Editorial Board

Please Be Careful, France

Voters can't afford to treat this weekend's presidential election too casually.

Some candidates are more real than others.

Photographer: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Four candidates stand a realistic chance of making it past the first round of Sunday's presidential election in France. If voters aren't careful, however, they may end up with no choice at all.

That's because two of the candidates -- National Front leader Marine Le Pen and left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon -- propose platforms so extreme that their destabilizing effect on the French economy, and on Europe, would be hard to overstate.

Le Pen wants to pull France out of the euro, close the borders to immigrants and enact a program of "economic patriotism" that includes a hefty tax on foreign products and workers. Melenchon wants a retirement age of 60, a 32-hour workweek and an effective ceiling on salaries. Oh, and he also proposes that France resign from NATO. Both have found new ways to appeal to voters, especially dissatisfied ones, partly through astute social media campaigns.

Voters deserve better than a choice between these two. Even if a mainstream party wins June's parliamentary election, a President Le Pen or a President Melenchon would have far-reaching implications for the global order, given France's importance to the EU and the near-total control over foreign policy vested in the French president.

The other two candidates are self-styled outsiders with more centrist policies. Emmanuel Macron, the presumed front-runner and former economy minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande, left government to set up his own party. He offers something for everyone but is generally pro-business and socially progressive. Francois Fillon, the surprise choice of France's center-right Republican Party, favors market reforms and less state intervention. But with his candidacy hobbled by an investigation into his use of state funds to hire family members, he hasn't had much of a chance to talk about his program.

France's two-stage voting process has generally served as a moderating influence. In the first round, the saying goes, people vote with their heart; in the second, they vote with their head. It's a tradition they may want to reconsider this year. Whatever happens Sunday, French voters need to be sure they have a real choice in the second round on May 7.

    --Editors: Therese Raphael, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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