On Sunday, French citizens will head to the polls to elect a new president. Based on recent polls, it appears that no one will get a majority, so the top two candidates will advance to a run-off election.
This is an exceptionally important election. In a sense, it is about the future of the European Union (EU).
The four leading candidates fall into two camps: for or against the EU. Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon are both centrists who favor it. Marine Le Pen, representing the far right, and Jean-Luc Melenchon, far left, share a belief that the EU is hurting France, though they disagree on the best route forward.
Don’t be surprised if Le Pen or Melenchon (or both!) move on to the next round.
The problem for the EU is that the value proposition is weak. Why should France be part of it? How does France benefit? For many French citizens, the benefits of the EU are hard to see. The costs are far more apparent. EU leaders have done a very poor job highlighting the benefits on the unified block.
A few weeks ago I spoke with a French shopkeeper about the election and the EU. He explained that the situation is very simple. The EU is good for relatively poor countries like Greece and Romania; it is bad for France. As a member of the EU, the French end up helping all the other countries in Europe and get very little in return.
This isn’t a very accurate or sophisticated assessment of the EU, but it is simple, clear and compelling. I suspect many people in France feel the same way. This is why Sunday is such an important day for France, the EU and the world.