Image: Véronique-Védrenne

The first round of the 2017 French presidential election will be held on 23 April 2017: according to opinion polls, François Fillon for The Republicans and Marine Le Pen for the National Front are the favourites. EACD member Caroline Guillaumin shared her impressions of the political debate in France.

As an observer of the campaigns for the French presidential elections in April this year, how would you characterise the quality of the political debate?

Unfortunately, as it is often the case in elections campaigns, the affairs and scandals are sometimes more visible in the media and in people’s conversations than the programmes themselves. This time it is no different. As a French citizen my interest is in knowing what kind of project each candidate has in mind for my country, what about Europe? Nevertheless, I have to say that the debates that took places for the right and left candidates have been widely followed and of interest. Could substance prevail over form?

This week’s primary elections by the French Socialist Party caused some chaos, with the media story focusing on the possible falsification of votes. What do you think of the Socialist Party’s handling of communications on this matter?

I would be very humble in judging crisis communication. We all know how difficult it is to react when things are already hitting the headlines, especially with social media. Two remarks nevertheless: one, the socialist party changed positions over time: first nothing happened, then it could be a human error or a computer bug. It is always better to check first and communicate after. Second, not all socialist representatives had the same version. It is always good to align people.

The success of Marie Le Pen is part of a broader, European-wide move towards nationalism. With last year’s election of Trump, is the success of European nationalists such as Le Pen a certainty?

Certainly not, or at least we need to fight together against populism and nationalism, wherever we are. And by the way, is it not what our jobs are about? Educating? Remembering and learning lessons from the past? The reality is that politicians have not done a good job in many European countries: not being honest about economic realities, not being exemplary, not defending the values of Europe. It brought strong polling results for people who are, by the way, good communicators that say exactly what a lot of people want to hear. But it is not inevitable!

Have the Left and Centre Right presented strong enough arguments against Le Pen?

Let's be honest, the arguments of the extreme right are not easy to fight as they are exactly what a lot of people want to hear when they are going through tough times (unemployment, insecurity, terrorism...) In terms of communication we know that the simpler the arguments are, the easier it is to convey. Second, in order to fight these types of arguments you need to address the issues yourself. For some time, issues like immigration or security were not addressed by left and right politicians because there were considered as the themes of the extreme right.

In January, Le Parisien announced it will stop commissioning polls, preferring instead on-the-ground interviews. As a news consumer, has your faith in polls been shaken by their wrong conclusions – whether Trump or Brexit – last year? Or, as a professional communicator, will you continue to use them in your work?

Polls are not the guaranteed truth. We certainly used them too much, especially in the political environment. It is a picture of a given time and moment and it is based on human reactions that can vary at any time. Prudence should be our key word as communicators. As a professional communicator I use them carefully and only in relation with other indicators.


About Caroline Guillaumin

Caroline Guillaumin has been a member of the EACD since 2007. She is head of communications at France-based bank and financial services company Société Générale Group. Prior to that, she was senior vice president of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Alcatel-Lucent.

About this blog

Throughout the year, EACD will publish a series of online content around our 2017 themes: Authenticity, Personalisation of Communications, Digitalisation, Europe, and Trust. To share your insights on these topics, contact info@eacd-online.eu