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French socialists could be fighting a lost cause

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a speech during the 'Paris Europlace' financial forum
DOMINIQUE FAGET | AFP | Getty Images
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a speech during the 'Paris Europlace' financial forum

The seven candidates fighting to represent the socialist party in the upcoming presidential election in France are facing each other in the first of four TV debates on Thursday.

However, their efforts may be in vain as support for the center-right candidate, Francois Fillon, and the independent Emmanuel Macron strengthens.

"The current simulated polls for the first round show any socialist candidate … getting a bad 10 percent," Charles Lichfield, Europe associate at the Eurasia group, told CNBC on Thursday.

Among the seven candidates is the former prime minister, Manuel Valls, who left the seat vacant to run for the presidency. However, discontent in France with the socialist leadership both in parliament and in the presidency, tied up with stronger public support for right-wing views, is making the socialist case difficult to get across.

The socialist primaries take place on January 22 and 29.


Current opinion polls show that whoever leads the French socialist party in the election will have a hard time to overtake the center-right leader Francois Fillon and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. A POP 2017 poll showed Thursday a lead of 24 percent to Fillon, slightly above Le Pen. The same survey showed the independent runner Emmanuel Macron, who previously served as economy minister, in third place with between 16 to 20 percent of the votes, Reuters reported.

According to Lichfield, Fillon is "the favorite to win, absolutely." Also a former prime minister, Fillon has proposed a quota regime for non-EU nationals moving to France and wants more market-friendly policies, such as lowering labour costs.

"But there's a brutality to his message which I think he hasn't managed to counter or alleviate and that's becoming a bit of a problem," Lichfield added.

Though support for the far-right party Front National seems to have decreased over recent weeks, the central scenario remains a second round dispute between Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon.

"The FN's brand is still rather toxic. (Marine Le Pen) has tried to detoxify it and in doing that she has confused what she's saying a bit. The fact she has lost a bit of ground in polls recently suggest to me that some of the conservative values people have moved back to the candidate of center-right Francois Fillon and you have other candidates suddenly taking off, so it's not a certainty that she will even be in the second round anymore though, that is the central scenario," Lichfield added.

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