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French Presidential Debate Reveals Candidates’ Foreign Policy

The article below was written by IWP student Patricia Schouker for Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy. The full article can be found here

Last evening’s French presidential debate was unprecedented: never before had such confrontation between the presidential candidates occurred before the first round of voting, which will occur on April 23. (On May 7 a second round will occur between the two candidates with the most votes in the first round.) With five candidates and more than three hours of lively debate, there is no clear winner yet, but it is not certain French citizens will learn about these campaigns more clearly as lots of themes were addressed so briefly.

The debate was organized in three stages and asked important questions: What should the social model for France be (education, environment, security, immigration, etc.)? Which economic model should France use (taxation, working time, and unemployment)? What is France’s position in the world (European integration, relations with Russia and the United States, and France’s role in fighting international terrorism)?

It is worth remembering a French presidential election is not won over foreign policy, even if the French President is the head of state. While the candidates have taken clear positions on Europe, other major diplomatic options outlined in their policy programs remain very general. They list threats and explicitly or implicitly recall the major principles of independence and balance inherited from General de Gaulle, who founded France’s current Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as president. The war in Syria and relations with Russia are the most divisive subjects for parties on the left and right, and positions on these topics reveal the candidates’ foreign policy views the most.

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