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France’s conservative presidential race: How Fillon and Juppé differ on policy

AFP | French conservative rivals François Fillon and Alain Juppé face off in a debate ahead of the first round of the Nov. 20 conservative primary.

Former prime ministers François Fillon and Alain Juppé will face off in the critical second round of the French conservative primary on Sunday. The two men claim to offer voters two distinct visions for France. But are they really that different?


Left-leaning French daily Libération said it best, days after the November 20 first round of the conservative primary produced a surprise: an overwhelming win for former prime minister François Fillon. Under the banner headline “Moi, Président,” the newspaper cover featured a photoshopped image of Fillon as Margaret Thatcher, complete with pearl earrings and brooch.

On the other hand, the pro-business L’Opinion compared Fillon to Che Guevara, calling him a revolutionary figure for the right.

So what exactly does Fillon’s agenda entail? And how different is it from that of his rival, former prime minister and two-time foreign minister Alain Juppé?

The answers matter quite a lot for France. The two men face off in the second round of the conservative primary on Sunday, November 27, and the winner could well be the next president of France.

France goes to the polls in April 2017 for a presidential election that is widely expected to see National Front leader Marine Le Pen make it to the second round, to be held in May.

Given the weakness of the ruling Socialist Party and the record unpopularity of President François Hollande, who has yet to declare whether he will run for a second term in office, the victorious conservative candidate is also widely expected to make it to the second round.

The prospect of a face-off between Le Pen and the winning conservative candidate has increased the stakes of the Les Républicains party primary. Donald Trump’s shock victory in the November 8 US presidential election has raised fears of a right-wing contagion infecting France, and French mainstream voters are alert to the threat.

The primary already delivered one shock result when Nicolas Sarkozy was knocked out of the race. In his concession speech, the former president endorsed Fillon, whose policies are closer to Sarkozy’s hardline positions. However, Juppé – who is considered more moderate and who has campaigned on a platform of social tolerance – is more appealing to left-wing voters and therefore considered a safer candidate to beat Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election.

Here’s where the two candidates stand on the major issues.


Fillon: The 62-year-old father of five has a Welsh wife and is a conservative Catholic who voted against gay marriage, which was legalised in 2013 following mass demonstrations. On the campaign trail, Fillon has opposed a provision in the 2013 gay marriage law that allows same-sex partners to adopt children. French media reports have focused on the support he has received from anti-gay marriage groups, such as Sens Commun (Common Sense). He has also proposed making it harder for children born to foreign surrogate mothers to obtain French citizenship.

Juppé: Considered a social moderate, the 71-year-old mayor of Bordeaux has run on a platform of “identité heureuse” (happy identity). The concept itself is a dig at Sarkozy’s divisive national identity debate, which was criticised as a Machiavellian way of casting immigrants, their French-born children and especially Muslims as a threat to France. Juppé was not a member of parliament in 2013 and therefore not called upon to vote on the gay marriage bill. His position on gay marriage and adoption for same-sex couples has flip-flopped over the past few years. But on the campaign trail, Juppé has stated that he does not plan to amend the gay marriage law or change France’s adoption rules.


Fillon: While his past positions have included stints as prime minister and social affairs minister, Fillon has little experience in foreign affairs.

Juppé: By contrast, Juppé is considered a foreign policy heavyweight. In 2011, for instance, when Sarkozy’s foreign policy was in the doldrums as revolts spread across the Arab world, the then president appointed Juppé – a man widely considered one of the best foreign policy brains France has produced for decades – as the country’s top diplomat. While serving as Sarkozy's foreign minister he steered France through a difficult diplomatic period that included France’s response to the Arab Spring and its G20 presidency.


Fillon: Despite his lack of foreign policy experience, Fillon is considered staunchly pro-Russia and has called Moscow a “crucial partner” for Europe. He also supports the lifting of sanctions against Russia, which were imposed after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. If Fillon succeeds in winning Les Républicains' candidacy and makes it past the first round of the presidential election, French voters are likely to see a face-off between a pro-Putin Le Pen and a pro-Putin Fillon. With Trump publicly espousing his respect for the Russian leader, foreign policy experts are carefully monitoring potential changes in the West’s position on Russia.

His position on Russia is close to the French foreign policy establishment’s line in its dealings with Moscow, which broadly follows the EU position. Juppé is a staunch proponent of a united European defence policy.


Fillon: On the campaign trail Fillon has refused to call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, saying by doing so, “the Christians of Syria would have to choose between the suitcase and the coffin”. In keeping with his pro-Moscow position, he seeks to bring Russia into the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group. Fillon also seeks closer ties with Assad’s other ally in the pro-Russian alliance: Iran.

Juppé: He has been critical of the Russian bombing of Aleppo. As foreign minister, he was vocal in his opposition to former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine’s position that “'human rights-ism' is not a policy”.


Fillon: An ardent fan of Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies, Fillon’s tough free-market positions are likely to upset France’s powerful trade unions and the left, making it highly likely that his ambitious policies to fire up the economy may not make it past the drawing board should he become president. “France needs a shock,” he has repeated on the campaign trail. The problem, though, is that his proposals may be too much of a shock, which would put him on a collision course with the unions.

His economic proposals include:

  • Cutting 500,000 to 600,000 civil servant jobs.
  • Cutting public spending by €110 billion.
  • Ending the 35-hour work week and making it possible for companies to negotiate 48-hour working weeks.
  • Raising VAT rates by 3.5%.
  • Raising the retirement age from the current 62 years to 65 years.

Juppé: The centrist, Gaullist candidate proposes the same brand of medication as his more hardline right-wing challenger to fix France’s economic malaise, albeit in smaller doses.

His proposals include:

  • Cutting 250,000 civil servant jobs.
  • Ending the job guarantee for civil servants.
  • Cutting public spending by €100 billion.
  • Increasing the 35-hour work week to 38 hours.
  • Adding employment safeguards to temporary contracts.
  • Increasing VAT rates by 1%.
  • Juppé also wants to raise the retirement age from 62 years to 65.


Fillon: The former prime minister and author of the book, "Beating Islamic Totalitarianism," takes a hard line against Islamist terrorism. His proposals include stripping jihadists who have travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight alongside the IS group of their French citizenship and barring them from returning to France. He also supports allowing municipal police to carry guns and increasing France’s prison capacity.

Juppé: Following the deadly November 13 Paris attacks, Juppé publicly opposed Hollande’s bid to strip dual nationals convicted of terrorism of their French citizenship. He supports the arrest of jihadists returning from Iraq or Syria and calls for placing suspected Islamist radicals who pose a threat under house arrest. Juppé also advocates increasing the capacity of France’s prisons.

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