2017: A tumultuous year in French politics

France saw the collapse of traditional parties and the disappearance of several mainstream political figures in 2017. Ahead of the presidential election in May, many anticipated a race between deeply unpopular Socialist Party incumbent François Hollande and former president Nicolas Sarkozy from the centre-right Les Républicains party. But in the end it was the young and underestimated Emmanuel Macron who carried the day. FRANCE 24 looks back on a year of French political upsets.

François Fillon wins the nomination of Les Républicains, France’s largest centre-right party

The winds of change began to blow on November 27, 2016, when François Fillon sailed to victory in Les Républicains primary, eliminating the two favourites – former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppé. It was an early sign that the French wanted something different in 2017.

President François Hollande chooses not to seek re-election

President François Hollande’s tenure was marked by sharp spikes and long downturns in approval ratings as France faced high unemployment and a series of terrorist attacks. He finished his term as one of the most unpopular presidents in French history, with his approval rating at one point plummeting to 4 percent. He is the only president of France's Fifth Republic not to seek re-election.

Hollande's withdrawal leaves the field wide open

Hollande's withdrawal from the race left the field wide open for the Socialist Party. Just as the centre-right party chose a deeply conservative candidate in Fillon, the Socialist Party swung further to the left in choosing Benoît Hamon over ex-premier Manuel Valls, who had come under fire for his "right-wing socialist" policies.

'Fake jobs' scandal

As campaigning in the general election got under way, things began to go drastically wrong for Fillon's campaign when allegations emerged in the press that his British-born wife Penelope had earned €680,000 ($725,000) over 15 years as his parliamentary assistant but that she had done no work. Fillon was eliminated in the first round.

Anti-establishment sentiment

With Fillon embroiled in a "fake jobs" scandal and Hamon falling prey to divisions on the left, their parties began taking a backseat to “anti-establishment” candidates: far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, who had founded a new party, En marche! (On the move).

The downfall of Marine Le Pen

After doing well in the 2016 polls, the far-right National Front candidate struggled in 2017. But Marine Le Pen still made it to the second round of the presidential elections by appealing to the politically disenchanted and those who felt economically marginalised. But she was trounced in the final presidential round and her party won only eight seats in the National Assembly – eight short of earning a role in setting the parliamentary agenda.

Emmanuel Macron wins the Élysée Palace

Emmanuel Macron wins the presidential election and becomes France's youngest-ever president at 39.

Macron plunders the French right

Macron’s success was due, in part, to his ability to exploit political divisions on both the right and the left. After decimating the Socialist Party during his presidential campaign, he turned his sights on Les Républicains. His appointment of Les Républicains members Édouard Philippe and Bruno Le Maire to the positions of prime minister and economy minister, respectively, fractured the conservative party. It was further weakened when Macron’s party, renamed La République en Marche (France on the move), swept June legislative elections. By the end of election season 2017, France's political landscape was unrecognisable.

Diplomatic moves

France's new head of state stepped quickly onto the world stage, in part to fill the void left by the "America First" policies of the new US president, Donald Trump. Just hours after Washington announced it would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Macron appealed to American scientists to come to France to help “make our planet great again”.

Reforms, right out of the gate

Macron lost no time making good on his campaign promises, passing a public ethics bill (known as the “moralisation law”) to clean up French politics, reforming the labour code, slashing the wealth tax and replacing France's long-running state of emergency with a new anti-terrorism law.

Parliamentary opposition falters

The opposition in the National Assembly (lower house) is paralysed when faced with the Macron party machine. On the right, Les Républicains have little to oppose in the new economic policies while the National Front is plagued with internal feuds after its crushing defeat in the presidential and legislative elections. Florian Philippot, Marine Le Pen’s protégé and chief architect of the National Front’s rebranding effort, quit the party in September to form his own far-right alternative: Les Patriotes. The Socialist Party, rendered impotent with a coalition of only 30 of 577 MPs, isn’t any better off. And for all the public demonstrations it has organised, far-left Mélenchon's party (La France Insoumise) is likewise powerless against La République en Marche's majority.

Les Républicains shifts to the right

Populist Laurent Wauquiez took the helm of Les Républicains on December 10 after running a campaign marked by nationalist, anti-immigration rhetoric and Euroscepticism. He also played up the rural-urban divide, seeking to appeal to the "victims of globalisation". But whether Wauquiez will provide a more formidable opposition to Macron remains to be seen.