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Meet The Candidates In The French Election That's Rattling Markets

Dustin Blitchok

The polls open for the first round of voting in France’s presidential election Sunday, and depending on who ultimately wins, the country could undergo as seismic a political shift as the U.S. did with the election of President Donald Trump.

The leading candidates — Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon — were polling within 5.5 points of each other as of Friday, according to Bloomberg.

If one candidate out of the field of 11 doesn't receive a majority, a runoff between the two highest vote-getters will be held May 7. French presidents serve a five-year term.

France Under Fire?

A Paris police officer was fatally shot and three other people were wounded Thursday by a man identified as Karim Cheurfi, a French national, who was killed by police.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the incident.

Trump tweeted a thinly veiled hat tip to Le Pen — who supports pulling France out of NATO and limiting immigration to 10,000 people per year — the morning after the attack in Paris.

“Another terrorist attack in Paris,” Trump wrote. “The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!”

The views of the leading candidates run the length of the political spectrum, from Melenchon, who has been compared to former presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, to Le Pen, whose candidacy under the banner of the National Front party has parallels to Trump’s successful campaign.

The outcome of the French election could have worldwide economic repercussions, which some of the candidates’ views resting far outside the country’s status quo. Le Pen has voiced a willingness to hold a Brexit-style referendum on a French withdrawal from the European Union, and Melenchon.

Here’s a look at the four front-runners appearing on the ballot Sunday in the country of 67 million people.

Emmanuel Macron

Macron, 39, is a centrist who’s leading in the polls by a slight margin. A former investment banker and minister of the economy, industry and digital affairs in the French government, Macron is running on a platform of spending cuts, economic stimulus and maintaining the country’s membership in the EU. He’s pro-immigration, a position that stands in stark contrast to fellow front-runner Le Pen.

Macron’s policy ideas include tweaking France’s 35-hour work week, hiring more teachers and cutting corporate taxes from 33 to 25 percent, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of the candidates.

Marine Le Pen

Le Pen, 48, leads the National Front, the right-wing party founded by her father Jean-Marie.

The party, which Le Pen booted her father from in 2015, has a history of anti-Semitism — the elder Le Pen once called the gas chambers used by the Nazis during the Holocaust a “a point of detail of the history of the Second World War,” and has repeated the remark as recently as two years ago. The younger Le Pen has stated her willingness to hold a referendum on a “Frexit” from the EU if the membership can’t be renegotiated.

She supports dramatically tougher immigration policies, lower taxes and an increased social safety net, including a lowered retirement age.

Francois Fillion

Fillon, 63, a former prime minister, was the presumed front-runner until a scandal known as “Penelopegate” — an investigation into allegations he paid his wife, Penelope, public funds for doing little work.

The center-right candidate and member of the Republicans is a social and fiscal conservative whose policy proposals include a longer French working week — 39 hours rather than 35 — as well as public sector job cuts, a higher retirement age and tax cuts.

The conservative’s support of a reduced safety net stands in contrast with Le Pen’s positions, and so does his stance on the EU: Fillon supports France’s membership and wants to strengthen it, according to Reuters.

Jean-Lic Melenchon

Mélenchon, 65, is a left-wing candidate with Communist Party support who has been called the French Bernie Sanders. “I like the comparison,” Mélenchon told the Los Angeles Times last week.

The former senator and minister-delegate of vocational education backs a 100-billion-euro stimulus plan, according to Reuters, a NATO withdrawal and possible EU “Frexit.”

Mélenchon’s platform calls for a 90-percent tax rate on French citizens earning more than 400,000 euros annually and a devaluation of the euro.

His campaign is also calling for changes in how France’s government is run, including constitutional changes that would reduce presidential powers and a voting age of 16 rather than the present 18.

Hard Left And Hard Right Candidates Could Face Off

Mélenchon’s place among the top four candidates leading the polls raises the prospect of a runoff in May between two candidates with radically different stances than most French politicians of yore

“The prospect of a Mélenchon-Le Pen runoff, written off several weeks ago, no longer seems impossible,” New York Times reporter Adam Nossiter wrote in an April 16 story.

Although their views come from markedly different places, Mélenchon and Le Pen both support policies cool to the EU and NATO and a beefed-up safety net for citizens, such as a 60-year-old retirement age.

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