If you think that the EU referendum and the U.S. Presidential elections were soooo last year, then you might want to tune in to the next possible major catalyst in the forex markets – the French Presidential elections.
For newbies out there, you should know that market players are closely watching the battle for the keys to the Élysée Palace because Marine Le Pen, a vocal Eurosceptic, has a legit chance to win and possibly push for an EU referendum in France.
How does the election process work again?
Under Article 7 of France’s Constitution, the President is elected to a five-year term in a two-round system. If no candidate secures absolute majority–and so far no candidate has–then the two candidates who received the most votes will go head to head in the second round of elections two weeks later.
This year, the first round is scheduled for April 23, while the potential second round is scheduled for May 7.
Who are the leading playas?
Technically, there’s still more than a handful of qualified candidates in the running. Major opinion polls, however, are favoring at least four major contenders:
Party: Les Républicains
Former Prime Minister Fillon was one of the early favorites early in the race. The right-wing conservative has repeatedly called for cuts in “wasteful” public spending and tougher immigration controls.
Fillon has lost some of his shine, however, when a French weekly newspaper accused him of embezzling public funds. Specifically, he has allegedly paid his family members salaries of up to half a million euros working as “parliamentary aides.” Talk about working from home!
Marine Le Pen
Party: Front National (FN)
Marion Anne Perrine Le Pen is the youngest daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far-right National Front party. Since becoming the FN leader in 2011, Marine Le Pen has worked to soften some of the party’s unpopular stances even as she sticks to their anti-globalization, anti-immigration biases. She also placed third (with 17.90% of the votes) in the 2012 Presidential elections behind Sarkozy and Hollande.
Le Pen is perhaps the most closely-watched candidate this season. For one thing, she has publicly promised to call for a Frexit if she wins. Even more importantly, her riding on the populist and Eurosceptic wave in the region means that her campaign, though outlandish, is not one we should brush off.
Much like Fillon, Le Pen is currently being accused of using European Parliament funds to pay her Chief of Staff and bodyguard. Le Pen has since used her parliamentary immunity against police inquiries and dismissed the charges, saying the claims are designed to derail her campaign.
Party: En Marche! (EM)
Macron is a former investment banker who was economic minister to Francois Hollande. Last summer, Macron left his post to start his own political party, which he branded as “neither of the Left or the Right” but “for France.”
Since he has never been elected, Macron has fashioned himself as an outsider, a “newcomer” who is running on a pro-Europe and pro-business platform. Unfortunately for him, his ties with the former establishment are making it difficult to get his message across.
His campaign got a boost last week when François Bayrou, a three-time centrist Presidential candidate and president of the Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem), announced his alliance with Macron. Bayrou and Macron are expected to iron out the details on Thursday.
Party: Parti Socialiste (PS)
Hamon was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 2004 – 2009 and was appointed as Junior Economy Minister and then Education Minister by Hollande. In 2014, he resigned from his post on the back of Hollande supposedly abandoning the socialist agenda.
Hamon is running on a socially liberal platform, fashioning himself as a friend of the left-wing of the Socialist Party and who wants to tax robots, provide universal monthly income, and reduce the working week from 35 to 32 hours.
He has his work cut out for him though. His fractured party is still divided between him and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which reduces his chances of reaching the second round of elections. Like Macron, Hamon also recently got into an alliance, this time with Yannick Jadot of Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV), after negotiating a common platform.
What are the polls saying?
OpinionWay polls taken earlier this week easily put Le Pen in the second round after getting 26% of the votes. Macron (24%) gets the second top spot while Fillon (21%) and Hamon (15%) are not too far behind.
Macron is expected to win against Le Pen in the second round at 62% vs. 38%, up from the 61% vs. 39% odds from last week. Meanwhile, Fillon is expected to get a less comfortable margin at 58% vs. 42% (same as last week) if it comes down to him and Le Pen.
Here’s a list of first-round opinion polls gathered in the last six days:
How are all these affecting the euro?
While market players are still happily focused on Trump, Brexit, and/or Scottish referendum-related headlines, it won’t be long before attention will go back to France’s closely-watched Presidential race.
If we take hints from the EU referendum and the U.S. elections, then any headlines favoring a Le Pen win would likely inspire uncertainty and weigh on the euro, while clearer platforms and plans would likely keep forex bears at bay.