top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon

The Connexion guide to the French election

How does the election work, who are the main candidates and what are their policies?

As France prepares for its ninth presidential election since the Fifth Republic was introduced in 1958, we explain what to expect in the coming weeks. Here is The Connexion guide to the election, the leading candidates and their policy plans. Plus we present some of the key words and phrases you may read or hear.

How do elections in France work?

Presidential elections in France follow a two-round system (also known as run-off voting) to ensure the elected President always wins the majority. This means that if no candidate receives the absolute majority of votes (50 per cent of votes plus at least one extra vote), the top two candidates with the most votes continue into a second round two weeks later. All other candidates are eliminated. Elections are always held on a Sunday and campaigning ends at midnight on the Friday before the vote.

It is extremely rare for a candidate to win the absolute majority in the first round and to thus be immediately elected – officially, it has never happened. So far, Charles de Gaulle came the closest, winning 44 per cent in the first round in 1965.

The first round of the 2017 French presidential election will take place on Sunday April 23. The second round is scheduled for Sunday May 7.

Once elected, the new President of France takes part in the “passation des pouvoirs" ("handing over of powers") ceremony. He or she can serve for a maximum of two five-year terms. It used to be an unlimited number of seven-year terms before Jacques Chirac shortened it.

The Prime Minister and other ministers are appointed immediately after the President. Although these usually come from the same party as the President, there is no obligation to choose members from the dominant party. If members of different parties are appointed, it is called "cohabitation."

Current President François Hollande from the Socialist Party is eligible to run for a second term, but declined to do so on December 1, 2016.

 Who can become a candidate?

Candidates running for election must have French nationality, be at least 18 years old, and be registered on the electoral roll. They should also not be deprived of eligibility rights, not be placed under guardianship or trusteeship, and have completed obligations of national service.

Each candidate must obtain a minimum of 500 signatures from elected officials of at least 30 departments. These nominations are sometimes called “sponsors” (or parrainages d'élus), although this does not necessarily mean that the officials all support the candidate’s proposals. No more than 10% of them should be from the same department. Officials are only allowed to nominate one candidate.

Who can vote?

To be able to vote, a person must be of French nationality, over 18 years of age, and not legally deprived of any civil and political rights. As with every election, they must register to vote before a specific deadline (in this case December 31, 2016). Only those registered to vote are eligible voters.


François Fillon, The Republicans (centre-right)

A wealthy 63-year-old Catholic conservative lawyer-turned-politician from Le Mans, Sarthe, who served as Prime Minister of France under Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012). Today, he serves as the deputy of the second district of Paris, and lives in 12th century manor with his five children and Welsh-born wife Penelope.

 Fillon is known for his reformist approach and his lack of charisma. The daily newspaper Libération published an image of his face projected onto the head of Margaret Thatcher to ridicule Fillon’s admiration for The Iron Lady. (In France, thatcherisme is largely condemned by the media and politicians). He was placed first in the first round of voting and unexpectedly defeated Alain Juppé in the primary run-off a week later.

Fillon was considered the frontrunner of the 2017 French presidential election for some time, but after accusations of him paying his wife up to half a million euros to do a fictitious job went public, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen took the lead.

Did you know?

Fillon is a keen race car enthusiast and made an appearance on France's version of Top Gear.

He proposes to:

  • Keep France in the EU and refocus Europe on its basic values of collaboration and exchange – especially via a close Franco-German alliance
  • Make the Euro the EU’s reserve currency
  • Reduce immigration to a strict minimum using yearly quotas
  • Strip jihadists that have fought in terrorist ranks abroad from their French nationality and banning them from returning to France
  • Only issue long-term residence permits to people showing a prospect of integration
  • Cap unemployment benefits at 75% and only issue these to people with a minimum of two years of residency and introduce a universal social benefit to give a better overview over government expenses and to ensure that labour income is always higher than the funds used for support
  • Scrap the 35-hour work week in the private sector and return to 39-hour work week in public services
  • Raise the retirement age to 65
  • Invest €12 billion in security and police, defence and justice, modernising facilities available to troops and developing drones and artificial intelligence technology used to protect France against terrorism
  • Reduce taxes for companies by €50 billion and abolish wealth tax
  • Cut 500,000 public sector jobs and general public spending
  • Bring compulsory schooling and learning to read age to 5 years and reinstate homework for primary school pupils
  • Eliminate gay adoption rights
  • Protect France’s green spaces and consider stopping using diesel

He said it:

I made a mistake. The times, the era, have changed.”

