French presidential election, 2017
The first round of the 2017 French presidential election will be held on 23 April 2017. Should no candidate win a majority, a run-off election between the top two candidates will be held on 7 May 2017. Incumbent president François Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS) is eligible to run for a second term, but declared on 1 December 2016 that he would not seek reelection in light of low approval ratings. He is the first incumbent president of the Fifth Republic not to run for a second term. This is also the first French presidential election in which nominees of both the main centre-left and centre-right parties were selected through open primaries. A total of 11 candidates will contest the first round. The presidential election will be followed by a legislative election to elect members of the National Assembly on 11 and 18 June.
François Fillon of the Republicans and Marine Le Pen of the National Front led in first-round opinion polls between November 2016 and mid-January 2017. Polls tightened considerably by late January and early February 2017, with Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! slowly rising in the polls and Benoît Hamon of the Socialist Party gaining ground after winning the left-wing primary on 29 January. After the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné published revelations about Fillon’s use of nearly €1 million in public funds to employ his wife as a parliamentary assistant for little work in late January, in what came to be known as “Penelopegate“, Macron overtook Fillon to come consistently second in first-round polling. Polls for the second round of voting suggest that either Fillon or Macron would beat Le Pen and that Macron would defeat Fillon.
The President of the French Republic is elected to a five-year term in a two-round election under Article 7 of the Constitution: if no candidate secures an absolute majority (i.e. including blank and void ballots) of votes in the first round, a second round is held two weeks later between the two candidates who received the most votes. In 2017, the first and second rounds are planned for 23 April and 7 May.
To be listed on the first-round ballot, candidates must secure 500 signatures from national or local elected officials from at least 30 different departments or overseas collectivities, with no more than a tenth of these signatories from any single department. The official signature collection period followed the publication of the Journal officiel on 25 February to 17 March. The collection period had initially been scheduled to begin on 23 February, but a visit by Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to China on that date forced a delay in the issue of the decree in the Journal officiel to start the sponsorship period. French prefectures mailed sponsorship forms to the 42,000 elected officials (referred to as parrainages) eligible to give their signature to a candidate, which must then be delivered to the Constitutional Council for validation. Unlike in previous years, a list of validated signatures were posted on Tuesday and Thursday of every week on the Council’s website; in the past, signatories were published only after the official candidate list had been verified after the end of the collection period. The end of the signature collection period also marked the deadline for the declaration of personal assets required of prospective candidates. The final list of candidates was proclaimed on 21 March.
Beginning on 19 March, the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) works to ensure that all candidates receive equal time in broadcast media “under comparable programming conditions”. The CSA warned on 8 March that the amount of speaking time broadcasters had given Fillon and his supporters was “unusually high”, even given the unusual circumstances surrounding his candidacy. After the official start of the campaign on 10 April, the CSA strictly enforces equal time in broadcast media. Campaigning for the first round of the election ends at midnight on 21 April, two days before the vote. The Constitutional Council will verify the results of the first round on 24–26 April and officially certify the vote tallies on 26 April; should a second round be held on 7 May, the same procedure will be used again. The new President of the French Republic will be proclaimed on 11 May and undergo their investiture ceremony on 14 May at the latest.
|Candidate (name and age)
and political party
|Political offices||Campaign logo||Details|
|Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (56)
Debout la France (DLF)
|President of Debout la France
Deputy for Essonne
Mayor of Yerres
|A former member of the RPR, RPF, and UMP, Dupont-Aignan left the last over disagreements with Nicolas Sarkozy on the eve of the 2007 presidential election, and subsequently founded the sovereignist political party Debout la République (DLR), later renamed to Debout la France (DLF) in 2014. He previously stood as a candidate in the 2012 presidential election, in which he garnered 1.79% of the vote in the first round. Claiming the mantle of Gaullism, he seeks to position himself between Le Pen and Fillon.|
|Marine Le Pen (48)
National Front (FN)
|President of the National Front
MEP for North-West France
|When Le Pen, a former lawyer, stood in the 2012 presidential election, she came in third with 17.90% of first-round votes. She rose within the ranks of the National Front (FN), founded and once led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, culminating in a bitter leadership struggle which she won in 2011. Her campaign program prioritizes the national interests of France and exit from the eurozone, and emphasizes immigration and security, as well as socioeconomic issues and the sovereignty of the French state, on matters of currency, borders, the economy, and the rule of law. Her campaign has been punctuated by judicial inquiries into her party and personal associates.|
|Emmanuel Macron (39)
En Marche! (EM!)
|President of En Marche!
