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On April 23, the first round of presidential elections took place in France. The main contenders for the post of the head of state were the leader of the Forward Movement and former Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron, leader of the ultra-right-wing National Front Eurosceptic party Marine Le Pen, Republican candidate, ex-Prime Minister François Fillon, leader of the Left Party Jean-Luc Melenchon, a candidate from the Socialist Party and former Minister of Education Benoît Hamon. In France, presidential elections are held in two rounds. Two candidates, who gained the maximum number of votes in the first round, will enter the final battle for the presidential post on May 7 in the second round of the elections. The leaders of the first round are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.
The results of the presidential elections in France - the second economy in Europe and the one of the EU founding countries, will affect the position of the West on issues related to Ukraine. France is one of the few European countries where the president has broad powers. The fifth republic participates in the "Norman Quartet" and its position influences the character of the peaceful settlement of Donbas conflict. Paris joined the anti-Russian sanctions after the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and supports their extension at the EU level. France supports the introduction of the European Union visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens and ratified the Association Agreement and the Ukraine-EU free trade zone.
According to The Telegraph, Emmanuel Macron leads the race and he is supported by about 24% of the French. 39-year-old Macron previously was a member of the Socialist Party and left the post of Minister of Finance because of disagreements with President Francois Hollande. He founded the Forward movement, which positions itself as a "third force", an alternative to left and right parties. In his pre-election rhetoric, Emmanuel Macron focuses on solving the social and economic problems of France. He offers deepening cooperation in the euro zone, introducing the reform program aimed at reducing the tax burden for large and small businesses, reducing government spending by 60 billion euros, reducing the apparatus of civil servants, creating new jobs. The centrist candidate is not a Eurosceptic and supports the idea of creating a common budget for the euro zone, which is in line with the priorities of the EU development. Emmanuel Macron in case of coming to power will stress on strengthening the role of France in the EU and the world, will maintain current priorities in foreign policy.
In the Russian expert environment, there is not so much hope that Macron will support the Kremlin's policy in Europe. Emmanuel Macron is convinced that France should pursue an independent foreign policy, cooperate with European partners and the US, rather than coming closer to Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin. Macron is interested in maintaining a dialogue with Russia, but he urged the EU to prevent hacker attacks and Kremlin interference in European elections. In the opinion of Richard Ferrand, General Secretary of the Forward Movement, Russian media resources, such as Russia Today and Sputnik disseminated disinformation aimed at changing public opinion regarding Emmanuel Macron. A deputy from the Republicans party, Jacques Lamblin, believes that in the case of Macron's victory in the presidential election, we should not expect the rapprochement between Moscow and Paris, as he will continue the policy of anti-Russian sanctions by the incumbent Socialist president Francois Hollande.
Benoît Hamon, a candidate from the Socialist Party, holds a similar position with regard to Russia. The former Minister of Education is convinced that the Russian annexation of Ukrainian Crimea is a violation of international law. Benoît Hamon is a supporter of a strict and resolute line of policy towards the Russian Federation. In his view, the foreign policy of the Russian leadership can only be described as "aggressive imperialism," especially in Syria. The candidate-socialist supports the holding of a referendum in France on the adoption of a new constitution (the so-called idea of the "Sixth Republic"). He proposes to limit the powers of the president and strengthen the power of the parliament. Also, Hamon proposes to introduce an unconditional base income in the form of monthly payments to French citizens regardless of their financial situation due to an increase in the tax burden on business. According to his plan, every Frenchman after 2022 will be able to receive 750 euros a month.
However, only 7.3% of voters support Benoît Hamon. A considerable number of the French are disappointed with the Socialists. The team of incumbent President François Hollande failed to improve the situation in the labor market. According to the unemployment rate, France ranks 7th in the EU (10.5%), according to Eurostat. Socialists did not cope with the migration crisis and the concomitant terrorist threat. In 2015, applications for refugee status in France were filed by 71 thousand people. Together with the refugees from Syria and other third world countries, engulfed by the flames of war, Islamic extremists leaked to France. Over the past two years, more than 230 people have died in terrorist acts. Despite this, in November Francois Hollande confirmed the intention to place an additional 30,000 refugees in France for two years. Unlike other presidential candidates, Benoît Hamon holds the most lenient position regarding the refugee problem.
