French and world media focused tightly on the first round of France’s presidential election this evening local time as polls showed independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and extreme right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen advancing to the second round. In a historic result that does not include the country’s major political parties, the two will now go head-to-head in a runoff election on May 7 to determine France’s next leader, possibly impacting its position within the EU and the media business at home.
Back in November, Le Pen, who has run on an anti-immigration, anti-EU platform, was the first international politician to publicly offer her congratulations to then President-elect Donald Trump. More recently, she leveled rare criticism at Trump after the U.S. President ordered airstrikes on Syria in early April. POTUS has thus far not chimed in on tonight’s result other than to call the election “very interesting” several hours before the first projections were released.
National networks and French and international 24-hour news channels blanketed coverage throughout the late afternoon and well into the night as the polls closed and as defeated candidates threw their weight largely behind Macron. That included the Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon and the right’s François Fillon who urged supporters to avoid a final election result that would hand power to Le Pen. “There is no other choice than to vote against the far right,” Fillon said. French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called on the nation to vote for Macron and thwart the National Front’s “disastrous project of the regression of France and division of the French people.”
This is the first time since the post-war period that the traditional left and right French parties did not advance to the second round. Brazilian daily Folha called the result, “almost a new French Revolution” while The Daily Mail just went ahead and declared it a “New French Revolution.”
Italy’s Corriere Della Sera said the great traditional parties are “finished.” In an editorial, The Guardian called the outcome “a win for Macron and hope.” Noting the 1789 storming of the Bastille set a high bar, it said, “few phrases should be used with more circumspection than ‘French revolution.’ But the result of the first round of France’s 2017 presidential election is an epochal political upheaval for France all the same.”
Protests erupted tonight at Paris’ Place de la Bastille where police fired tear gas on demonstrators following the announcement of the projected results. According to reports, the crowds of young people included some from anarchist and anti-fascist groups protesting Le Pen’s showing and her hardline policies.
“Let’s measure the rupture,” Libération wrote in an editorial. “France, divided for two centuries into left and right, has chosen a neophyte centrist, the author of an extraordinary cavalcade; and an extreme right candidate who scored below expectations, leaving the right and the left on the side of the road.” Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine posted an editorial titled, “Torn France.” English-language Chinese press is playing it straight, but not leading with the news.
Tonight, in her victory speech, Le Pen said, “untamed globalization” is threatening France and its culture. “Either we carry on towards total deregulation without any borders and free circulation of terrorists or we choose a France with borders to protect our nationality… It is time to liberate the French people. I am the candidate of the people… The survival of France is at stake.”
Macron spoke later in the evening, telling French citizens, “Never forget these months during which you changed the course of our country… I want to become your president, the president of the people of France. The president of patriots in the face of the threat of nationalists… In your name I take with me to the second round the need for optimism and the voice of hope that we wish for our country and for Europe.”
Early polls tonight have Macron winning in the runoff in May. Earlier this month, Enders Analysis published a note saying that a Macron presidency could reshape the French media and telecom corporate landscape, particularly were the state to fully privatize France’s largest telecoms group, Orange. The state still controls 23% of Orange and last year Macron, then Economy Minister, blocked a proposed Bouygues-Orange merger because he opposed Bouygues becoming the largest private sector investor in Orange without paying a control premium. But the play would change if the state decided to offload its stake, an option contemplated by Macron when in government, Enders’ François Godard wrote. A fully privatized Orange would then be able to use its equity freely to pursue consolidation and acquisitions.
Enders also said it would expect a Macron administration “to demonstrate more independence than its predecessors in the face of a powerful cultural industries lobby.” Macron is committed to a full review of French cultural policies which could result in “a shake-up of the tight regulation of television that diverts content investment into the politically connected film industry to the detriment of other scripted video content.” Broadcasters have long been obliged to invest a percentage of their annual revenue back into the movie business.
In contrast, were Le Pen to advance and were she to succeed at the difficult task of pushing ahead with a Frexit, it’s thought the French television and production industry is relatively isolated. “There are barriers so that it’s not deeply integrated into a European industry,” Godard previously told Deadline.
Per Godard’s note, “We think there is a post-populist scenario ready to emerge from the French elections that is worth certainly as much attention as the barbarians-at-the-gate story.”
The election is likely to cast a shadow over the Cannes Film Festival which unspools 10 days after the final round. Fest President Pierre Lescure recently predicted of the election, “It will be a tense moment.” But he added, “We intend for this festival to be a parentheses and a time to breathe that allows us to only talk about cinema and how that is reflected in the rest of the world.”
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