Who is François Fillon? We profile the French presidential candidate of the centre-right

By on 06/12/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
François Fillon

François Fillon, who appears likely to face the hard-right Front National’s Marine le Pen in the French presidential election run-off, won the centre-right Republicain party’s primary on a promise to dramatically reduce the size of government.

Fillon became the nominee after winning nearly 2m votes – 67% of the total – in a second-round primary against the veteran politician Alain Juppé on 27 November.

A self-proclaimed admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Fillon beat the more centrist Juppé despite polls putting him in third place throughout most of the election campaign. With the centre-left Parti Socialiste deeply divided, Fillon appears well placed to end up in the final round of the presidential election; the Socialiste’s current head, president François Hollande, is highly unpopular and announced on 1 December that he will not be running for a second term.

The top motivation amongst primary voters for picking Fillon was concern about the national debt, according to pollsters at Harris Interactive in Paris. The Republican candidate has promised to slash 500,000 public sector jobs, cut public spending by €100bn, increase the retirement age to 65, cap unemployment benefits, weaken trade unions and lengthen the working week from 35 hours – the lowest in Europe – to 39.

“It seems that within a fairly substantial segment of the French right, the idea that the French state is extraordinarily bloated and needs to be cut down in size has gained increasingly in popularity,” Art Goldhammer, a senior affiliate at Harvard’s Center for European Studies, told Vox.

What else could France expect from a Fillon government?

Race and social issues

Although Le Pen is the one with a reputation for extremist views, Fillon, a former civil servant and French prime minister from 2007 to 2012, has also tapped into the growing anti-immigration sentiment in France. The author of a book on fighting Islamic totalitarianism, he has promised to limit social benefits for non-Europeans to those who have lived in France for at least two years, and to impose quotas on immigration that vary by world region.

A devout Catholic born in rural France, Fillon is socially conservative. Despite having argued against abortion and same-sex marriage in the past, he has said he would not seek to ban them while in office.

Stance on the EU

While Le Pen seeks a referendum on leaving the EU, Fillon intends to reform the union from within. He wants to reduce the power of the European Commission, and hand more control to the Council of the EU. He also proposes to reform the Schengen agreement, triple the budget of Frontex – the EU agency that coordinates national border guards– and create a central EU border force.

In a speech to the French parliament after Britain’s EU referendum in June, Fillon said: “We will never be one federal state. We are just too different. And, incidentally, it would be a historic mistake, because closer ties between states breed more aggressive nationalism.”

Defence and security

One area giving cause for concern to Fillon’s critics is his close relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who he met several times as president and with whom he has, reportedly, played billiards.

The presidential candidate wants closer ties with the Kremlin – and more distance from Washington – and has called on the EU to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow following its annexation of Crimea. Fillon has praised Putin’s strategy in Syria, and has said that France’s fight against “Islamic totalitarianism” means “we’ll need lots of allies, among them Russia”.

Despite his pledge to reduce public spending, Fillon has stated he intends to increase state expenditure on defence and justice.

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See also:

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About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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