Can Fillon beat Le Pen?

After his clear victory in the primaries, François Fillon will be the conservative candidate in France's presidential election next year. Seen as embodying traditional values, the former prime minister is considered an economic liberal hardliner. Commentators discuss his chances against National Front leader Le Pen should the two face each other in a second round of voting.

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Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

A glimmer of hope on Europe's horizon

Fillon may become a beacon of hope for the West's political elite, which has lost touch with the voters, Magyar Nemzet comments:

“With Fillon, a new type of politician is making its mark in France's conservative camp. One that not only knows how to use the new communication technologies but manages to make the most of his years of experience in a modern yet authentic way. Fillon has not flung his principles overboard, he has mixed just enough populism, nationalism and vote-catching elements into his rhetoric to win over confused voters. … Fillon could serve as a role model for the West's disoriented political elite. … He could bring to their senses all the Western decision-makers who think it is not their own impotence but the populists' manipulation of the 'man on the street' that is the root of all evil.”

Lietuvos žinios (LT) /

Fillon and Le Pen are very similar

Fillon and Le Pen are on the same wavelength on many issues, and differ only in the way they see the system, Lietuvos žinios writes:

“It's hard to describe Fillon as anything but a nationalist. He advocates more sovereignty, talks about the nation, not society, proposes a referendum on refugee quotas and wants more national history, Christian culture and patriotism in education. ... With all of these views he stands a good chance of successfully wooing Le Pen's right-wing voters, although he publicly distances himself from the National Front and the far right. In the second round of the presidential elections, Fillon, who remains true to the system, will be pitted against Le Pen, who criticises it, although the two hold similar views: they are both economic liberals and both nationalists.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Fillon appropriating key topics

Fillon has what it takes to beat Le Pen, El Mundo comments:

“Fillon is the classic conservative: as a practising Catholic he stands for a traditional view of the family, national values, strengthened authority, tougher migration policies and a more liberal economy. His candidacy is bad news for Marine Le Pen because he can take over the issues that she had dominated up to now, like national security and migration. Fillon despises multiculturalism, has proposed holding a referendum on refugee quotas, and wants to crack down hard on jihadi terrorism and Islam, which has gone down very well with militants and right wing supporters in a country that has been rocked by the attacks of the last 18 months. His discourse differs little from that of Le Pen. This can lead to two different outcomes. Either he manages to neutralise the far right on its own ground or he succumbs to it, because Le Pen has been exploiting the discontent, fear and distrust in French society for some time now.”

Dennik N (SK) /

Many will prefer to vote for Le Pen

With his liberal ideas for the economy ex-prime minister François Fillon is no match for Le Pen, who can seduce voters on the left with her social promises, Dennik N is convinced:

“In many of his views Fillon is closest to Le Pen among the conservative candidates. But can this help him stop her from winning? … What could weaken him most is what is supposedly his biggest advantage - his promise to introduce liberal economic reforms. France clearly needs these reforms. But so far every politician who came along with such ideas has failed. To win, Fillon will need the votes of many centre and left-wing voters, in other words of those who reject such reforms. Rather than vote for a French version of Mrs Thatcher, many of them would rather vote for Le Pen, who promises fast and above all painless solutions on social and economic issues.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Trump shows the way in France

France will follow in the US's footsteps regardless of whether Fillon or Le Pen wins the presidential elections next spring, Večernji list writes in dismay:

“A new reactionary wave is taking hold in France, championing traditional values, opposing gay marriage and rejecting multicultural society. Above all it is fighting multicultural approaches that put Muslim immigrants on a par with the traditionally Catholic populations that support family values. And this brings to mind the group of voters that swept Donald Trump to power in the US - the white, Christian segments of the population who favour traditional values and now feel threatened and isolated. Since the Socialist candidate has no chance of making it as far as the second round of voting, France has been left to the far-right candidates.”