Fillon apologises to the French people after PenelopeGate, but said he had done nothing illegal

Marine Le Pen, Front National

A 48-year-old Catholic Paris bar-registered lawyer with a master’s degree in criminal law from Neuilly-sur-Seine and president of the Front National since 2011. She is the youngest daughter of FN founder (in 1972) Jean-Marie Le Pen, whom she expelled from the party after he made radical nationalist comments and called Nazi gas chambers "a detail of history." She has three children from her ex-husband Franck Chauffroy, a business executive for the Front National, and has been divorced twice.

Le Pen joined the Front National in 1986, and was elected as a regional councillor (1998–present), a Member of European Parliament (2004–present), and a municipal councillor in Hénin-Beaumont, Pas-de-Calais (2008-2011). Since she took over the party leadership, she has tried to distance the Front National from its previous xenophobic and radical image. Le Pen came third behind François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election, where she won 17.90% of the votes. Occasionally, she is criticised for being too anti-globalist in her approach.

Did you know? Marine Le Pen survived a bomb attack on her house when she was eight years old.

She proposes to:

  •  Have a referendum and leave the EU
  •  Exit the Schengen area and take control of France’s borders with strict regulations, allowing entry to a maximum of 10,000 immigrants a year. This will produce jobs for 6,000 customs officers
  • Remove the droit du sol – the acquisition of French nationality will be possible only by filiation or naturalization. Children of at least one foreign parent born on French soil and foreigners married to French nationals will not be automatically granted citizenship. Conditions for citizenship will be more demanding and dual extra-European citizenship will be eliminated
  • Introduce the franc as the national currency (with the same initial value as the Euro) to use it as a lever in the face of international competition
  • Leave the integrated military command of NATO so France is no longer involved in wars that are not its own
  • Prioritise French nationals in terms of attributing jobs, housing, schools, and general welfare support given from the government and incorporate this principle of "national priority" in the Constitution
  • No restoration of the death penalty, which ended in France in 1981, but a beefing up of sentences for the ‘worst crimes’ to ‘in perpetuity’
  • Ban organisations and deport all foreigners linked to Islamist fundamentalists
  • Close extremist mosques and prohibit the public financing of cults
  • Simplify and automate the expulsion of illegal immigrants
  • Fight jihadist networks by stripping bi-nationals of their French citizenship and deporting them
  • Massively increase public security (military and police) personnel, intelligence services and equipment
  • Develop agreements that allow sentenced foreigners to serve their sentences in their countries of origin
  • Introduce a Purchasing Power Premium (PPP) for low income households and small pension holders (for incomes up to €1,500 per month), financed by a 3% social contribution tax on imports
  • Put in place a national plan for equal pay for women and men
  • Render the administrative system more efficient by establishing a three-tier power structure (commune, department, state) and give elected officials more control

She said it: "The divide is not between the left and right anymore but between patriots and globalists!"

Benoît Hamon, Socialist Party

A middle class 49-year-old politician from Saint-Renan, Finistère, who briefly served as Minister of National Education under François Hollande, but quit in disapproval of the President’s neglect of a Socialist agenda. Today, the deputy of the 11th district of Yvelines, Ile-de-France, is in a civil solidarity pact with the half-Catalan, half-Danish Gabrielle Guallar and lives in Brittany with their two daughters.

After finishing his history degree, Hamon began his career in 1991 as a parliamentary assistant to Pierre Brana, the deputy of the fifth constituency of Gironde. He served as the public speaker and national delegate of the Socialist Party in charge of youth problems, and became the first president of the Movement of Young Socialists in 1993. Hamon was a Member of the European Parliament for the East of France from 2004 to 2009 and went on to be the Minister for Social Economy and Consumer Affairs (2012 – 2014).

