François Fillon has won the primary race to become France’s center-right presidential candidate in next year’s elections, after defeating former President Nicolas Sarkozy and Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé in the first-and second round of voting.
The former prime minister, who had long been the third man in a race between Sarkozy and Juppé, was propelled into the candidacy on Sunday when he garnered around 66.5% of the votes. Juppé only received around 33%.
The race is significant because polling suggests the primary’s winner will likely be the main challenger to far-right, Euroskeptic National Front leader Marine Le Pen in next year’s election. Here is what you need to know about the French politician:
He beat his boss in the first round of the primary
Sarkozy once belittled Fillon— who served under him as prime minister from 2007 to 2012— by calling him his “employee.” By Nov. 20, Fillon had effectively ended the political career of his former boss. After months behind Sarkozy in the polls, Fillon took more than 44% of the vote in the first round on Nov. 20.
Sarkozy conceded defeat from his campaign headquarters, giving Fillon his endorsement over the more centrist Juppé.
He’s an economic liberal who loves Margaret Thatcher
The former French Prime Minister has a business-friendly platform: He has called for an extension to the retirement age, seeks to slash benefits, scrap the 35-hour work week and cut 600,000 public sector jobs in order to fund tax breaks for companies. This approach is likely to trigger massive strikes, but Fillon is ready to battle the unions.
“My fellow Frenchmen have told me, everywhere, they want to break away from a bureaucratic system which saps their energy; everywhere they told me their desire for authority,” Fillon, who admires the late U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, told his supporters on Sunday, Reuters reports.
Where he differs from Thatcher is his reluctance to privatize state companies. It has been argued that as prime minister, Fillon failed to deliver on the economic reforms that his administration promised to deliver.
He is also a pro-E.U. politician who has taken a hard line towards Britain’s exit from the bloc, calling for a “fast” divorce without the European financial passport.
He’s a social conservative who voted against same-sex marriage
His socially conservative views enjoy support from France’s Catholic Right. Fillon claims to stand for Christian family values, voting against same-sex marriage and campaigning against medically-assisted procreation for lesbian couples of single women. He promised to uphold the principle that “a child is always the fruit of a father and mother” in a letter to church leaders last month, and caused anger during his campaign when he suggested that French colonialism was France’s way of “sharing our culture.”
Fillon’s views sit to the left of Sarkozy— who pandered to the far-right electorate with his strident appeals to French identity and muscular approach to immigration and Islam— and to the right of Juppé’s more integrationist message aimed at the party’s centrist voters. He has warned against the threat of “Islamic totalitarianism,” wants a special antiterrorism judicial unit and says he will strip French nationals embarking on jihad of their citizenship.
He wants a closer relationship with Russia
Like U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Fillon has a more conciliatory approach to Russia and wants to form a Western coalition to fight ISIS with Russian President Vladimir Putin— a man he once praised as a “cold and effective” pragmatist. Fillon thinks the West was largely to blame for the disintegration of relations with Russia and should seek rapprochement with the country. “I think [the West] made huge errors in dealing with Russia after the Soviet Union’s collapse” Fillon told reporters at the European-American press club in Paris, Politico reports. “We committed errors that led to the tensions that we know today … We partly provoked the situation.”
He has suggested siding with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to help eliminate ISIS, telling the Financial Times: “I have no sympathy for Assad, but he is not going to disappear.”
He lives a rural life… with a bit of race-driving on the side
Fillon lives in a 12th century chateau with his Welsh wife, Penelope, and their five children, in a village in north-west France. The amateur racer takes part in a 24-hour racing event in his hometown and is known for driving classic sports cars at the Le Mans race track. He told the FT that he lives for speed and that he would create a “shock” to eradicate French gloom.
He studied law at Université Paris Descartes, was elected to the French parliament in 1981 and continued a long political career that saw him take a variety of cabinet roles. That makes him a product of the establishment — which could interfere if he does indeed face off against Le Pen in next year’s general election.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the leader of the National Front party. She is Marine Le Pen.
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