Público (PT) /

Still the best rival candidate

The race against Marine Le Pen has begun, journalist Diogo Queiroz de Andrade writes in Público:

“The choice has been made, François Fillon came out ahead. Not because he's the best candidate, but because he's the best alternative in the fight against the National Front candidate. ... Fillon will go poaching in Le Pen's political camp, meaning that his proposals will have to incorporate some of her central arguments. The writing is on the wall: Marine Le Pen will play the key role in France's presidential elections in the spring of 2017. The candidate the conservatives have now chosen may appear to be the clear favourite for the time being in the polls (to the extent that polls can serve at all as indicators), but all parties will now focus on preventing the number of those supporting the National Front from rising any more.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Strong France would do Europe good

Fillon has good chances of beating Le Pen in the presidential elections next spring, Corriere della Sera writes in delight:

“A victory for the far-right National Front would mean the end of Europe. ... But Fillon's success doesn't mean that everything will just remain the same in Paris. Fillion is an economic liberal: he won with the promise of slashing half a million public sector jobs. And he takes a hard line on Islam. ... Regarding Europe, he has the same distrust as his political role model, [the former president of the RPR] Philippe Séguin. And he entertains what you might call the pipe dream of improving ties with Moscow with the goal of gaining a trump card against Berlin. ... That is not necessarily bad news. A France under Le Pen that goes its own way would turn Europe into a German colony. A strong France of the type Fillon wants would also benefit Italy.”

hvg (HU) /

Putin can rejoice

If Fillon becomes the next French president there will be a marked improvement in relations between France and Russia, the weekly paper hvg predicts:

“Rumour has it that Vladimir Putin gave François Fillon a bottle of wine of the vintage 1931 when the mother of the French politician, who was born in 1931, passed away. Putin and Fillon are on first-name terms and very friendly with each other. Their closeness goes back to the times when the two were heads of government, the one under Nicolas Sarkozy and the other under Dmitry Medvedev. … It's no mere coincidence that Putin recently praised Fillon as a true professional and tough negotiating partner. … Doubtless the Russian president would be very pleased to see the Russophile politicians François Fillon and Marine Le Pen in the runoff for the 2017 presidential election.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Conservative renewal won't work

Author Vincent Engel voices concern over Fillon's success in Le Soir:

“Some will say that it is essential to elect such a conservative government to restore the climate of trust - first and foremost in politics - and get the political system back on its feet. But although it strikes me as less scary than the triumph of populism and extremism, I find this shift both worrying and dangerous: once you have shut yourself up at home and closed the door on others it takes time - a lot of time - before you open it again, only to discover that openness is a source of enrichment from every point of view. And that like apartments, ideas need to be aired from time to time.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Spiteful accusations won't help Juppé and Fillon

The increasingly bitter campaign between Juppé and Fillon could cost both candidates votes, Der Standard warns:

“The two are only hurting each other with their feuding. Juppé's accusation that Fillon is also supported by people on the far right could cost the latter many leftist votes in a run-off against Le Pen. And Fillon's criticism of Juppé's 'soft' approach could push typical conservative voters straight into Le Pen's arms. This acerbic, even venemous fight is suddenly reviving the left and the liberals' hopes of winning the presidency. If the conservative Fillon is crowned as the right-wing contender on Sunday, an unexpected vacuum will open up in the centre - for social liberal candidates like François Bayrou, Emmanuel Macron and Manuel Valls to jump into. Or even for François Hollande, who intends to announce his plans in mid-December. Fillon's astonishingly quick start has shaken up French politics. The presidential race is more open than ever.”

Le Temps (CH) /

More economic liberalism would be a good thing

The criticism of Fillon's economic programme from left-leaning French media is narrow-minded, Le Temps comments:

“Not a word, or hardly a word, about the growing burden of public spending on France's GDP. ... And above all not a word about the potential positive effects of growth on economic freedom: the creation of 'real' jobs. ... And the most absurd thing about this whole debate is that of all people it is François Fillon who is under fire. As if at 62 the former prime minister were some sort of fundamentalist defender of tabooed liberalism. So we've reread his book. What does he suggest? A package of stringent measures that continue to put the state at the centre of economic activity. He denounces the constraints, excessive red tape and complex procedures, and demands more breathing space for entrepreneurs. From the Swiss point of view it's just run-of-the-mill conservative economic policy.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Finally a candidate with a clear programme

Unlike his challenger Alain Juppé and the current President Hollande François Fillon represents a welcome change, historian Benoît Pellistrandi writes in Le Figaro:

“If Alain Juppé does become the candidate of the right and the centre and if he does get elected, he will have to implement a programme. ... President Hollande has suffered from a lack of clarity regarding his ideology and his programme, and has lost his authority as a result. Along with his mistakes that's another reason for his weakness. ... François Fillon represents a welcome change for French politics. He is waging a campaign based on convictions. His speeches show him to be demanding and rigorous, and he has made no promises other than a difficult recovery plan. For the first time in a good while one gets the feeling that a politician is telling the truth.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Fillon would end Moscow's isolation

