For the very first time, the French Center and Right political parties – composed of the Republicans (LR, “Les Républicains”, the Christian Democrats (PCD) and the National Center for Self-Employed and Farmers (CNIP, Centre national des indépendants et paysans) organized this year an open primary aiming at designating the candidate for France’s 2017 Presidential elections.
November 17, 2016 was the third and last televised debate before the first round of elections this week-end opposing the seven candidates. Except for the Christian Democrat Jean-Frédéric Poisson, all belong to the main stream party, LR.
The first part of the two-hour debate was about “Trump, Putin and Europe,”and the impact of the shift from “Politics as usual” triggered by by Donald Trump’s victory could be felt both in form and substance during the debates.
An Impact on Style: Putting the Media into Its Place
If each of the three debates was especially rich in content all along, the candidates tonight all wanted to talk substance only and prevent any rift towards a show enhancing fights and disagreements rather than content.
Several candidates interrupted the journalists – and not the other way around – in order to reorient the debate each time they felt they did not have the possibility to develop an important theme, such as Europe, or each time it would deviate from substantive issues.
A stark contract from the US campaign this year and a new trend that was widely commented in the press commentaries in the aftermath of the debate.
François Fillon’s message to the French people was the following: “We French are a proud people and we do not like that our choices be dictated. So do not be afraid, on Sunday, to contradict polls and medias which had arranged everything for you. Choose to vote for your beliefs.”
An Impact on Substance: Unleashing A New Sense of Freedom and Control
If the French candidates are like many politicians in the world — concerned about the election in the United States–in reality it had an impact on substance which can be seen as a positive one.
The place of France as well as Europe’s in the world arena have to be re-established, to avoid a US-Russian diktat especially on Syria from which Europe is excluded. The memory of Yalta remains for the French leadership).
The question is whether and how to work or not with Russia. The perceived Trump impact on this question has split views among the candidates.
This evolution can actually mean a “new departure for France” as Nicolas Sarkozy called for, as well as a chance for Europe to actually be freer to act globally.
One of the key points made in the debate was the fact that since Turkey does not belong to the EU, Europe can be much tougher towards Turkey. Europe does not have to be blackmailed by Erdogan using the NATO club.
The candidates all had different visions of which road Europe should take.
But they were all sharing the same view that the current mode of action is sinking it and that it needs to change.
The European Union cannot add any new members. Expansion is over; and re-exmaination of current structures is urgent.
France needs to refocus on how best to work within a restructured Europe.
Several paths were proposed:
- Reject the current European structures;
- Keep the institutions and do not propose a referendum (otherwise France will vote for a Brexit of its own for sure), but reform them;
- Build a European defense either through a flexible federalist cooperation approach (Sarkozy) or a rebalancing within Europe itself.
France – which pays 25% of Europe’s military expenditures once BREXIT is implemented – there is a clear need for the rest of Europe to do much more. And France should be free to take their significantly greater defense expenditures as a credit from the re-balancing of the Maastricht 3% criteria.(Kosciusko-Morizet).
There is a clear need to focus on working with the members of the Euro Zone as a core to strengthen the European defense rather than thinking in terms of the European Union as a whole (Juppé and Fillon)
There is an urgent need to reinforce the protection of France and Europe with enhanced border and immigration control and an increase in military and security expenditures.
The French Republicans also want to implement trade taxes, but these ones would be … carbon taxes….something different clearly from a potential shift in US environmental policy under President-elect Trump.
In short, Putin and Trump are having their impact and the French are debating shaping a new way ahead.
See abstracts of the debate by themes in French.
 See for instance :
With regard to the 3% Maastricht criteria, see the following:
There are five criteria set out in the Treaty of Maastricht that must be met by European countries if they wish to adopt the European Union’s single currency, the euro.
They are: 1) inflation of no more than 1.5 percentage points above the average rate of the three EU member states with the lowest inflation over the previous year.
2) A national budget deficit at or below 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
3) National public debt not exceeding 60 percent of gross domestic product. A country with a higher level of debt can still adopt the euro provided its debt level is falling steadily.
4) Long-term interest rates should be no more than two percentage points above the rate in the three EU countries with the lowest inflation over the previous year.
5) The national currency is required to enter the ERM 2 exchange rate mechanism two years prior to entry.
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