As some of you might know today is the first round of the French presidential elections. About 43.2 million voters (including 1 million people living abroad) are going to the polls to choose between a generally disliked president, a Socialist candidate who became popular by default, a far-right candidate who’s trying hard to normalize her father’s party and retain a political ground often invaded by the current president mentioned above, a hard-core Gaullist, sovereignty advocate (i.e. anti-European), a centre-right candidate from the deep South who pretends to be neither right or left, a ‘Norwegian post-menopausal’ judge, 3 communist and/or Troskyist revolutionaries (including Mr Jean-Luc Mélenchon whose survey ratings average 14-16% of the votes), and last but not least a conspiracy theorist who advocates for the building of a thermonuclear tunnel from the Earth to the moon and Mars. (Meet the candidates here or here.)
During the past 4 weeks of campaigning a few international figures made it into the French political arena, including Angela Merkel who expressed her strong support to Nicolas Sarkozy, the German SPD who favours François Hollande, or Barrack Obama who strongly believes in Sarkozy’s victory (see the video here). Beyond these traditional vote-catching efforts to show the candidates’ international calibre, world politics were conspicuously absent from the debates, as if France were an island disconnected from the outside world, when so many pressing issues will have to be dealt with on an international level:
- The international, or at least European, dimension of the economic crisis lent itself to a rather sterile debate between advocates of a passé protectionism and supporters of an adaptation to globalization, as though the economic challenge awaiting our next government will merely be dealt with on internal issues such as VAT and the tax system, with no connection to the wider context.
- The European Union in dire need of reform to be able to address the debt deficit crisis is being attacked on all fronts and accused of being the cause of so many French difficulties. Nicolas Sarkozy, who 5 years ago wanted to put the Lisbon Treaty back on track, now uses the EU as a scapegoat, when François Hollande argues that he will renegotiate the latest European agreements to give them a greater social dimension, which will likely isolate France from its European partners.
- The current state of affairs in Northern Africa, the armed conflict in Sahel, the rising tensions between Israel and Iran, the civil war in Syria, none of these themes made it to the general debate, although they will pose challenges that the next French government will have to face.
The results of the first round will be announced tonight (French time). Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande will very likely be the two frontrunners. With the second stage of the campaign starting tomorrow, we may hope that global politics will finally be debated and that some thought will be given to the position of France in Europe and the world today.
 In her own words.
 For a detailed analysis of the role of International Relations in presidential elections campaign under the 5th Republic, please see: Isabelle Lebreton-Falézan, Dimensions internationales des campagnes présidentielles sous la Vème République, available at: http://www.afri-ct.org/IMG/pdf/lebreton2001.pdf