Minister of the Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs
|The youngest candidate in the race and a former economy minister who has never run for elected office, Macron describes himself as “neither of the right nor the left”. He was appointed deputy secretary-general of the Élysée in 2012 and became economy minister in 2014, lending his name to the “Macron law” to promote economic growth and opportunities. He founded the En Marche! movement in April 2016 before resigning from the cabinet on 30 August. The most explicitly pro-European of the candidates, Macron intends to implement reforms to modernize the French economy.|
|Benoît Hamon (49)
Socialist Party (PS)
|Deputy for Yvelines
(2012 and since 2014)
Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research
|Hamon, a left-wing critic of Hollande‘s government, was the surprise winner of the Socialist primary in January 2017, defeating former Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Hamon’s primary victory was driven in part by his support for a universal basic income, which remained integral to his program. He negotiated the withdrawal and support of Yannick Jadot of Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) in February, becoming the joint candidate of both parties. He also advocates for the legalization of cannabis and reforming the structure of government to a “Sixth Republic”.|
|Nathalie Arthaud (47)
Lutte Ouvrière (LO)
|Spokesperson of Lutte Ouvrière
|Arthaud first ran for the presidency in the 2012 election under the LO banner, receiving 0.56% of votes in the first round. A professor of economics, she describes the objective of her candidacy as to “make the workers’ voice heard”, hoping to “allow workers, the unemployed, and exploited to defend their interests, as opposed to [those who pocketed] millions and millions”. She claims that she is the only communist candidate, and wants to see borders disappear and overthrow capitalism.|
|Philippe Poutou (50)
New Anticapitalist Party (NPA)
|None||A long-time left-wing militant, Poutou is a trade unionist and Ford mechanic in Blanquefort currently fighting the local factory’s shutdown. He also ran in the 2012 presidential election, obtaining 1.15% of votes. He launched his political activities at Lutte Ouvrière before joining the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) which became the NPA in 2009. With Marxist and anarchist roots, he crusades against capitalism and espouses radical-left ideas.|
|Jacques Cheminade (75)
Solidarity and Progress (S&P)
|President of Solidarity and Progress
|Cheminade founded Solidarity and Progress in 1996 and is the figurehead of the LaRouche movement in France. He proposes leaving NATO, the EU, the eurozone, and returning to the franc. He supports colonization of the Moon to facilitate exploration of Mars. He was a candidate twice before, in 1995 and 2012, collecting 0.28% and 0.25% of the vote, respectively, but failed to appear on the ballot in 1981, 1988, 2002, and 2007.|
|Jean Lassalle (61)
|Deputy for the Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Mayor of Lourdios-Ichère
|Lassalle, a former member of the Democratic Movement (MoDem) and associate of François Bayrou running under the banner of Resistons !, considers himself the “defender of rural territories and a humanist ecology”. He became famous for a successful 39-day hunger strike protesting the movement of the Total factory from Accous to the Lacq basin 65 km (40 mi) away. In 2013, he walked 6,000 km (3,700 mi) on foot to “meet the French”.|
|Jean-Luc Mélenchon (65)
Unsubmissive France (FI)
|MEP for South-West France
|Denouncing the “liberal drift” of the party, Mélenchon left the PS in 2008 to found the Left Party. He attempted a previous run in 2012, coming in fourth with 11.10% of votes, with the backing of the French Communist Party (PCF). He launched his 2017 bid without consulting the PCF, instead choosing to found his own movement Unsubmissive France (FI). A perennial critic of the Hollande government, his program underlines both left-wing and environmental principles, including the establishment of a Sixth Republic, redistribution of wealth, leaving EU treaties, environmental planning, and protecting the independence of France, namely from the United States.|
|François Asselineau (59)
Popular Republican Union (UPR)
|President of the UPR
|A sovereignist, Asselineau surprised with his ability to secure the 500 sponsorships required to stand as a candidate. Formerly of the RPF and UMP, he founded the Popular Republican Union (UPR) in 2007 and agitates for the French exit from the EU. Sometimes classified as a far-right Eurosceptic, he denounces “American imperialism” and proposes leaving NATO.|
|François Fillon (63)
The Republicans (LR)
|Deputy for Paris
|Fillon led a prolific political career starting from the early 1970s. The surprise winner of the primary of the right offered a liberal economic program ending the 35-hour workweek, dismissing 500,000 civil servants, abolishing the wealth tax (ISF), streamlining the labour code, and reforming the health insurance system. However, his campaign was hobbled in January 2017 following the publication of allegations of fictitious employment of family members, including his wife, collectively known as “Penelopegate“. Despite earlier statements that he would drop his bid if placed under formal investigation – which has been the case since 15 March – he insisted on maintaining his candidacy.|
The presidential race featured two prominent potential candidates who declined to run. On 1 December 2016, incumbent president François Hollande announced he would not seek a second term, in light of his low approval rating, and would not run in the Socialist Party primary; instead, his then Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared on 5 December that he would run for the PS nomination, but was defeated on 29 January by party rebel Benoît Hamon in the second round of the primary.
François Bayrou, the three-time centrist presidential candidate and leader of the Democratic Movement (MoDem) – who came fourth in 2002, third in 2007, and fifth in 2012 – initially supported the candidacy of Alain Juppé in the primary of the right against his long-time adversary Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he vowed to run against had he won the primary. But Fillon’s victory – which saw the elimination of Sarkozy in the first round and the defeat of Juppé in the runoff – led Bayrou to reconsider lodging a bid for the presidency, despite his 2014 election promise during his successful mayoral campaign in Pau that he would not seek the presidency if he won. After an extended period of suspense, he finally announced on 22 February that he would not run for a fourth time, instead proposing a conditional alliance with Emmanuel Macron, who accepted his offer.
In addition, Yannick Jadot, nominee of Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) with 496 sponsorships just before the opening of the collection period, withdrew his candidacy on 23 February and endorsed Hamon, the pair having agreed on a common platform. An online vote among EELV primary voters from 24 and 26 February was required to confirm the agreement; a earlier vote to open talks with Hamon and Mélenchon was approved by 89.7% of those electors. The Hamon–Jadot alliance was consummated on 26 February; among those who cast a vote, 79.53% voted to support it, with 15.39% opposed and 5.08% submitting blank ballots, and an overall voter turnout of 55.25% (9,433 votes).
Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV)
On 9 July 2016, Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) announced that it would hold a primary election before the 2017 presidential election. Those wishing to be nominated required the support of 36 of its “federal councilors” out of 240; nominations were open to individuals in civic society as well. The vote was open to both party members as well as sympathizers who could register to vote in the primary. The announcement came just days after prominent environmentalist Nicolas Hulot‘s surprise declaration that he would not offer himself as a presidential candidate on 5 July. EELV were the first party to hold a presidential primary for the 2017 election, with two rounds held on 19 October and 7 November 2016. It was contested by deputy, former Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing, and ex-party leader Cécile Duflot, as well as three MEPs – Karima Delli, Yannick Jadot, and Michèle Rivasi.
Duflot was considered the early favorite, though she initially opposed holding a primary, aware of the risk that she might lose it; and highlighted her experience in government. Her main proposal was to incorporate the fight against climate change into the Constitution. Jadot was perceived as her main challenger; elected as an MEP in 2009, he worked with Greenpeace France from 2002 to 2008, specializing in transatlantic trade and climate issues. With Thomas Piketty and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, he sought a “primary of all the left”, which failed to materialize. He rejected the “candidacy awaited by the political-media world” – that of Duflot, among others – and represented an anti-Duflot force from the party’s right wing. Rivasi only barely managed to qualify for the primary, earlier lacking the necessary sponsorships. Like Jadot, she represents the militant wing of the party – albeit on its left flank – and served as deputy for Drôme from 1997 to 2002 and led Greenpeace France from 2003 to 2004. Delli, the daughter of Algerian immigrants, first became involved in politics as part of collective movements, and sought to become an MEP in 2009 after a stint as parliamentary assistant to Marie-Christine Blandin. Also of the party’s left-wing, she declared that she would defend a “popular ecology” and hoped to outmaneuver Jadot to the second round.
Jadot and Rivasi advanced to the runoff after scoring 35.61% and 30.16%, respectively, in the first round; the other two candidates were eliminated, with Duflot garnering 24.41% and Delli 9.82%. Jadot won the second round of the primary on 7 November, obtaining 54.25% of the vote against Rivasi’s 40.75%, becoming the nominee of the EELV in the presidential election.
The Republicans (LR)
After his loss as the nominee of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) in the 2012 presidential election, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to return to being a “Frenchman among the French”. But after a period of suspense, he announced on 19 September 2014 that he would seek the presidency of the party, a position he secured in a 29 November online vote with the backing of 64.50% of party members, against his main opponent Bruno Le Maire‘s 29.18%. He succeeded the triumvirate of Alain Juppé, François Fillon, and Jean-Pierre Raffarin, which assumed the party’s leadership after the resignation of Jean-François Copé. Sarkozy was initially reluctant to accept the idea of holding a right-wing primary for the 2017 presidential election because it might jeopardize a future candidacy, but on 25 September 2014 he declared his support for a primary of the right after a warning from Juppé, who on 20 August made public his intention to run for the UMP nomination and proposed that the primary be held in spring 2016.
The rules of the primary were confirmed in April 2015, scheduling the first round of an open primary for 20 November 2016, with a runoff on 27 November if no candidate received more than 50% of the vote. Those wishing to vote were required to pay €2 per ballot and sign a charter indicating their adherence to “Republican values of the right and centre”. In order to appear on the ballot, prospective candidates needed to present sponsorships from 250 elected officials, including at least 20 parliamentarians from at least 30 departments, with no more than a tenth from the same department, in addition to the signatures of at least 2,500 party members across at least 15 departments, with no more than a tenth from the same department. The charter permitted other parties wishing to participate in the primary to set their own sponsorship requirements. The High Authority of the Primary ultimately determined that seven candidates qualified to compete in the open primary of the right and centre: Fillon, Juppé, Le Maire, Copé, Sarkozy, and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet of the Republicans, the party’s name after May 2015, as well as Jean-Frédéric Poisson of the Christian Democratic Party (PCD), who was not required to present signatures as the leader of another party. The National Centre of Independents and Peasants (CNIP) were also allowed to participate, but not to present a candidate.
For months, the contest was viewed as a duel between Juppé and Sarkozy, the top two candidates in primary polls. Sarkozy’s program emphasized the themes of Islam, immigration, security, and defense. He proposed to end family reunifications and reform the right to birthright citizenship, halt the flow of economic migrants, and increase residence requirements to secure French nationality. He reaffirmed his interest in the “assimilation” of immigrants, and intended to ban other menus for school canteens (i.e., options for Muslim students) as well as Muslim headscarves at universities. Sarkozy also suggested that radical imams be expelled and suspected terrorists be detained by authorities and tried by a special anti-terrorist court, in addition to the imposition of exponentially-increasing criminal penalties and a reduction in the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. On the economy, he proposed to postpone the increase the retirement age to 64 until 2024, permit exemptions to the 35-hour workweek, cut 300,000 civil service jobs by increasing working hours to 37 per week, and abolish the wealth tax (ISF). Like Le Maire, he did not rule out the possibility of a referendum on the European Union (EU). He also sought a European treaty “refounding”, the creation of a European monetary fund, to commit 2% to defense spending by 2025, and to reduce public spending by €100 billion and taxes by €40 billion while reducing the budget deficit to under 3% of GDP.