Putin's fans are rushing to power
The second position after Emmanuel Macron by the number of supporters (22.1%) is occupied by the leader of the ultra-right party of eurosceptics National Front Marine Le Pen. If Le Pen wins the presidential election, France will begin rapprochement with Russia despite the detriment of Ukraine's interests. Le Pen supports the annexation of the Crimea and pseudo-referendum in 2014. She believes that the peninsula never was Ukrainian territory, and promises to recognize it as Russia's territory. Le Pen supports the Donbas separatists and considers Russia's ongoing aggression in Donbas as a "struggle" of LNR and DNR self-proclaimed republics for "independence." The French politician is convinced that the policy of anti-Russian sanctions does not make sense. Apparently, the Kremlin finances the election campaign of Marine Le Pen. According to The Times, the National Front party has already received from Russia at least 11 million euros.
Marine Le Pen and her party are supported by that part of the French who want a radical solution to the refugee problem, and are disappointed in the ability of the incumbent authorities to fight Islamic extremists and do not see the future in the development of the EU. Le Pen believes that France has the right to impose a restriction on the reception of refugees to 10 thousand people per year, additional taxes for foreign workers. The leader of the National Front proposes to simplify the mechanism of deportation and complicate the procedure for obtaining French citizenship for migrants. A recent terrorist attack on the Champs Elysees in Paris, which resulted in the death of a policeman, was another proof for this party’s policy. ISIS terrorist organization took the responsibility for the terrorist attack. Some Frenchmen can vote for Marine Le Pen in protest of the ineffectiveness of the current authorities in the field of security in France. The leader of the National Front proposes to reform the system of supranational bodies of the EU in such a way that the influence of member governments on the decisions taken of pan-European importance increases. Its approach to EU development is known as "Free Europe" - every European state has the right to independently determine customs duties for foreign countries and develop an independent foreign policy. If the EU fails to reform, then Marine Le Pen intends to hold a referendum on withdrawal from the EU (Frexit) in France, similar to the British Brexit.
Candidate from the Republicans party Francois Fillon did not go far away from Marine Le Pen in his "love" for Russia. He "does not see the point" in the extension of anti-Russian sanctions. Fillon compares the annexation of the Crimea with the separation of Kosovo from Yugoslavia and regards the peninsula as part of Russia from a historical, cultural and linguistic point of view. In his opinion, it is useless to demand from Russia to return the Crimea to Ukraine, since the Russian leadership will never do this. Although unlike Kosovo, until 2014 there were no harassment and purges on ethnic grounds in Crimea. Fillon supports France's membership in the EU, strengthening the influence of national governments on economic, migration and social security issues. The presidential candidate is in favor of tightening the EU migration policy, banning migrants from taking their families to European countries. 19.6% of French voters according to polls were ready to vote for the candidate. Previously, the politician was the favorite of the pre-election race. However, his reputation was tainted. Satirical newspaper Canard published information that his wife Penelope received a salary as an assistant deputy, without occupying this post. The same goes for the children of the presidential candidate. After that, his ratings went down.
The presidential candidate and leader of the Left Party Jean-Luc Melenchon also supports the rapprochement of France with Russia. According to opinion polls, Melanchon enjoys the support of 18.9% of French citizens. He called the annexation of Crimea "protective measures" of Russia "against the power of coup-adventurers who are under the disgusting influence of neo-Nazis." In case of victory in the presidential election, Melenchon intended to seek the withdrawal of France from NATO. As an alternative, he considered the creation of a common European security space with the participation of Russia. In his opinion, Russia is an important partner of France; both countries play a key role in maintaining the balance in Europe. Melenchon believes that the EU is not interested in confrontation with Russia. The politician suggests revising the EU fundamental treaties. He opposes the strengthening of supranational bodies of the EU and the transfer of powers of national governments to Brussels. In his opinion, it makes sense to abolish the European Parliament, to prevent the federalization of the EU. France and other EU member states may refuse to follow European law and not comply with the directives and recommendations of supranational bodies.
Supporters of rapprochement with Russia are defending the interests of individual business circles in France. According to the CEPII French research center, during the period of anti-Russian sanctions France lost billions of dollars. From 2013 to 2015 years the trade amount between Russian Federation and France fell from 18.9 to 11.4 billion dollars. French food and drink producers lost access to the Russian market. Due to sanctions, the contract for the supply of Mistral French helicopter carriers to the Russian navy was thwarted. French Minister of Economy and Finance Michel Sapin, in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, underlined the interest of French business to invest in the Russian economy and supported the idea of forming an economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
The outcome of the presidential elections in France and its consequences for Ukraine are in the hands of French voters, whose interests are more affected, of course, not by the annexation of Crimea, but the migration crisis and the growth of the terrorist threat in the EU.