Did you know? During his childhood Hamon lived in Dakar, Senegal for 4 years.

He proposes to:

  • Give all French citizens a basic income (in stages):
    • In 2018, the RSA will be increased by 10% to €600 and paid automatically to all those eligible
    • Young people aged 18 to 25 will receive a ‘existence income’ regardless of their level of resources
    • A universal income of €750 will eventually be paid to the entire population
  • Grant foreigners the right to vote in local elections
  • Create a humanitarian visa that will give those in humanitarian distress legal and secure access to France, as well as temporary protection
  • Invest hugely in renewable energy so France can harvest 50% of its energy from renewable sources and stop using diesel by 2025
  • Ban harmful pesticides and endocrine disruptors, and protect the "common goods" (water, air, biodiversity) in the Constitution
  • Invest €5billion for agro-ecology and cooperatives
  • Pool European debt
  • Pool European intelligence services and levy a tax on wealth created by those using robots in industry
  • Revoke the Loi Travail
  • Fight against medical deserts by withdrawing the agreement from doctors who settle in an overcrowded (usually urban) zone and by encouraging multidisciplinary healthcare houses
  • Legalise cannabis and euthanasia
  • Recognise burn-out syndrome as an occupational disease
  • Recruit 1,000 policemen per year
  • Present a Security and Defence Policy and Guidance Bill by autumn 2017 that will set clear guidelines for the entire quinquennial. This will outline that by the end of the mandate, 3% of GDP will be dedicated to national defence expenditure
  • Introduce compulsory schooling at three years of age
  • Create an anti-discrimination body that ensures the fair practice of public and private
  • structures (gender equality, accessibility for people with disabilities, etc)
  • Abolish the use of Article 49-3 of the Constitution (allowing law enforcement without a vote) except in budgetary matters and create a "49-3 citizen" to allow 1% of the electorate to impose the examination or suspension of a law on Parliament

He said it:The money party has too many candidates in this election. One says “Get rich”, the other says “make us rich”.

Emmanuel Macron, En Marche (centre)

An affluent 39-year-old former investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque (a subsidiary company of the Anglo-French Rothschild & Co.) and former senior civil servant from Amiens. Following his philosophy degree, Macron worked as a as an Inspector of Finances in the French Ministry of Economy.

He was a member of the Socialist Party from 2006 to 2009 and was appointed deputy secretary-general under François Hollande in 2012. He then worked as deputy secretary-general of the Élysée from 2012 to 2014, and became Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs during the Second Valls government.

Having never been elected to public office, Macron founded his own progressive political movement En Marche! in April 2016 and resigned from the government to start his independent social liberal candidacy for presidency in the 2017 election. He is known for his business-orientated attitude and has been likened to Tony Blair with his ‘third way’ approach.

Did you know?

Macron is married to Brigitte Trogneux, 24 years older than him – she was his teacher and the pair became a couple when he was 18.

He proposes to:

  • Establish permanent European headquarters and create a single energy and digital market in Europe with low carbon prices for EU members
  • Reserve access to the public market to companies that locate at least half of their production in Europe under a ‘Buy European Act’ and fund European start-ups
  • Create a European Defence Fund to finance military equipment, invest in cybersecurity and intelligence services, penalise incivility more strictly, and  recruit 10,000 police officers
  • Spend €50 billion euros on a five-year plan to improve public services, protect the environment and renovate housing
  • Invest €5 billion to improve medicine, hospitals, and disease prevention education
  • Invest €5 billion in agriculture and the food industry, and fight for fair prices for farmers
  • Digitalise administration and renewals of official documents
  • Improve purchasing power by reducing contributions paid by employees, lessen burdens for employers and support private investment
  • Introduce the right of error to prohibit harsh penalties for administration faults
  • Improve social benefits and introduce more transparency into their allocation
  • Create a universal system for the calculation of pensions and increase old-age benefits by €100 per month
  • Extend unemployment insurance rights to all workers, even those who have quit their jobs (once every five years)
  • Cooperate with insurance companies in order to fully cover costs for glasses and hearing or dental prostheses by 2022
  • Publish the names of the companies that give equal pay and carry out checks at random to ensure they continue this