In contrast to Sarkozy’s program, Juppé spoke of a “happy identity” and emphasized the importance of integration as opposed to assimilation, as well as valuing tolerance with regard to immigration. He supported drawing up a common list of “safe countries” to differentiate refugees from economic migrants, setting a “quota” on immigrants as necessary, and to stop providing foreign aid to countries refusing to comply with their obligation to accept citizens deported by French authorities. He questioned Sarkozy’s proposals on Schengen and instead merely acknowledged that it was not functioning correctly, but concurred with him in the implementation of an exemption to the acquisition of French nationality by foreigners at the age of 18 if previously convicted. Juppé also demanded transparency on the funding of places of worship, civic training for imams, and, unlike Sarkozy, favored allowing women to wear the Muslim headscarf at universities. On economic issues, he proposed to end the 35-hour workweek, abolish the wealth tax, reduce corporate taxation, and set the retirement age at 65. He also pledged to slash in half the number of parliamentarians, renegotiate Schengen, and increase defense spending in absolute terms by at least €7 billion by 2022.
After several strong debate performances by Fillon, however, a second-round Juppé–Sarkozy duel no longer appeared inevitable. Fillon’s rise was propelled by his proposals for a rigorous economic program. Seeking €100 billion in cuts, he proposed eliminating 500,000 civil service jobs by 2022 and a return to the 39-hour workweek for civil servants. Like the other primary candidates, he planned to eliminate the wealth tax; in addition, Fillon suggested abolishing the 35-hour workweek – capping it at the 48-hour maximum allowed within the EU – and the implementation of other liberal economic measures. He also adopted a staunchly conservative social program, opposing adoption by same-sex couples and arguing France had no religious problem apart from Islam itself. Like Sarkozy, he sought to expand the capacity of French prisons, but unlike his former superior, he opposed banning religious symbols in public places. He also professed a more pro-Russian stance than other candidates, urging cooperation in Syria against the Islamic State and supporting the “pragmatism” of Vladimir Putin‘s intervention in the Syrian civil war.
The first round of the primary on 20 November saw the unexpected elimination of Sarkozy, with Fillon coming in first with 44.1%, Juppé at 28.6%, and Sarkozy at 20.7% of the vote, and all other candidates far behind. A second round between Fillon and Juppé was confirmed, and Sarkozy announced that he would vote for his former Prime Minister soon after the results became clear. Fillon scored a landslide victory in the 27 November runoff with 66.5% of the vote to Juppé’s 33.5% and became the Republicans’ nominee; voter turnout – at 4.4 million – was even higher than in the first round.
Socialist Party (PS)
On 22 January, Benoît Hamon and Manuel Valls received 36.03% and 31.48% respectively of the first-round vote and advanced to the runoff, far ahead of all other candidates and well ahead of Arnaud Montebourg, who was eliminated and immediately endorsed Hamon. In the runoff, Hamon easily defeated Valls by nearly 20 percentage points, and officially became the PS nominee.
Fillon affair (Penelopegate)
On 25 January 2017, the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné published an article alleging that Penelope Fillon, wife of François Fillon, was employed as a parliamentary assistant by her husband from 1998 and 2002 and for six months in 2012 with no evidence that she completed any substantial work, while collecting a monthly salary of €3,900 to €4,600. After her husband’s appointment as Minister of Social Affairs in 2002 and later tenure as Minister of National Education, she served as a parliamentary aide to Marc Joulaud, Fillon’s substitute, until 2007, earning a salary upwards of €7,900 during this period. In all, the article claimed that she received €500,000 as a parliamentary aide, in addition to €100,000 as a literary adviser to the Revue des deux Mondes, whose president Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière is a close friend of François Fillon. While deputies in the National Assembly are permitted to employ family members, they are still required to complete legitimate work. However, Le Canard, citing Jeanne Robinson-Behre, an ex-parliamentary assistant to Joulaud who would have been expected to work with Penelope Fillon, as saying “I’ve never worked with her. […] I knew her only as a minister’s wife.” Similarly, Christine Kelly, who penned a biography of François Fillon, asserted that she had “never heard that [Penelope] Fillon worked”. The PNF (parquet national financier, or national financial prosecutor’s office) initiated a preliminary investigation into possible embezzlement and misuse of public funds the same day.
On 26 January, François Fillon appeared on TF1 to respond to allegations of the fictitious employment of his wife, stating that she had “edited my speeches” and “stood in for me at events when I couldn’t be there”, also claiming that the reason that she was never seen working in the Palais Bourbon was because “she was never on the front line.” In the interview, he also disclosed that he paid two of his children while a Senator for the Sarthe between 2005 and 2007, claiming that he did so for work in their capacity as lawyers. He also pledged to resign if he was personally placed under investigation. However, on 27 January, it was revealed that both Marie and Charles Fillon were only law students when they were employed by their father during his stint in the Senate, contrary to his earlier statements. Police officers acting on behalf of the OCLCIFF, responsible for the preliminary investigation into the affair, interrogated Fillon biographer Christine Kelly and former editor-in-chief of the Revue des deux Mondes Michel Crépu the same day, seeking to establish what work that Penelope Fillon had completed for the journal. Only “two or maybe three” bylines were attributed to her, Crépu said, also saying that he had seen “no trace” of any work by her that would “resemble [that of] a literary adviser”. The HATVP authorized a raid of the offices of the review on 28 January as part of the preliminary investigation.
