It is good news for this country that François Fillon has succeeded in positioning himself as the likely candidate for the Republican Party in France’s presidential election, due to be held next April. In fact a recent poll showed Fillon beating the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who is second favourite. He would obtain 61 per cent of the votes were the two to meet in a second and final round. So Fillon will very likely displace the hapless François Hollande from the Elysée in 2017 just when our Brexit negotiations are reaching a crucial stage.
So we should look carefully at Fillon, who on Sunday decisively won the first round of the Republican Party’s primary elections, forcing former president Nicholas Sarkozy into unwanted retirement on the way. And while there are lots of interesting aspects to Fillon’s domestic policy plans, note first where he stands on Europe.
He believes in a “Europe of Nations” that would be “respectful of the sovereignty of France” – and no doubt of Britain, too. In his policy statement, Fillon argues that Europe must be a means of achieving certain ends and not a religion. In particular he would make the Schengen area – 26 European states, not including Britain, that have officially abolished passport control at their mutual borders – a “Schengen of Justice”, meaning that anyone found guilty of a crime anywhere in the area would automatically be sent back to their own country. With these opinions, Fillon sounds very much like somebody with whom Theresa May could do business.
More than that, there are other points of similarity between the two politicians. He represents the traditional right wing of politics in France, which is, to quote Le Monde, quite liberal, often Catholic and concerned with questions of identity. In fact, Fillon is as much a traditional Catholic as May is a traditional Anglican.
It is interesting, too, to analyse why in the opinion polling before Sunday, Alain Juppé suddenly appeared to fall back while Fillon forged ahead. The turning point seems to have Juppé’s courting of MoDem, a centrist political party founded by François Bayrou. It seems that Fillon’s supporters have as little enthusiasm for centre-ground politics as May’s Conservatives would have for another coalition with the Lib Dems.
Another plus for Fillon in May’s estimation is likely to be that he is an admirer of Margaret Thatcher. He showed a Thatcher-like frankness in expression and a deploring of excessive debt when, soon after becoming Prime Minister in 2007, he told an audience in Corsica that he was at the head of a “bankrupt state”. His President, Sarkozy, was not amused. Now in his plans for his own presidency, he proclaims bravely that he would cut 500,000 public sector jobs in five years. He would also ditch the controversial 35-hour week legislation. Companies would be able to negotiate whatever length of working week they preferred up to a limit of 48 hours.
Finally, there is an upright way of handling themselves in private as well as in public that unites Fillon and May. For instance, Sarkozy’s numerous brushes with the law over party funding have genuinely shocked Fillon. When he began his campaign he exclaimed: “Can you imagine De Gaulle having to deal with criminal charges?”
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
Nor could he be further from the “bling-bling” for which Sarkozy was famous. No doubt he has similar concerns about President Hollande’s comportment in office. As Valerie Trierweiller, Hollande’s official partner living at Elysée, asked when she discovered he was playing loose: “Where is the exemplary President? A President does not conduct two wars and at the same time dash off to meet an actress in a side street when the opportunity presents itself.”
Nonetheless, there is one big difference between Fillon and May that may surprise – their attitude to President Putin. Fillon seems to take President-elect Trump’s line. Fillon and Vladimir Putin have met numerous times since 2012. Fillon thinks it wrong to make Russia the sole cause of trouble in Ukraine. And he would like to see a coalition between Russia and Iran to defeat Isis in Syria.
Would that mean having to ally France with the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad? Yes, if necessary. That is a difference with Britain’s policy. Nonetheless, Theresa May could well think, bring on Fillon.Reuse content