pen, pictured left, and Emmanuel Macron, pictured right.

The two candidates in Sunday’s French election for the runoff for president: Marine Le Pen, pictured left, and Emmanuel Macron, pictured right.

Voters in France chose two political outsiders to go to a runoff to determine the next president. A centrist political novice and a far-right firebrand will face off in two weeks in what has been called the most tumultuous and unpredictable French election in recent history. A look at why the world is paying close attention to the French elections and what you need to know.


  • Nabil Wakim Editor, Le Monde
  • Frances Burwell Distinguished fellow, the Atlantic Council
  • Dalibor Rohac Foreign policy research fellow, American Enterprise Institute; author of "Towards An Imperfect Union: A Conservative Case For the EU"

What To Know

NPR reports that the May election will be a battle “between two politicians with not only completely different visions for France but — more significantly — utterly different views of one of the biggest issues facing many voters in the West today: globalization.”

The New York Times says the election results are “a full-throated rebuke of France’s traditional mainstream parties, setting the country on an uncertain path at a critical moment when France’s election could also decide the future of the European Union.”

And the paper says this of the candidates:

Mr. Macron, a former investment banker, abandoned traditional parties a year ago to form his own movement with an eclectic blend of left and right views. He campaigned on a pro-European Union platform, coupled with calls to overhaul the rules governing the French economy.

Ms. Le Pen’s success is a victory for skeptics who oppose the European Union and for those who want to see more “France first” policies to restrict signs of Muslim faith in public, like the wearing of head scarves.

Before Sunday’s vote, the BBC said French voters were likely to be driven by a few key issues, including the economy:

One of the overriding issues facing French voters is unemployment, which stands at almost 10% and is the eighth highest among the 28 EU member states. One in four under-25s is unemployed.

The French economy has made a slow recovery from the 2008 financial crisis and all the leading candidates say deep changes are needed.

And security:

More than 230 people have died in terror attacks since January 2015 and France remains under a state of emergency. Officials fear more of the hundreds of young French Muslims who have travelled to Syria and Iraq may return to commit new atrocities.

Many predict attacks linked to Islamists will give a boost to the chances of the right, and particularly Ms Le Pen, who has vowed to suspend all legal immigration and give jobs, welfare, housing and school provision to French nationals before foreigners.

In fact, intelligence services work on the assumption the attackers are deliberately pursuing a Le Pen victory, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris – because that could tip the country into chaos.

In the International News Roundup, Rosiland Jordan of Al Jazeera said voters are also weighing the existential question of what it means to be French. Does being French mean having a Catholic background? Is it coming through the French education system? This, she says, drives some of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU sentiment seen in France today.

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