He said it:

I do not need a ventriloquist”- Macron to Marine Le Pen during the first live television debate on March 20.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, La France insoumise (left)

A 65-year-old Morocco-born Socialist Republican and former teacher who served as Minister Delegate of Vocational Education (2000-2002) in the cohabitation government of Lionel Jospin. Having worked as an editor for a printing company in Besançon and obtained a professional teaching qualification, he was very involved in journalism and led various newspaper publications. He currently works as a member of the European Parliament in the South-West constituency. Mélenchon has a daughter with his ex-wife Bernadette Abriel and has been in a relationship with actress Saïda Jawad since mid-2015.

At the request of the mayor of Massy, Claude Germon, Mélenchon moved to Essonne, where he took on various local and departmental leadership roles (1983-2004). After having been part of the Socialist Party since 1976, he left the party as a result of Reims Congress in 2008 and created the Left Party with Deputy Marc Dolez. Representing the Left Front and having received 11.1% of the votes, he came fourth in the 2012 presidential election.

Did you know? Mélenchon once worked in the watchmaking company Maty.

He proposes to:

  • Either change the EU or hold a referendum to allow France to leave it
  • Allow the UK to exit the EU without a spirit of revenge or punishment
  • Allow a democratic, social and ecological reform of European treaties through renegotiations
  • Support the UN’s commands for peacekeeping operations and reject any military intervention without a mandate from the UN
  • Reform the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to promote food independence, regulation of world markets and ecological conversion of agriculture
  • Stop free trade agreement negotiations with the United States (TAFTA) and not accept the one established with Canada (CETA)
  • Separate the banks from retail
  • Increase purchasing power by introducing a monthly net Smic of €1,300
  • Create a Personalized Poverty Reduction Plan (PPP) and ensure everyone has housing or shelter as well as access to water and electricity
  • Revoke the Loi Travail
  • Invest €50 billion in an energy transition plan to ensure France abandons nuclear energy and uses 100% renewable energies by 2050
  • Establish a ‘green rule’ where we do not take more from nature than the amount that can be regenerated
  • Implement the right to dismiss elected officials
  • Review anti-terrorism laws, improve protective measures and guarantee the judicial control of counter-terrorism operations
  • Entrust the security of public places to the police
  • Implement a staff recruitment plan to relieve congestion in courts
  • Renovate prisons to guarantee human dignity and ensure the socialisation of prisoners
  • Create a public early childhood service, strengthen the welfare of children, and create 500,000 spaces in childcare facilities within five years

He said it:

I will be the last president of the 5th Republic”. The constitutional reformer was in confident mood during the first live television debate on March 20.



Here are some key phrases and acronyms you might see during the election

  • AME – Aide médicale de l’Etat (healthcare safety net for low-income foreigners in France)
  • TAFTA – Transatlantic free trade area
  • TTIP - Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
  • libéralisme – political doctrine favouring individual rights over state powers
  • Gaullisme – political conviction based on the words and action of Charles de Gaulle
  • ISF ­- L'impôt de solidarité sur la fortune (French wealth tax)
  • quatrième age – the ‘fourth age’ – very old age
  • rayonnement politique – political influence
  • enarque – someone who attended the ENA, an administrative grande école
  • parrainage – the system in which a Presidential candidate needs 500 signatures from elected officials
  • dépouillement – the act of counting votes
  • conseil constitutional – the institution that oversees elections in France
  • ultra-marin – a resident of France’s overseas territories
  • laxisme – excessive tolerance or limited intervention by society, notably in petty crime
  • laïcité – secularism
  • le chômage – unemployment
  • le revenu universel -  a fixed, unconditional income
  • inédit – original, or never seen before
Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Income Tax in France 2023 (for 2022 income)*
Featured Help Guide
- Primarily aimed at Britons, covers pensions, rent, ISAs, shares, savings and interest - but also contains significant general information pertinent to readers of other nationalities - Overview of online declarations + step-by-step guide to the French printed forms - Includes updates given automatically after this year's site opened
Get news, views and information from France