Votes, budgets, rules: how the French election works and quirky facts

France’s presidential election begins in less than a week

Inside a polling station in France
Voters fill out a voting slip in a curtained booth, put it in an envelope provided and place it in a transparent box
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When is the election?

It will most probably (explained later) be in two parts – on Sunday April 10 and Sunday April 24.

To elect whom?

The next French president, who will serve for five years.

French presidents can only serve two terms, and have more powers as head of state than most. They are in direct personal charge of defence and diplomacy and they appoint and can sack the prime minister.

They can also pardon people in jail and/or reduce sentences. In an exceptional emergency, they can seize almost total power.

The incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, is expected to win, although he waited until March 3 to declare his candidacy.

Why so late?

Perhaps he was too busy, or to destabilise other candidates, or because he felt his other activities – heading the presidency of the EU, negotiating with Putin over Ukraine, touring France announcing post-Covid policies – were tantamount to campaigning anyway.

Who can vote?

Voters must have French nationality, be 18 or over on April 9, 2022, and have registered to vote at their local mairie before March 4.

Exceptions are made for those coming of age, moving house, and getting French nationality, who can register until 10 days before the vote.

French nationals living abroad can register to vote at a French consulate.

How many people vote?

In 2017, 77.77% of registered voters turned out for the first round, and 74.56% for the second – slightly down from the two previous elections, which saw turnouts of around 80%.

Who can be a candidate?

Anyone French can present themselves in the first round (premier tour) as long as they are over 18, have not been deprived of the right to hold elected office (which can happen if someone is found guilty of fraud, for example), and have fulfilled any national service obligations.

They need to be presented as a suitable candidate by 500 elected officials from at least 30 different departments but do not need the backing of a political party.

The official list of 11 candidates was published on March 7. All must publicly reveal their finances and business interests.

Read more: French election candidates have to declare their wealth: Here it is

How much can they spend?

Candidates can spend no more than €16,851,000 for the first round, rising to €22,509,000 if they get through to the second.

Companies are not allowed to donate to campaign funds, and individuals cannot give more than €4,600 a year.

Funds can only be raised from private donations or from political parties. Loans cannot be accepted from foreign states or from non-European banks.

Candidates who score 5% or more of the vote are reimbursed 47.5% of the maximum. Those who poll less get only 4.75% reimbursed.

When does the trail start?

Campaigning officially begins on March 28, and each candidate must be given exactly the same airtime. At midnight on the Friday before the Sunday election, candidates must cease campaigning and observe le silence électoral.

Read more: ‘When I am president’: The key policies of final 12 French candidates

French media is prohibited from quoting presidential candidates or their supporters during this time, or any kind of opinion poll. The same applies in the run-up to the second round.

What about polls?

French polling is relentless and often inaccurate, with people often complaining that elections are more about polls than policies.

This year, France’s largest-circulation daily, the regional Ouest-France, has refused to publish poll results during the election to prevent the tail wagging the dog.

Read more: Who owns France’s media and what are their political leanings?

Where do people vote?

Voters are sent a package by post containing every candidate’s manifesto, plus a voting slip for each candidate. These are replicated in the polling station, which is often a local school or mairie.

Polling stations open at 8:00, and voters can either use their voting card or carte d’identité as ID.

They enter a curtained booth with one or more voting slips, and place one in a small envelope.

On exiting the booth, they place the envelope in a Perspex box, and sign the register to confirm they have voted.

Several officials oversee the voting process.

What about holidays?

Anyone who cannot vote in person (because they are on holiday or working, or in hospital) can appoint a proxy. See

What about transparency?

Polling stations generally close at 19.00 (20.00 in large cities) and votes are counted by local officials in the polling station. Anyone can watch.

Why two rounds?

It is often said that the first round is when the French vote with their hearts, and the second (deuxième tour) with their heads, to choose between the two candidates who got the most votes in the first round.

To be elected outright in the first round, a candidate must get 50% or more of the votes, which must represent at least 25% of those eligible to vote.

This has only happened once: in 1848, when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte won 74% of votes.

When will the winner start?

Power is transferred at the latest on the last day of the current president’s term, which is May 13, 2022.

Read more: Signatures, power transfer: key dates for French presidential election

Are there any more elections?

The next elections (les législatives) are on June 12 and June 19 to elect the 577 parliamentary MPs.

This is sometimes called the third round, as the political make-up of the lower house is what will make it easy or difficult for the new president to pass legislation.

What does a president earn, and are there other perks?

President Macron’s salary after tax and contributions is €8,500 per month – less than most heads of state (Boris Johnson earns £161,401 per year).

Presidents normally get a pension of €5,496.71 a month, but Mr Macron has renounced this as part of a move towards creating a single system for calculating retirement pensions.

He can, however, call himself ‘president’ for life and has a right to ongoing secretarial staff and security.

He can make use of an apartment and claim expenses when travelling or entertaining as ex-president.

French presidents also automatically gain the title of Co-Prince of Andorra, shared with a Spanish bishop.

However, in France the presidency remains strictly republican. At Epiphany the Elysée traditionally receives a specially-made galette without a fève as it is seen inappropriate for the president to be a ‘king’.

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