François Fillon, France’s free-market revolutionary

François Fillon, France’s free-market revolutionary, by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany. François Fillon is expected to win Sunday’s race for France’s center-right presidential nomination. He is often liked to Margaret Thatcher, a comparison he welcomes.

“Fillon is at the centre of gravity of the traditional right,” Pascal Perrineau, a professor at Sciences Po, says. “They are normally a quiet bunch, but they have woken up with the gay marriage law.”

Francois Fillon, 2008

If these voters confirm their support in a second round of voting on Sunday, France will come closer to having its own “Margaret Thatcher moment”. Like the former British premier, Mr Fillon is far from being an EU enthusiast and favours economic “shock” therapy, vowing to cut 500,000 civil service jobs and reduce the welfare state to fund €50bn in tax breaks for companies.

A free-market revolution would be a novelty in France, a nation built on the idea of a strong state and which is prone to periodic labour unrest. But a significant portion of the rightwing electorate now believes that previous attempts to save the eurozone’s second-largest economy from decline have failed. …

Polls suggest that, as the centre-right’s candidate, he would be well placed to qualify for the presidential runoff next year given the unpopularity of President François Hollande. He would in all likelihood face Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, and would probably beat her.

Yet, in a climate of electoral volatility, other scenarios are possible. Mr Fillon could have a harder time rallying the left against Ms Le Pen than Mr Juppé, who has developed a milder supply-side platform and holds more liberal views on social issues. …