France: Second Left-wing Primary Ahead Of The 2017 Presidential Election In Paris
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France’s socialist candidate propelled himself to the top on these three ideas

Taxing robots, legalising weed, and giving everyone free money. It's no wonder France loves Benoit Hamon

On Sunday, Benoit Hamon, a relative outsider, won the French Socialist Party's presidential primary, which means he will run for president in the country's upcoming elections.

His three main – and pretty radical – policies seem to be gaining some ground.

Who is Benoit Hamon?

Right wing ideas are gaining traction all over the world – things like reducing welfare and cracking down on immigration. Hamon represents pretty much the opposite. He's thought of as a good old-fashioned 'socialist'. People have made comparisons between him, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, who all challenged for leadership of political parties (Corbyn was successful, he is currently the leader of the Labour Party in the UK), promising to reinstate left-wing, or socialist ideals.

Hamon was briefly a member of the current French president’s government – confusingly, the Socialist Party – but left because he had big disagreements with the president, Hollande’s, move towards a pro-business approach and away from more traditional socialist ideas.

The presidential elections start in April this year. He will be up against Marine Le Pen from the National Front, Francois Fillon from The Republicans, Emmanuel Macron, an Independent candidate and Jean-Luc Melenchon from Unsubmissive France (yes, it's really called that).

His three big policies, introducing a 'Universal Basic Income', which is basically giving money to all citizens, taxing robots and legalizing weed, are seen as showing the Socialist Party moving back towards the left, and they've got some people pretty excited.

Is he serious about the free money?

Hamon's policy of universal basic income
Money, for everyone?

If Hamon wins, he says he’ll start the Universal Basic Income program in 2018 by paying €600 to 18-25 year olds, the unemployed and those earning less than €2,000. This would then increase over time to €750 a month and would later extend to all French citizens. He thinks it's necessary because as more jobs become automated, unemployment will increase and top ups from the state will be vital.

Critics argue it would be unworkable, saying the policy would cost somewhere between €300bn and €400bn, and noting that €600 a month is still way below the poverty line. However, some prominent economists think that, if well designed, it could be a step in the right direction to greater equality.

Basic income isn't a new idea. Switzerland held a referendum on it earlier this year, and it's currently being trialled in Finland. And, France has traditionally been in favor of generous welfare policies so it isn't as bold a step as it might seem.

However, the country is seeing an upsurge in right wing voters who aren't exactly in favor of giving what they see as handouts. Francois Fillon, who is currently ranked second in opinion polls, for example, wants to reduce the welfare state, slash jobs in the public sector and lower taxes for the rich.

So what about this robot tax?

Benoit Hamon wants to tax robots
Seems reasonable...

OK, so say Hamon is right about the automation of jobs thing. If less people are working, that means less tax revenue for the government, which means less money for ideas like a basic income, right?

Hamon's big idea to counter this is a tax on robots. The theory is that as more companies use automation, they will require less staff and therefore save money. He believes that these savings should be passed on to the population, in the form of basic income. But, critics argue that robots will drive production and create more jobs and that taxing them will just discourage people from investing in new technologies.

And he also wants to legalize weed?

Hamon is also a big supporter of the legalization of cannabis. According to France’s National Oberservatory of Drugs and Drug Abuse, 700,000 people smoke cannabis every day and 1.4 million smoke at least 10 joints a month.

Several countries in Europe have already relaxed the laws to allow for possession. France still has some of the strictest laws and possession is always a crime. Hamon has said in the past, "it would be better to use the €535m we spend inefficiently on prohibition on treating addiction."

According to a 2016 poll, 52% of people in France favor some form of legalization, but this might refer to some form of decriminalization, rather than total legalization as proposed by Hamon.

So that's three, what else does he want to happen?

He is also in favor of reducing the French working week from 35 to 32 hours. This has recently been a contentious issue as the current government has been trying to relax the law to boost the struggling economy by allowing longer working hours at a lower rate of overtime.

France's short working week, first introduced in the 1990s, is very unpopular with employers who are forced to pay between 10% and 50% for overtime while many unions in France see it as one of the foundations of France’s social model.

Is he going to win?

While Hamon’s win yesterday has the power to galvanize the Socialist party and move its ideas back to the left, it still looks unlikely that he'll win the national vote.

Opinion polls currently put Marine Le Pen in first place followed by Fillon, Macron and then Melenchon. But with rumors that Fillon’s wife may have received nearly half a million euros for a parliamentary job she never performed threatening to derail his chances, plus the fact that just about every prediction and poll in 2016 got proved wrong, maybe we shouldn't write the Jeremy Corbyn of France off, just yet.

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