A report in the Journal du Dimanche on 29 January alleged that Fillon drew seven checks totaling €21,000 in public funds using a known legal mechanism while Senator for the Sarthe. In an interview with the paper – published in the same issue – he stated that he was a victim of slander, denouncing the accusations leveled at him as a “gross manipulation”. Fillon and his spouse were questioned for five hours by police of the OCLCIFF the following day, reportedly in order to assist authorities in their determination of the nature of Penelope Fillon’s work. Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, president of Revue des deux Mondes, was also separately interrogated in connection with the investigation of fictitious employment. This was succeeded by a subsequent search on the floor of the National Assembly on 31 January, seeking employment contracts for Penelope Fillon, who claimed that she no longer had them; it was later reported that she claimed that she did not remember if she even signed such contracts during questioning by investigators. Le Parisien revealed in a piece published the same day that she had neither a badge nor an email address during the period she supposedly served as a parliamentary assistant. Though Antonin Lévy, Fillon’s lawyer, that many aides did not have a badge and most lacked an email address, most working in the Palais Bourbon have a badge, and to lack one was extremely uncommon in practice.
On 1 February, a week after its initial report, Le Canard enchaîné published revelations that the total sum received by Penelope Fillon in fictitious jobs apparently totaled more than €930,000; with the addition of the period from 1988 to 1990, her income as a parliamentary assistant now totaled €831,440. In addition, the satirical weekly also revealed that the payments to two of Fillon’s children reached nearly €84,000, with €57,084 net for Marie Fillon and €26,651 for Charles Fillon. In a closed-door meeting at his campaign headquarters with Republican parliamentarians the same day, he denounced “an institutional coup d’état” of “the left” and requested that they “hold on for 15 days” to let the inquiry run its course. In addition, Marc Joulaud, substitute of Fillon in the National Assembly who succeeded him as deputy, testified before investigators in the afternoon to describe the character of Penelope Fillon’s work. Increasingly anxious LR deputies, headed by Georges Fenech, expressed concerns about the continued candidacy of Fillon, with some speculating that he could be replaced on the ticket by Alain Juppé, who came second in the primary of the right. L’Obs managed to procure the missing employment contracts of Penelope Fillon, revealing that she was supposedly based at RPR offices in Le Mans. However, right-wing activists contacted by the publication indicated that, even there, they had never seen her work. The document, however, contained two addresses: a full address in Le Mans and the town of Sablé-sur-Sarthe, but without any address; in response to the story, Lévy claimed this the discrepancy occurred because “somebody added an address”, affirming that Sablé-sur-Sarthe was the actual location of her employment.
Video excerpts of a May 2007 Sunday Telegraph interview with Penelope Fillon surfaced on 2 February in which she claimed that she had “never been his assistant,” referring to her husband. The footage aired on Envoyé spécial on France 2 that evening, and was received by a record audience of 5.4 million viewers. The PNF expanded investigation into the fictitious employment affair to include Fillon’s two eldest children the same day to verify the veracity of their work, after Le Canard reported that neither Marie nor Charles Fillon were lawyers at the time their father served in the Senate. The following morning, officers acting for the PNF and authorized by Gérard Larcher retrieved documents relating to their positions and terms of the pair’s employment from the Senate. In a video posted on social networks in the afternoon, François Fillon insisted that he would maintain his candidacy and called on his supporters to “hold the line”, seeking to assuage worries from within his own camp about the maintenance of his candidacy.
On 6 February, Fillon held a press conference at his campaign headquarters at which he “apologized to the French people” and acknowledged that he had committed an “error” in employing family members as parliamentary assistants, but appended that he “never broke the law”. He also confirmed that his wife was employed as a parliamentary assistant for 15 years with an average monthly salary of €3,677, and argued that “her salary was perfectly justified because her activities were indispensable to my activities as an elected official”, adding that everything reported by the press on the issue was “legal and transparent”. He said he would not reimburse the payments received by his wife or children, and, saying that he had “nothing to hide”, divulged his property holdings. Furthermore, he also contended that British journalist Kim Willsher, who interviewed his wife for the Sunday Telegraph, was “shocked” by the usage of the excerpt on France 2; soon after Fillon’s statement, Willsher denied that the interview was taken out of context. In addition to promising that his lawyers would question the competency of the PNF to carry out the investigation, he lambasted a “media lynching” of his campaign. Noting that there was no “plan B” for the Republicans (LR), and having received millions of votes in the primary of the right, he vowed to maintain his bid for the presidency. His remarks followed Juppé’s declaration that “NO means NO” earlier in the day in response to rumors that he might replace Fillon as the party’s candidate should he decide to drop his bid.
