The result of the upcoming French election will either force the EU to take a giant step backwards or rejuvenate it.
Simply click on the link below to find out more about each candidate.
Francois Fillon has come a long way since his surprise victory in the presidential primaries held by the centre-right Republicans party last year, but not in the way he would have liked.
In the contest to become the conservative party’s presidential candidate, Fillon saw off competition from heavyweights including former president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Alain Juppe, but now faces calls to step aside amid an ever-escalating embezzlement scandal.
“One cannot lead France if one is not irreproachable,” Fillon, himself a former prime minister, told Juppe during the debates that preceded the primaries; words that are today used against him with a heavy dose of irony.
Fillon is accused of paying his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros over eight years under the guise of employing her as a member of his office.
The presidential candidate has accused those pursuing the charges of carrying out a “political assassination”, but authorities have charged him with “misuse of public funds and misuse of corporate assets”.
Following the scandal, Fillon’s poll numbers have seen him slide from front runner with about a quarter of the vote to third place with less than 20 percent.
Born in 1954, Fillon started in law before he quickly moved into politics, serving in several ministerial roles from the 1990s and eventually as prime minister under Sarkozy between 2007 and 2012.
His platform is marked by his economic liberalism and Catholic faith, favouring fiscal conservatism, cuts to public spending, and the raising of the retirement age.
Fillon opposes gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.
On Islam, Fillon has called for a crackdown on Salafism and what he describes as “Islamic totalitarianism”.
He has called for the monitoring of mosques and for a review of France’s relations with Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Curiously for someone so entrenched in the French establishment, Fillon is an advocate of stronger ties with Moscow and the lifting of sanctions.
That has led to questions being asked about his ties to the country and its president, Vladimir Putin.
As his popularity begins to wane amid the scandals, Fillon has been resolute in standing his ground and has refused to drop out of the race.
He defied the polls in the primaries, but that was before the scandal that has consumed his subsequent campaign.
A Fillon presidency would be a significantly braver bet today than it would have been only a few months ago.
Benoit Hamon enters the French presidential contest as a rank outsider as the candidate representing the unpopular incumbent Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party.
Born in 1967, Hamon spent four years of his childhood in Senegal before returning to France to study history.
He found his political footing at an early age, leading the Young Socialist Movement and starting his career as a parliamentary assistant shortly after graduating.
That career has since developed to included time as a member of the European parliament and election to the French National Assembly.
Hamon served in two ministerial positions under Hollande, with portfolios in social economy and education, before resigning in protest at Hollande’s purported abandonment of left-wing values.
The former minister’s leftist credentials helped him pull off a shock victory in the Socialist Party presidential primaries, easily seeing off competition from the liberal-leaning former prime minister Manuel Valls.
A fervent critic of austerity policies, Hamon wants to bring in radical reforms to the welfare system in France by introducing a basic income for all citizens of 750 euros ($798) a month and reducing the working week to 32 hours.
The Socialist candidate has called for the legalisation of cannabis and condemned rhetoric on the role of Islam in French society.
“It is unacceptable that we continue to make the faith of millions of our compatriots a problem in the republic,” he said after the burkini-ban scandal last year.
Of the five major candidates for the presidency, Hamon is currently at the back of the pack with only 12 percent of the vote.
He faces competition from fellow leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has refused to step aside or work with Hamon.
Their disagreement centres on the role of the European Union, of which Hamon is a supporter, albeit one aiming to reform the bloc.
Unless the split is resolved, it seems likely that both will crash out in the first round, but at 49, Hamon probably has many years left to leave a mark on the country.
In March, Marine Le Pen emerged from a meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to deliver a proclamation to the reporter’s gathered: “A new world has emerged.”
The leader of France’s far-right National Front (FN) party hopes that she will be a leading figure in this radical reordering of the global elite, which already counts the election of US President Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the EU among its successes.
Once considered an unrealistic prospect, Le Pen would cause shockwaves just as large as Brexit or the Trump victory if she were successful in the upcoming presidential vote.
She currently sits on about a quarter of the first-round vote, a position which, unlike her rival candidates’, has barely shifted over the past few months.
