With Francois Fillon’s presidential campaign roiled by scandal less than three months before voting starts, France’s major companies are increasingly looking toward Emmanuel Macron, a business-friendly political novice who’s only just begun sketching details of how he would govern, Bloomberg reports .
Most corporate leaders had quietly placed their bets on Fillon, a center-right stalwart who was prime minister from 2007 to 2012. Fillon’s pledges to slash government spending, reform labor laws and ease regulations on business were one attraction. But he also looked to be a firewall against the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen, whose proposals to exit the euro and erect trade barriers are anathema to French multinationals.
Le Pen is likely to take first place in the initial round of voting on April 23, according to public-opinion polls, though no survey has shown her winning in the second round.
Until recently, Fillon was favorite to beat her in the runoff. But his support has been eroded by reports his wife and two of his children earned more than 900,000 euros ($969,000) in public funds as parliamentary aides without actually doing a commensurate amount of work. The turmoil in Fillon’s camp is prompting companies and trade groups to take a closer look at other candidates — especially Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande who’s running as an independent.
The latest poll, released Saturday, February 4 by BVA, shows Le Pen winning 25 percent in the first round, and qualifying for the run-off with Macron, who’d get 21-22 percent. Fillon would receive 18-20 percent and be eliminated. In a hypothetical second round, Macron would crush Le Pen 66-34 percent while Fillon would beat her 60-40 percent.
“Macron has found himself in pole position, almost by default,” says Paul Boury, a Paris lobbyist who represents several major corporations and trade associations.
While French business leaders are famously discreet about politics, they reach out informally to candidates, often quizzing them over private lunches and dinners. Fillon’s backers include Henri de Castries, former chairman of insurance giant AXA, and Pierre Danon, former head of cable TV company Numericable. But the courtship ritual has been upended, as some now view Fillon’s damaged candidacy as beyond repair.
A telecommunications industry leader, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, says corporate leaders should now focus on Macron instead and make contact with Socialist nominee Benoit Hamon, while waiting to see whether Fillon’s Republican party replaces him.
The leader of a major trade association who asked not to be named because his group doesn’t comment publicly on politics said the whole Republican candidacy may be a writeoff, as he sees no one on the bench with the skills to mount a successful national campaign. Fillon has said he won’t step aside unless he’s placed under formal investigation.