Many fight the long primary race to the presidency, but only one can triumph.
Conservative presidential candidate François Fillon beat Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé with 66% of the vote. A 62-year-old lawyer whose first government position was in 1981 when he was 27 years old, Fillon most recently served as Prime Minister under ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2005-2012, though struggled with a few legal battles during his term. As a presidential candidate, Fillon is promising dramatic and fast change. To know his policies, we just have to look at three of his favorite things: Margaret Thatcher, the Catholic church, and Islamophobia.
Fillon is a Thatcherite, fond of her because he says she got the country back on track. “She is the symbol of an inflexible political determination to stop a situation of decline,” claimed Fillon. “Inflexible political determination to stop a situation in decline” might as well be Fillon’s campaign slogan. He’s been a strong critic of French President François Hollande, saying in his victory speech on November 27th, “This past presidential term has been pathetic.” To get the country back on track financially, he wants to end the infamous French 35-hour work week, get tough on trade unions (maybe there’ll be less strikes!), raise the retirement age, and invest billions in security and defense. As for taxes, he’d make tax cuts for households, businesses, and the wealthiest, who pay “the wealth tax” on property assets. To make up for the loss in revenue, he’d raise VAT by 2%.
The Catholic Church has played a large role in Fillon’s life. He’s personally opposed to abortion and gay marriage but against revisiting the legal status of either. Aligning with the Pope, Fillon believes that gay couples should not be able to adopt children. He plans to limit gay rights to adoption by creating a legal definition of “parenthood”. Similar to in the US, the number of people practicing the Catholic religion in France has been decreasing. According to an IFOP poll, in 1952, 27% of the French went to Mass once a week. In 2006, only 4.5% went to Mass once a week. Fillon has come to represent the vocal minority of Catholic conservatives in France. Representing another Catholic value (the importance of the family), Fillon wants to support families by increasing family tax benefits and decreasing the cost of insurance subscriptions.
Despite a seemingly sympathetic plan to reform the refugee process by shortening it to 6 months and creating lodgings centers for refugees, Fillon has many Islamophobic policies. His most recent move in his crusade against Islam was publishing a book, Beating Islamic Totalitarianism, about France’s fight against Islamist terrorism and ISIS. As president, he would reduce immigration through the creation of a border patrol agency, and the establishment of immigration quotas by country. Fillon voted to ban “burkinis” (the swimwear that provides coverage similar to that of a burqa), and wants to authorize the French government to collect information on its citizens’ nationalities. “There’s not that much difference between Le Pen and Fillon on Islam, security, [immigration], and foreign policy,” says Art Goldhammer, senior affiliate at Harvard’s Center for European Studies.
Many are fond of Fillon’s policies and messages. He addresses both economic concerns (his first priority) and immigration concerns (his second priority.) Two of his fairly universally condemned blunders have included having “rather good relations” with President Putin of Russia, and saying that colonizing North Africa was about “wanting to share and spread its culture to the people of Africa.”
After a competitive primary full of defenses of “French values” and French national identity, Fillon shifted tone: “I will defend those values and we will share them with everyone who, with their differences, loves France.” Le Monde may have dubbed him “Mr. Nobody”, but Fillon might very well be on his way to the Elysées Palace. If he loses though, remaining in his current 12th century castle residence really won’t be that bad.