Tawfik Jelassi, IMD Professor and Strategy and Technology Management, recent Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Information & Communication Technologies in Tunisia, and French and Tunisian national, discusses the upcoming French presidential election in an interview.

How could France’s right wing scandals impact the presidential race? Do you believe that they are helping the Front National?

Tawfik Jelassi: France’s right wing scandals will undoubtedly impact the outcome of the upcoming presidential race in a major way. These scandals have already propelled Emmanuel Macron and have significantly increased his chances of advancing to the second round of the election. Although he was initially considered as an outsider, he has now risen to the second position in the opinion polls, running almost neck-and-neck with Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National. This party will see some gains due to the right’s scandals; however, the impact will be limited since Ms. Le Pen is herself being accused of having misspent hundreds of thousands of Euros of European Union funds.

What would be the economic consequences if the National Front wins the election? Do you believe that we should start to think about a Frexit? And what about the end of EU?

Tawfik Jelassi: If the National Front wins the election, then I think the impact could be huge on France, Europe and the world. Ms. Le Pen is known for her nationalistic policies, which could well translate into a Frexit, protectionism, the end of some free trade agreements, an exit from the Euro zone, a ban on immigration, and even new laws to expel some categories of immigrants. France, the birth place of the declaration of human rights and the land of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” would cease to be the country we have known it to be since the French revolution for its values of freedom, openness, and cross-cultural enrichment. Obviously, if a Frexit happens, that would seriously endanger the European Union which might not survive the departure of its heavy-weight co-founder that has been a major pillar of the EU’s construction since 1959.

How could the wave of nationalism sweeping the world influence the French presidential race? Should the world be prepared to deal with a leader like Marine Le Pen?

Tawfik Jelassi:
All opinion polls show that Marine Le Pen will be able to advance to the second round of the French presidential election but would not win it. I think that the majority of the French people do not wish to see the leader of an extreme right party becoming the President of the country. It is not a matter of who this leader is, but rather the ideas and policies that in this case Marine Le Pen and her party have been advocating. It is true that in many countries around the world, the wave of nationalism has been gaining ground and its leaders rising to power. However, my personal conviction is that France is not ready for it, may be not yet! 

Tawfik Jelassi is Professor of Strategy and Technology Management at IMD.  He is also Co-Director of the OWP program in Lausanne and Singapore.