French elections: Is Marine Le Pen really halting her campaign?

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced on Tuesday that she is 'suspending' her campaigning for the French presidential election - so what does this really mean?

French elections: Is Marine Le Pen really halting her campaign?
French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Photo by Eric PIERMONT / AFP

Le Pen’s spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that her campaign was “paused”, but added an important caveat – campaign staff are still employed and still working, but instead of more traditional campaigning, they are all concentrating on trying to find enough parrainages for Le Pen.

Several events and press conferences for the Rassemblement National (National Rally, formerly known as National Front) candidate have been cancelled. 

So what does this mean?

In order to get onto the ballot paper for a French election, candidates must meet certain conditions, and one of them is securing support from at least 500 elected representatives in France.

These are known as parrainages and can be secured from any elected official, such as local mayors, MPs, Senators or MEPs. They must also represent a geographical spread across France. You can find a full explanation of the system HERE.

So Le Pen doesn’t have her 500?

No, she does not and now she has just over a week to find them – the final deadline is Friday, March 4th.

Signatures are submitted to the Conseil Constitutionnel which offers regular updates – at the last count, published on February 22nd, Le Pen had 393 names.

According to her campaign team she has nearer 460 signatures of support, and her spokesman Jean-Lin Lacapelle told French newspaper Le Parisien: “All the staff is on the ground or on the phone to look for our final 40.” 

Is it likely that she won’t qualify?

It’s hard to know – Le Pen has frequently complained about the parrainage system, saying that it favours the large established parties and makes things difficult for outsiders. But her own party has existed in some form since the 1970s. 

Certainly the recorded numbers of parrainages so far do not reflect polling trends, with Anne Hidalgo and Valérie Pécresse – the candidates of the traditional centre-left and centre-right parties, easily securing their 500 signatures despite, in Hidalgo’s case, polling at around two percent.

Le Pen, on the other hand, has been consistently among the three highest-polling candidates and yet is apparently struggling to get her signatures.

Some see Le Pen’s campaign suspension as mere theatrics to highlight what she sees as an unfair system, while others maintain it is more serious.

Rules stipulating that all names of sponsors must be published are also seen as a disadvantage to the more polarising parties. 

Are there any other candidates still short of the 500?

The most recent Conseil Constitutionnel count showed that six candidates were still short.

Among them are TV pundit Eric Zemmour, who has created his own extreme-right movement, and far-left Jean-Luc Mélénchon who also set up his own party, albeit not as recently as Zemmour.

Zemmour and Mélenchon are polling roughly fourth and fifth in the race. 

What next?

The final deadline to have the necessary 500 parrainages is Friday, March 4th and the full list of candidates who have qualified is published on Tuesday, March 8th.

March 4th is also the deadline for candidates to have formally declared that they will run – something that current president Emmanuel Macron has not yet done, although it is widely expected that he will and he already has his 500 signatures.

Although many candidates have in reality been campaigning for many months, the formal campaign period does not begin March 28th – six weeks before the first round polling day on April 10th. During the formal campaign period, TV stations are required to give equal airtime to candidates. 

The centrist politician François Bayrou, who is not standing for president, says he has created a ‘bank’ of parrainges, which can be offered to candidates who are struggling to qualify. 

Full numbers

As of February 22nd, the most recent published data, the Conseil Constutionel recorded the following numbers of parrainages;

Above 500
Emmanuel Macron 1,463
Valérie Pecresse 2,143
Anne Hidalgo 1,177
Fabien Roussel 582
Natalie Arthaud 559

Jean Lassalle 561

Yannick Jadot 565
Below 500
Marine Le Pen 393
Eric Zemmour 350
Jean-Luc Mélenchon – 442
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 422
Christiane Taubira 104
Philippe Poutou 224
Hélène Thouy 89

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French police clear Channel migrant camps after violence leaves one dead

Police dismantled a camp housing hundreds of migrants near Dunkirk in northern France on Wednesday after one person was killed and three wounded in suspected score-settling between smugglers, authorities said.

French police clear Channel migrant camps after violence leaves one dead

Around 500 people, mainly Iraqi Kurds, had been living at the wooded site in Loon-Plage, near a canal that often serves as a key launching point for boats hoping to cross the English Channel for Britain.

Buses stood by to bring the migrants to shelters, but most left instead on foot, carrying what belongings they could.

On Monday night, one migrant was shot and killed and another wounded by what volunteer aid workers described as machine gun fire, the day after two others were also shot and wounded, one seriously.

Ammunition from “weapons of war” were found, Dunkirk’s state prosecutor Sebastian Pieve had told AFP on Tuesday, and a clash between rival smuggling groups was “a theory, but it’s not easy to establish”.

“But it’s certain that human trafficking is the backdrop to this,” he said.

Dawan, a 32-year-old Kurd, would say only “mafia, mafia” when asked by AFP about the shootings.

He said he had recently paid €1,600 to a smuggler who said he would get him to England after spending five months in France, but the man disappeared the next day.

Claire Millot of the Salam migrant aid group said most volunteer associations had quit operating at Loon-Plage out of security fears, adding that Africans and other nationalities had recently been seen in an area usually occupied mainly by Kurds.

More than 7,000 migrants have managed to cross the busy shipping lane and reach the British coast since January, after the number of arrivals tripled to over 28,000 last year — which saw at least 30 migrants die while trying.