If François Fillon becomes the next French president he would push for the EU to adopt a softer approach to Moscow, former British ambassador to France Peter Westmacott predicts in the Financial Times:

“But we should not see Mr Fillon as a passionate Anglophile. He regrets Britain’s vote to leave the EU because he thinks Europe is weaker without the UK. ... Mr Fillon, a strong supporter of Nato, has a different vision of how to manage relations with Moscow. He has long opposed economic sanctions in response to the occupation of Crimea. He sees the Russian military presence in Syria as potentially helpful in bringing the conflict to an end - not that different from the view of US President-elect Donald Trump. If France chooses Mr Fillon as its next president, quite a lot could change, at home and abroad.”

Sme (SK) /

A Eurosceptic with rough edges

A President Fillon would be a Eurosceptic Europe could work with, Sme comments:

“A victory for Fillon wouldn't mean that the EU's current course wouldn't change. It would, and fundamentally. The big difference between him and Hollande is evident in their stance toward Russia. Fillon doesn't support the sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine conflict. And he approves of the Russian intervention in Syria. ... But he is at least a politician with European standards who isn't taking millions from Russia on the sly. ... He doesn't see the EU as a god-given authority but more as an instrument for achieving national goals. Other Europeans also feel alienated by the centralism of the Eurocrats. So let's accept Fillon with all his rough edges.”

Libération (FR) /

France's reactionary revolution

The most conservative candidate has won out, Libération writes in dismay:

“Many voters wanted to get rid of the former president [Sarkozy], who they saw as too far to the right. But they could do nothing to counter the mobilisation of the conservative right wing. Now they have an even more reactionary candidate. In this way the grouchy smurf of conservatism has become the most likely candidate. ... Bonjour tristesse. ... That goes for both the economic and social measures, because François Fillon has taken the liberal rupture a step further, determined as he is to demolish a good part of our post-war heritage bequeathed to us by [de Gaulle's] National Council of the Resistance. A strange denial for this former socially-minded Gaullist who has now styled himself as the Iron Gentleman of the French-style conservative revolution.”

tagesschau.de (DE) /

Merkel should learn from Fillon's strategy

François Fillon's strategy of securing the support of conservative voters could also be interesting for Angela Merkel when she seeks her fourth term as chancellor in 2017, tagesschau.de believes:

“As a candidate he clearly spoke up for the so-called conservative values without eyeing either the left or the centre, positioning himself as the conservative candidate. And his bet paid off. Fillon wants to 'make France great again' - but not by insulting minorities or vilifying his opponents. He is relying on an very harsh austerity policy, an extremely slimmed-down state, tax cuts for businesses, the 39-hour week for civil servants, et cetera. All of that goes down well with those for whom the welfare state is a plague and who believe that after the leaden Hollande presidency France can only get back on its feet with thoroughgoing reforms.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Voters may feel threatened

Although voters would have a real choice with François Fillon as presidential candidate he stands little chance of winning the conservative primaries, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes:

“Many will view the cost-cutting measures he proposes as a threat: axing 500,000 public sector jobs, cutting social services, getting rid of the 35-hour week. In return he wants to revitalise the economy and reduce unemployment. The question is whether such a programme can achieve a majority not just in the French preliminaries but also in elections. Every citizen is wondering: Should I vote for Fillon if it means putting my own civil service job or that of a family member at risk? ... Fillon stands for so-called Catholic values, he holds up the family as the nucleus of social life. Le Pen and her National Front openly champion an extreme form of nationalism in which immigrants - in particular Muslims - have no place. But they don't threaten voters with job cuts in the civil service.”

Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Fillon can beat Le Pen

Fillon's eliminating Sarkozy from the race bodes well for election year 2017, Upsala Nya Tidning believes:

“Without France and Germany the Union simply won't work. And in France the leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, wants to disband the EU. Both remaining [conservative] candidates could count on votes from the left if one of them runs against Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election. ... The same would not be true for Sarkozy. ... There's a lot you can hold against the EU, but without it Europe would return to an era of closed borders, nationalist self-satisfaction, intolerance and the erosion of the rule of law. We as Swedes, who can vote neither in Germany nor in France, have every reason to hope that the democratic parties and politicians can hold their ground against the right-wing populists.”