Who is François Fillon?
SİNAN BAYKENTLes Républicains, the French conservative party, held primaries for the first time in their history. Political analysts had already become disoriented at the first round results, in which ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy was eliminated. But the main surprise came from the outsider of the primaries, François Fillon, a staunch Catholic social-conservative figure who once assumed the role of prime minister under the rule of Sarkozy.
Alain Juppé, the media’s early favorite, experienced a huge reverse as he came second in the first round, with only 27 percent of the total votes in contrast to Fillon, who obtained nearly 44 percent. Many analysts claimed that Juppé should have conceded defeat earlier, at the end of the first round, to avoid a total debacle in the second. It turns out that analysts were right. Fillon literally smashed his opponent on Sunday night and became the conservative presidential candidate for 2017 with nearly 65 percent of the votes.
Polls in France show that the presidential race in 2017 will be between the conservative candidate and Marine Le Pen, the nationalist leader of Front National. Far-right leader Le Pen is well-known in France and abroad. However, Fillon represents a cagey candidate, lacking in personal charisma and widely ignored on the international scene, at least until now.
Who really is François Fillon and what are his values?
Beyond generic biographical descriptions, Fillon is a sharp-edged Catholic. He opposed gay marriage in 2013 and criticized the right to abortion in his campaign. As the Syrian crisis deepened, Fillon stood up for Eastern Christians’ rights and freedoms. He was the sole political figure in France who was continuously making the situation of Eastern Christians an issue. As Fillon adopted a radical stance on this matter, his opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) became more aggressive. He considered Russia and Bashar al-Assad to be the most effective partners in the fight against ISIL and urged the current president, François Hollande, to open dialogue with Putin and al-Assad. Except for Marine Le Pen, Fillon was the only right-wing politician to support cooperation with Russia and Syria. He also made this issue a leading campaign axis during recent months.
On economic issues, Fillon is a firm free-market supporter. He proposed progressively cutting off nearly 500,000 public jobs, a proposal which makes him very unpopular in leftist circles. Labor unions recently expressed their concerns of potential “Thatcherite” measures endangering workers’ rights. Fillon also said he would end the 35-hour work week and raise the retirement age. All these topics are highly sensitive in a country such as France, which is renowned for its extensive social policies.
Finally, Fillon opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU. Several weeks ago, he affirmed that the EU was not “truthful” to Turkey.
“Everybody knows that Turkey will never get into the EU. I don’t want to lie to the Turkish people. Turkey is a great nation, but it won’t integrate into the EU,” he said on TV.
One could say that Fillon is the most “rightist” candidate of all times. Fillon’s positions are similar to Le Pen’s on domestic and international issues. Nevertheless, the main clash between the two candidates will probably occur on economic and social issues.
Fillon has gained serious momentum, but Le Pen is no easy opponent.