Solidarity, sanctions or NATO-blaming: What French presidential candidates say about Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on Thursday has drawn mixed responses from those running in the French presidential race. Here's what you need to know.

Ukrainian military vehicles drive through Kyiv.
Ukrainian military vehicles drive through Kyiv. French presidential candidates have mixed positions on the Russian invasion. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

Despite the best mediation efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke extensively with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts over the past few days, Russia has launched an invasion of Ukraine. 

Russia has made aggressive land grabs before, including the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but this moment feels historic. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that the conflict could escalate into the worst war since the beginning of the 21st century.  

With less than two months to go until the French presidential election, we have broken down where the candidates stand on the Russian invasion. 

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron is yet to officially declare his intention to run for reelection, but is almost certain to do so on March 6th at a political rally in Marseille. 

He reacted angrily to the Russian invasion, taking to Twitter to demand: “Russia must immediately put an end to its military operations.”

“France stands in solidarity with Ukraine. It stands by Ukrainians and is working with its partners and allies to end the war,” he added.

Macron had been at the forefront of efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and travelled to Russia for a meeting with Vladimir Putin before heading to Ukraine.

After becoming President in 2017, Macron sought to build a personal relationship Russian President Vladimir Putin. A week after taking power, he invited Putin for a grand reception at the Palace of Versailles. 

The French President has supported sanctions Western on Russia. 

In 2019, he described NATO as “brain dead” – but he was suggesting strengthening and reforming the organisation, not withdrawing from it.

Marine Le Pen

Macron’s most likely challenger for the presidency is far-right leader, Marine Le Pen. 

She too condemned the invasion of Ukraine, releasing a statement declaring that “no reason can justify the launching of a military operation against Ukraine by Russia, which upsets the balance of peace in Europe.”

Le Pen has called for an international conference to bring an end to the conflict based on the Minsk agreement. 

She has said that to bring about peace, any notion that Ukraine could one day join into NATO should be dismissed – in line with the wishes of Putin.

In the past, Marine Le Pen’s political party, now known as the Rassemblement National, has borrowed tens of millions of euros from Russian banks and she is said to have a good personal relationship with Putin, who she has met several times. 

Russian state media is largely positive in its coverage of Marine Le Pen, who has previously spoken out against sanctions on Russia and argued that “there was no Russian invasion of Crimea.”

One of her campaign pledges is to withdraw France from NATO. 

Valérie Pécresse 

As a rightwing candidate for the centre-right Les Républicains party, Valérie Pécresse supports “targeted sanctions” on Russia and has voiced support for Ukraine. 

On Tuesday, she appeared on France Inter and described Macron’s attempted diplomacy as “arrogant, lonely and ineffective”. 

As a teenager, Pécresse attended communist youth camps in the USSR and learned to speak Russian (she is now fluent).

Her former mentor, 2027 presidential candidate François Fillon has drawn widespread condemnation in France for his statement that appears to support Putin. 

Éric Zemmour 

Former TV pundit, Éric Zemmour, is another far-right candidate running in the race. 

He put out a statement on the recent invasion, via Twitter, saying, “a new war on our continent must be avoided.” 

Zemmour has argued against sanctions on Russia however and described the current crisis as the result of a Western/NATO led expansionist policy that has “ignored the legitimate security concerns of Russia.”

If Zemmour wins the election, he said he would push for a treaty that would see the end of NATO expansion, in exchange for an end to Russian violations of the sovereignty of eastern European countries. He would like France to withdraw from NATO altogether. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

The most popular left-wing candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election is Jean-Luc Mélenchon. 

He called for an immediate end to the invasion on Thursday but has been vague on the details. 

One of Mélenchon’s campaign pledges is to withdraw France from NATO. 

The veteran politician has criticised Macron’s attempts to resolve the crisis diplomatically. 

Yannick Jadot and Anne Hidalgo

The Green candidate Yannick Jadot has called for “extremely severe” sanctions on Russia. 

He has also organised a protest outside the Russian Embassy in Paris to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Meanwhile Parti Socialiste candidate Anne Hidalgo has described the invasion of Ukraine as a “violation of international law” and called for France to react “firmly”

What about former politicians? 

Former Prime Minister – and 2017 presidential candidate – François Fillon, attracted widespread condemnation when he blamed the invasion on “the West’s refusal to take into account Russia’s demands about the expansion of NATO.”

Fillon, who lost out on the 2017 presidential race after becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal, currently sits on the board of directors for a Russian petrochemical company called Sibur. 

Meanwhile, former President François Hollande  has criticised other candidates challenging Macron for the presidency, over their position on Russia. 

“They always find extenuating circumstances every time Vladimir Putin advances and commits acts in violation of international law,” he said, on BFMTV

“Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants France to leave NATO, Éric Zemmour just as much. I am not comparing them but they have the same positions. Marine Le Pen too.” 

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France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.