Second-round voting against her likely rival Emmanuel Macron puts Le Pen considerably behind on 40 points to Macron’s 60, but those who followed Trump’s election know better than to write her off on the basis of polls.
The youngest daughter of far-right stalwart Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine was born in 1968 and followed in her father’s ideological footsteps by joining FN at 18.
In the coming decades she practised law while increasing her standing in FN, contesting several regional elections along the way.
She picked up several minor political roles in regional and municipal councils in her early 30s, and her most significant as a member of the European Parliament in 2009.
Her biggest break came after her father stepped down as FN leader in 2010, after which she took over the reins of the party.
In the followings years Le Pen sought to shed the party’s far-right image, distancing herself and the party from her father’s Holocaust denial and racist outbursts, eventually expelling him from the party in 2015, making the FN more palatable to French conservatives and a coming generation that had little recollection of far-right rule under the Nazis.
However while the language has changed, the issues remain largely intact, with Islam, the EU and immigration dominating her platform.
On France’s large Muslim minority, Le Pen has been unequivocal.
“We do not want to live under the rule or threat of Islamic fundamentalism,” she told supporters, further condemning the hijab, prayer rooms in workplaces, the construction of mosques and pork-free options in school lunches.
On the European Union, Le Pen has threatened to withdraw France from the eurozone and hold a referendum on the country’s continued membership of the bloc.
A Le Pen in the Elysee Palace would cut immigration, ban birthright citizenship, and the automatic right to nationality for the spouses of French citizens.
Unlike her competitors, Le Pen seems unperturbed by a corruption scandal or questions over her ties to Putin’s Russia.
A dogged indifference to scandal made little difference to Trump’s popularity, and that seems to be a lesson Le Pen has learned.
Few could have asked for a better start to a political career than the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
The current frontrunner is a graduate of elite National School of Administration, which produces the country’s top civil servants and counts among its alumni three French presidents.
Macron will be hoping to make it number four in May, and as things stand he looks best positioned to fend off the far-right candidacy of Marine Le Pen, whom he is predicted to beat easily in a second round runoff, if the polls are correct.
After graduating, Macron worked as a financial inspector at the Ministry of Economy before joining Rothschild & Cie bank as an investment banker.
Politically, he was a member of the Socialist Party for three years, before becoming an independent politician in 2009.
The 39-year-old’s first roles came under Francois Hollande as a member of his personal staff and later as a minister for economy, industry, and digital affairs under the government of Manuel Valls.
As the western world turns increasingly to the far right, Macron is unabashedly centrist in his outlook, appealing to French citizens who are familiar with the chaotic aftermath the election of Trump in the United States and Brexit in the UK caused.
His policies are the status quo with a nod to the progressive currents emerging in the US and Britain.
Unlike several of his opponents on the left and right, Macron has avoided making pronouncements against Muslim dress codes and is a fierce defender of an open immigration system.
In February, he condemned France’s colonial legacy in Algeria as a “crime against humanity”, earning rebukes from many on the right.
Nevertheless Macron stood firm, apologising only for the offence caused and not for the actual comment itself.
His sober brand of politics, youthful looks, and the implosion of competitor Francois Fillon’s campaign, have seen him rise to about 27 percent in the polls; enough to secure him a place in the second round.
However, his challenge remains in energising an increasingly apathetic electorate, for whom his centrist platform offers little else but an alternative to Le Pen.
As an economic liberal, he has fiscal policies that differ little from the economic consensus built in the decade since the global crash that started in 2007.
On the European Union, Macron is also an unashamed supporter, a standpoint likely to cost him votes on both the Eurosceptic left and right.
If Macron can convince the large apathetic segment of the population that he offers more than just not being Le Pen, there would be little standing in his way to taking up residence in the Elysee Palace.
The day after US President Donald Trump’s victory over Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton, Jean-Luc Melenchon did not mince his words: “Bernie would have won.”
An unrepentant socialist, Melenchon believes that the mainstream parties of the left have caved in too much to the global neoliberal consensus and only he can rescue the masses from the populist appeal of the far-right.