Le Canard continued its run of stories on Fillon in its issue of 8 February, revealing that Penelope Fillon collected severance payments totaling €45,000, with €16,000 in August 2002 for the period 1998–2002 and €29,000 in 2013 for seventeen months of employment for which she earned €65,839. The satirical weekly also asserted that she received a double salary during the summer of 2002, as she was hired by Joulaud’s office on 13 July, more than a month before her contract as a parliamentary assistant with her husband expired, on 21 August. Although aides are eligible to collect severance payments, the law does not permit such a high level for parliamentary assistants. An article in the same issue reported that Marie Fillon was simultaneously employed as a parliamentary assistant while training to become a lawyer, taking the first post in October 2005 and entering the EFB in January 2006. Fillon responded to the claims in a press release by saying that Le Canard conflated the amount his wife collected in November 2013 with reported earnings in August 2007 after the conclusion of her work with Joulaud, and denounced the paper’s allegations as “lies”, to which editor-in-chief Louis-Marie Horeau replied that “severance payments [with public funds] were dispensed while another hiring was already scheduled… as for the date, even if there was an imprecision, what would that change?” Fillon penned a letter appealing to voters printed the same day in Ouest-France, in which he said he “decided not to give in to intimidation and pressure,” reaffirmed that his actions were legal, and again apologized for his employment of relatives.
On 9 February, Fillon’s lawyers demanded that the PNF drop the investigation into their candidate. Lévy reaffirmed that he believed the office was not competent to pursue the investigation because the actions of his client did not fall under its jurisdiction and questioned its neutrality, alleging that there had been “breaches of confidentiality”, in addition to a “serious breach of the principle of the separation of powers”. On the evening of 13 February, seventeen dissidents of the Republicans met over dinner, including Georges Fenech, MEP Nadine Morano, and Claude Goasguen to discuss the state of the Fillon campaign with the aim of arriving on a common position before a planned meeting with the party’s candidate the following day at which they intended to urge him to “take responsibility”. Fenech and the other dissidents, however, backed down the following day on their demand in an open letter to convene the political bureau of the Republicans. Seeking to calm the waters and recover his base, Fillon requested a lunch with Nicholas Sarkozy – whose many allies were among those rebelling against the candidate – on 15 February. Sarkozy reportedly demanded that one of his allies, François Baroin, be given a prominent position in the Fillon campaign; the former finance minister was often floated as a potential replacement for Fillon in the event that the latter decided to quit or was forced out.
On 16 February, the PNF issued a statement explaining that the OCLCIFF would be continuing its investigation into the potential embezzlement and misuse of public funds involving François and Penelope Fillon; the same day, Fillon seemingly withdrew his earlier promise that he would terminate his candidacy if placed under formal investigation, saying “even if I am put under investigation, nothing will stop me” in private. In an interview with Le Figaro published on 17 February, he insisted on continuing his campaign, declaring “I am the candidate and I will continue until victory” and that the closer to the election it was, the “more scandalous it would be to deprive the right and centre of a candidate.” Hoping to sway public opinion in their candidate’s favor, the campaign team of Fillon also planned to immediately present all the necessary signatures of elected officials at the opening of the sponsorship collection period.
A month after opening a preliminary investigation into the affair, on 24 February the PNF finally opened a judicial investigation into the “embezzlement of public funds, […] influence-peddling and failure to comply with transparency obligations of the HATVP” against François Fillon, his wife, two of his children, and Marc Joulaud (who were left unnamed, presumably, to allow for expanding the investigation to other suspects, if necessary). The PNF acted in order to preempt the promulgation of Article 4 of the law adopted on 16 February 2017 modifying the statute of limitations for numerous criminal offenses such that acts committed more than 12 years before could not be prosecuted; in the Fillon case, this would refer to the period prior to 2005, and by deciding to open a case, the PNF ensured that its investigation could continue. The OCLCIFF, which failed to unearth any tangible proof of work by Fillon’s wife as a parliamentary assistant to her husband from 1988 to 1990, 1998 to 2000, and 2012 to 2013 or to Marc Joulaud from 2002 to 2007, and was unconvinced by the two reviews in the Revue des deux Mondes attributed to Penelope Fillon, tasked three investigative judges to continue pursuing the affair. These three judges were identified on 27 February by Mediapart as Serge Tournaire – known for overseeing the Bygmalion affair case involving claims of illegal campaign financing by Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election – Stéphanie Tacheau, and Aude Buresi.
On 1 March, Fillon abruptly cancelled a campaign visit to the Paris International Agricultural Show (Salon de l’agriculture) without offering an explanation, taking even his own campaign officials by surprise. He was informed that he was summoned to appear before the judges and likely to be placed under formal investigation – generally a precursor to an eventual indictment – on 15 March, and subsequently held a press conference at which he insisted on remaining in the race, saying “I will not give in, will not surrender, I will not withdraw, I will fight to the end,” and decried what he called an act of “political assassination.” In the hours and days following the statement, dozens of campaign members, allies, and supporters rescinded their support for Fillon. Bruno Le Maire, former primary candidate and European and international affairs adviser to the campaign, resigned that afternoon, and the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI), a centre-right party whose president Jean-Christophe Lagarde backed Juppé in the primary, suspended its participation in the campaign. The cascade of defections followed in subsequent days, with fifteen staffers at campaign headquarters quitting on 2 March, including spokesman Benoist Apparu, treasurer Gilles Boyer, and deputy campaign director Sébastien Lecornu. Fillon’s house in Paris was searched that morning on the orders of the three investigative judges, with OCLCIFF officers seizing several documents from the residence by mid-afternoon. Meanwhile, associates of Juppé indicated that he was apparently warming to the idea of stepping in to run if needed, “ready but loyal”.
