Expat Magazine

Les Présidentiables: Meet the French Presidential Candidates

By Sedulia @Sedulia

While the French occasionally cast a horrified eye on the U.S. presidential campaign, the average American knows nothing about the French one. As a long-term expat, I enjoy the spectacle of French politics. Just like a baseball game, it becomes more interesting as you get to know the characters of the players.

So here is my far-from-disinterested and full-of-random-factoids rundown on the Présidentiables for 2012. (I'm only mentioning the ones who seem to be taken seriously by large numbers of people.) The election is sooner than the American one-- the two ballots will be held in April and May of next year. There is a by-election for the Socialists, France's apparently biggest party, coming up the 9th and 16th of this month.

Candidates on the Right

Le chef, c'est moi!


Nicolas Sarkozy is still Président de la République and eligible to run for a second five-year term. His second wife Cecilia (a descendant of Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz) dumped him for millionaire ad man/events organizer Richard Attias shortly after his election and moved to New York. Sarkozy rebounded with gorgeous Italian model and his third wife, Carla Bruni, who before she met him told a friend, "I want a man with nuclear power." They are expecting a baby any minute. Sarkozy, formerly mayor of Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris, is known for being intelligent and driven, but also extremely sensitive about his education (he did not go to a Grande École), his social status, and most notoriously, his height. There's no doubt that it was convenient for him that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had that unfortunate interlude in a New York hotel. DSK was unquestionably the front-runner.

Dominique de Villepin


Dominique de Villepin (whose de is not noble, by the way), another Sciences-Po and ÉNA graduate among so many, was just declared innocent in the Clearstream affair, which frankly was not a surprise: when was an important French politician ever found guilty of anything? He was Prime Minister of France for two years. He has published, among other books, a volume of poetry and has a daughter who was a fashion model in New York. He has returned to the political struggle, criticizing Sarkozy and his "imperial" manner. 


François Bayrou


"I will be the president who will reunite the French and get them to live together."

Bayrou is in the long French tradition of the eternal candidate. (I remember a joke from back in the Mitterrand days: "Why are all the candidates over 70?" "Because the ones over 80 are dead.") Nowadays they're more in their 50s and 60s, but with the same long political past. 

Bayrou is a centrist, practicing Catholic, a farmer who still lives on the family farm, author of a popular biography of Henri IV, and still married to his first wife, with whom he has six children. Unlike most of the other candidates, he did not go to a Grande École. He has never gotten more than 20% of the vote.

Candidates on the Left

Eva Joly


She is the Law

 Eva Joly is the Greens' candidate. She has the advantage/disadvantage that she is Norwegian by birth. She came to France as an au pair and married the son of the family she was working for. She became a well-known judge and has the reputation of being fearless and incorruptible. She recently caused an uproar by suggesting that the traditional French show of military might on Bastille Day be replaced by a civilian parade. Politicians of every stripe fell over each other denouncing her outrageous idea.

Martine Aubrey

Screen shot 2011-10-04 at 15.22.04

Martine  Aubrey is the daughter of Jacques Delors (most famous in English-speaking countries for the London Sun's headline) and the head of the French Socialist Party, which is the most popular French party at the moment. She is an ÉNA graduate (the top school for ambitious non-engineers in France), the mayor of Lille, and probably benefited the most from the sudden fall of DSK. She is seen as honest and a moderate, but unexciting. 

François Hollande and Ségolène Royal


When they were young

François Hollande and Ségolène Royal, both top Socialist politicians and ÉNA alumni, have four children together but broke up officially at about the time she was chosen over him for the French Socialist candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Royal is from a conservative Catholic family whose values she rejected. She worked in the Mitterrand administration and managed to look extremely fit during her presidential campaign when she was photographed in a bikini during her summer holiday. Her brother Gérard was honored by Mitterrand for blowing up the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand in 1985. Hollande has held a number of minor political posts and was head of the French Socialist party for years. He has struggled against his weight for most of his career, but recently lost more than 30 pounds. He is another eternal candidate.

Far Left

Jean-Luc Mélenchon


Mélenchon, who was born in Morocco of French parents, is currently the candidate of the Front de Gauche (Left Front) and of the French Communist Party, although he is not a Communist himself. He is the furthest left of the major candidates and is one of those people who calls Americans étatsuniens (a 100% guarantee that the person hates the U.S.A., so I'm not exactly impartial). His latest book is called Qu'ils s'en aillent tous! [Get rid of all of them!] in which he proposes, among other ideas, to confiscate all income above €350,000 a year. "The banks must stop commanding and start obeying."

Far Right

Marine Le Pen


The Valkyrie relegates Sarkozy and Aubry to the rank of guards. [Cartoon by kind permission of Placide.]

Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, infamous for his racist and anti-Semitic remarks, is a far more serious candidate than her father. She is opposed to further Muslim immigration and has called Muslim prayers in the streets of Paris an "occupation" of France. She says she is a centrist and a populist, saying U.S. President Obama is further to the right than she is. Le Pen benefited from a wave of public sympathy after a televised debate where she was constantly interrupted by hostile journalists asking about her father. 

A poll of 962 people "representative of the French population over 18" was just published in Le Monde. It shows Marine Le Pen doing better than her father did in 2002, the year he came in second in the French presidential election (in my opinion, because of soaring crime and the perception that the Socialists were blind to it, rather than racism).

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