Born in the Moroccan city of Tangiers in 1951, with Trotskyist sympathies evident in his early career, he served briefly as a minister under the Socialist Party government of former prime minister Lionel Jospin, and as member of French senate, until he split with the party in 2008.
Critical of the party’s growing acceptance of economic liberalism, Melenchon helped found the Left Party, which formed an electoral alliance with the French Communist Party, as the Left Front.
The year after the split, he won a seat in the European Parliament and in 2012 stood for president, coming fourth in the first round with just over 11 percent of the vote.
Polls for the 2017 presidential contest have seen him surpass the Socialist Party’s own left-leaning candidate Benoit Hamon, with Melenchon slowly creeping up on others.
He has faced calls to step down or form an alliance with his former party to give the left a better chance of securing the presidency, but Melenchon has steadfastly rejected them.
“My challenge is not to unite the left wing,” he told the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, adding his duty was to serve the “people”.
As president, Melenchon would introduce a 100 percent tax on monthly earnings above 33,000 euros ($35,000), cut the working week down from the 35 hours to 32, and increase the minimum wage to 1,300 euros a month.
The veteran leftist is hugely critical of the European Union, viewing it as a vehicle for neoliberal economics to the detriment of ordinary people.
Melenchon has promised to renegotiate the structure of the bloc and put France’s continued membership of the organisation to a referendum.
Back at home, Melenchon has spoken out against rising anti-Muslim sentiment, but the avowed secularist is also a critic of public displays of religiosity.
“Jews were persecuted, then Protestants, and today Muslims,” he said after the burkini-ban scandal last year, which was later struck down by a French court.
However, the leftist presidential candidate has criticised fashion designers who produced lines aimed at veiled or headscarf-wearing Muslim women.
Melenchon is also deeply critical of police conduct; condemning their “sadism” after the recent scandal involving Theo, a Paris teenager whose alleged rape and beating by police officers was captured on video.
A clearly defined progressive platform is winning him fans, but he is currently in fourth position in the polls and unlikely to garner the support needed to reach the second round unless Hamon steps aside.
Their rivalry is instead becoming increasingly bitter, and their divisions over the EU make it unlikely that will happen.
A member of the French National Assembly and Mayor of the Paris suburb of Yerres, Dupont-Aignan finished seventh in the 2012 contest with under 2 percent of the vote.
Opinion polls show him performing much better in 2017, polling around 4 percent.
Dupont-Aignan stands on a right-wing Eurosceptic platform and wants to pull France out of the eurozone.
Arthaud previously stood for the 2012 presidential election, picking up just 0.5 percent of votes cast.
The secondary school economics teacher is standing on a leftist platform, calling for higher wages, worker-control of industries, and an anti-interventionist foreign policy.
Like Poutou, she makes no secret of her desire for an eventual communist system.
A career civil servant, Eurosceptic Asselineau wants France follow the UK’s example in leaving the European Union.
The candidate stands on the political right, and also proposes French withdrawal from NATO, claiming the organisation seeks to serve US interests against Russia.
Asselineau has been criticised for his belief in conspiracy theories, including the claim that the EU is a US creation aimed at asserting Washington’s power on the continent.
The former civil servant wants to pull France out of the EU and the eurozone and renegotiate the country’s relationship with the rest of Europe.
An independent member of the National Assembly, Lassalle is known for a hunger strike in protest at a paint manufacturer’s decision to open a factory away from his own constituency, threatening local jobs.
The protest ended in his being treated in hospital and a promise from the firm, Toyal, that it would not cut any jobs.
Lassalle is calling for an increase in public spending and mandatory civil or military service for all teenagers.
A trade unionist, leftist, and an employee of a car factory, Poutou leads the New Anticapitalist Party.
The ardent anti-capitalist has raised eyebrows with his scathing attacks on the corruption “establishment” candidates during the presidential debates and for his casual outfit during the televised event.
In the 2012 race, he picked up just over 1 percent of the total votes cast and is expected to pick up just a little higher in the 2017 contest.
His blistering attacks on Le Pen and other rivals for their alleged corruption will send minor ripples in the polls, but have succeeded in giving him a newfound celebrity.