Members of Fillon’s campaign, as well as supporters, continued to abandon the embattled candidate on 3 March; notable departures included that of spokesmen Thierry Solère and Benoist Apparu. Many of those rescinding their support speculated about the potential return of Juppé to replace Fillon as the party’s candidate, with Fenech urging elected officials file sponsorships for the ex-primary candidate. Campaign director Patrick Stefanini jumped ship that morning, submitting his letter of resignation Fillon, who accepted it; in it, Stefanini wrote that he was “no longer in the best position to lead your campaign” and that victory was no longer certain, lamenting that “little or nothing” of his work was left. In addition, the UDI formally withdrew their support for and requested the replacement of Fillon as the candidate of the Republicans. President of the Senate Gérard Larcher and secretary general of the Republicans Bernard Accoyer met Nicolas Sarkozy to “organize very quickly”, with the ex-president warning that “this cannot last” but stopping short of demanding that his former PM desist. OCLCIFF investigators searched the Fillon residence near Sablé-sur-Sarthe in the midst of the judicial inquiry the same day, just a day after a search at their residence in Paris.
On 4 March, Penelope Fillon spoke out for the first time since the publication of the revelations, giving an interview with the Journal du Dimanche in which she described her work as a parliamentary assistant to her husband and Joulaud, and as literary adviser to Revue des deux Mondes; in the prior case, saying “I would prepare notes and memos for my husband […] I also made some sort of local news roundup for him. I represented him at some events. I proofread his speeches.” Explaining her work for the review, she said she produced ten notes, of which only two were published; presuming the silence as hostility, she resigned. She also said that she did not know Michel Crépu, and maintained that though her children were also employed by her husband, everything had been legal and declared. Asked if she had “confidence in the justice system”, she replied affirmatively.
A total 306 elected officials and members of the Fillon campaign withdrew their support for the candidate by 5 March. Despite this chain of defections, François Fillon remained defiant, planning a rally at the Trocadéro on that afternoon intended as show of force. This drew the concern of many elected officials, who deplored Fillon’s denouncements of the judicial system, including politicians on the right such as President of the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Christian Estrosi, who urged him to exit the race. In a half-hour speech to a crowd of supporters, he said that, attacked from all sides as a victim of a manhunt, he examined his conscience and admitted he had made a mistake in employing his wife, and a second mistake in his hesitation to address the issue. However, he did not remark on the continuation of his candidacy. He then appeared on 20 heures on France 2 that evening, during which he refused to give up his candidacy, saying that “there is no alternative” and adding that “no one today can stop me from being a candidate”, insisting that “it is not the party that will decide” the fate of his candidacy. He said that the rally at the Trocadéro cemented his legitimacy, and that though he would have stepped down two months ago if indicted then, it was now too close to the presidential election and it would be unfair to voters of the right if he quit now. With a “political committee” planned for the following day, he proposed to assemble a modified campaign team, naming François Baroin, Éric Ciotti, and Luc Chatel, in an attempt to rally support around his candidacy. Immediately after Fillon’s appearance, Juppé announced on Twitter that he give a statement to the press in Bordeaux at 10:30 CET the day after.
Sources close to Juppé reportedly told L’Obs that he shared his decision not to run with relatives during the late afternoon of 5 March, and he officially announced his abstention from the race on 6 March, saying that “for me, it is too late”. He added that Fillon was at a “dead end” with his allegations of political assassination, and lamenting “What a mess!” He also criticized the right turn of the party under Fillon, saying that the party’s militants had become “radicalized”. The same day, the party’s “political committee” rallied behind Fillon, unanimously reaffirming its support for his candidacy, and a three-way meeting between Fillon, Juppé and Sarkozy was planned for the following day, but it was cancelled on 7 March because Juppé was no longer interested in remaining involved in the campaign. The same day, Le Canard enchaîné revealed that Fillon had failed to declare to the HATVP a €50,000 loan from Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, the president of Revue des deux Mondes who was questioned by police about the terms of his employment of Penelope Fillon. The UDI renewed its support for Fillon that evening, albeit only conditionally.
Seeking to stabilize his campaign, Fillon appointed a group of Sarkozy allies to his team on 9 March: Christian Jacob and Bruno Retailleau as “campaign coordinators”, François Baroin responsible for political unity, and Luc Chatel as spokesman. On 13 March, Le Parisien revealed that investigators discovered suspicious wire transfers made by Marie and Charles Fillon to their father while employed by him, with Marie returning €33,000 of the €46,000 she was paid (having told investigators as much on 9 February). She explained that these transfers represented a reimbursement for the cost of her marriage on 26 August 2006, but investigators suspected that the payments could have been used to support her father’s lifestyle. She also provided fourteen bills, her diary, a badge from the Senate, and evidence of research to investigators tasked with the fictitious employment case. Charles Fillon, in his hearing at the OCLCIFF, referred to similar transfers to his parents’ joint account, worth about 30% of his salary.
On the morning of 14 March, Fillon was placed under formal investigation for misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and failure to comply with disclosure requirements of the HATVP. The investigation into Fillon, delegated to three investigative judges, was extended to “aggravated fraud, forgery, and falsification of records” on 16 March. In particular, the probe seeks to determine whether documents seized during a search of the National Assembly in March were forged in order to corroborate the veracity of Penelope Fillon’s work as a parliamentary assistant. The investigation was also expanded into possible influence-peddling related to Fillon’s consulting firm 2F Conseil, which was previously hired by billionaire friend Marc Ladreit of Lacharrière, owner of the Revue des deux Mondes which employed Penelope Fillon, and who also in 2013 provided a €50,000 loan to François Fillon, who failed to declare it.
After securing the nomination of his party in its presidential primary on 29 January 2017, Socialist Party (PS) dissident Benoît Hamon proposed forming a “governmental majority” with Jean-Luc Mélenchon of Unsubmissive France (FI) and Yannick Jadot of Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV), seeking to “reconcile the left and the environmentalists.” Though Mélenchon had earlier demonstrated hostility to the possibility of an alliance, shortly after Hamon’s primary victory, he expressed his “satisfaction” with the sentiments expressed by the PS candidate.
During a trip to Algeria on 15 February, Emmanuel Macron, candidate of En Marche!, remarked in an interview with local press that the French presence in the country had been a “crime against humanity” and “truly barbaric”, drawing the ire of numerous right-wing French politicians. François Fillon of the Republicans denounced Macron’s remarks as a “hatred of our history, this constant repentance is unworthy of a candidate for the presidency of the Republic”. Seeking to put aside the controversy in a meeting in Toulon on 18 February, he attempted to qualify his remarks, saying that he was “sorry” for having “hurt” and “offended” many as a result, but nevertheless continued to insist on acknowledging that France had a responsibility for its colonial past, not just in Algeria. According to an Ifop survey, a slim majority of French agreed with the sentiment that the country’s colonial history constituted a “crime against humanity” and that the French government ought to present an official apology for the abuses committed during the period, albeit strongly divided along generational lines, with younger voters tending to agree more strongly with Macron’s sentiments. Nevertheless, his remarks were followed by a temporary resurgence for Fillon in polls of voting intentions.
On 8 March, the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné revealed that the Inspection générale des finances (IGF) was concerned by potential favoritism during a trip Macron made to Las Vegas in 2016. While visiting the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Macron hosted a “French Tech Night” with French entrepreneurs which was entrusted to Havas by Business France, an agency of the French government, at a total cost of €381,759. No public tender was issued for the event, and Le Canard noted that an inquiry requested by Michel Sapin indicated that Havas would likely be charged with favoritism as a result. On 13 March, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into favoritism directed at Business France and Havas, but not Macron himself. Business France recognized that the organization of the event on short deadlines potentially led irregularities in the selection of Havas.
The official campaign will commence on 10 April and end at midnight on 21 April.
A debate between François Fillon, Benoît Hamon, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon took place 20 March, hosted by TF1 and moderated by journalists Anne-Claire Coudray and Gilles Bouleau. It is the first time that a debate prior to the first round was held. The choice of date means that TF1 will not be required to provide candidates with equal speaking time, as Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) regulations do not go into force until 9 April, the start of the official campaign. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who was not invited, denounced the debate as a “rape of democracy”, and the CSA urged TF1 to guarantee fair speaking time for other candidates. Dupont-Aignan filed an appeal that was rejected in part because he had already received airtime proportionate to his support. The first debate began with an introductory question – “What kind of president do you want to be?” – followed by segments on three themes lasting about 50 minutes each: what type of society France should have, what type of economic model France should adopt, and the place of France in the world. The five candidates were given two minutes to answer each question, but opponents will have the opportunity to interject 90 seconds in. BFMTV and CNews will host a debate on 4 April moderated by Ruth Elkrief and Laurence Ferrari, inviting all candidates who qualify to appear on the first-round ballot. France 2 will host a debate with all candidates on 20 April.
The debate was three and a half hours long, and was watched by 9.8 million (47% of the audience share) on TF1, peaking at 11.5 million. According to an Elabe poll, Macron was judged the winner, with 29% of viewers interviewed finding him most convincing, followed by Mélenchon at 20%, Le Pen and Fillon at 19%, and Hamon at 11%. A Harris Interactive survey among those who had heard of the debate found that Macron at 20%, Le Pen at 18%, Fillon at 17%, Mélenchon at 13%, and Hamon at 6%, and an OpinionWay poll found Macron at 25%, Fillon at 20%, Le Pen at 18%, Mélenchon at 17%, and Hamon at 8% among debate viewers.
|French presidential election debates, 2017|
|Date||Organizers||Moderators||P Present I Invitee NI Non-invitee A Absent invitee||Notes|
|TF1, LCI||Anne-Claire Coudray
|4 April||BFMTV, CNews||Ruth Elkrief
|20 April||France 2||I||I||I||I||I||I||I||I||I||I||I|||
- First-round polling
- Other graphs
- French legislative election, 2017
- Opinion polling for the French presidential election, 2017
- The Republicans (France) presidential primary, 2016
- French Socialist Party presidential primary, 2017
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- Constitutional Council site for the 2017 presidential election (French)
- List of all sponsorships by elected officials (French)
- Data and graphics for sponsorships (French)