The French Nightmare

One day after the elections, it is still difficult to comprehend fully the results of yesterday’s predicament. One thing is yet definitely clear, the left has been deeply defeated.

The first surprise of the European elections has been a higher than expected turnout. Indeed, while every polling station in the country announced it at around 42-44%, meaning around the one of 2014, it is measured today at 50.12 %, the highest rate since the early 90’s. In the context of the Yellow Vest movement, the campaign for the European elections was late to start and mostly concentrated on national stances. In the last month before the vote, the French government decided to turn the election into a plebiscite: « for » or « against » Macron. The far right jumped on the occasion, hoping to comfort their high score of 2014 (24.86 %) and inflict the first defeat to (Macron’s) LREM party since the beginning of the President’s mandate. Moreover, the turnout increase has been particularly spectacular in rural areas and regions where the far right is usually successful. However, still one in two French people did not participate in the ballot, the Eurosceptic sentiment being higher than ever.

The Rassemblement National is unequivocally the winner of the elections with 23.31% and more than 5 millions votes. Not only did they hold the pole position for the second time in the European election history, but they managed to increase their number of votes, building on the support they received in the presidential election. Their young top candidate has dominated the electoral debates and different political shows, continuing the already engaged process of modernising and softening the image of the party. The far right appears to be the political option channeling the social protestation and grievances of a massive part of the popular classes. If it had been a protest vote for so many years, it is clear that the movement is nowadays receiving support for its xenophobic and nationalist stance. Its victory is the demonstration of the disastrous failure of the left. Debout la France, a far right party that had called to support Marine Le Pen at the second round of the presidential election has received 3.51% (800 thousand votes). Together, they therefore represent almost a third of yesterday’s French voters. Nothing seems for the moment strong enough to stop their dangerous dynamism.

La République en Marche came second in an election where Emmanuel Macron did not hesitate to publicly support his candidate and orchestrate a political antagonism « progressive vs nationalist » which he believed would grant him victory. This political operation failed, however helped by the high turnout of his electorate (privileged people and people with high revenus and/or highly qualifications are more likely to vote in the European elections) which saved him from ridicule. LREM does not succeed however to build politically beyond its 20% bloc which brought it to power. Worst still, the government has been arrogantly defending their policies and announcing that the result of the elections would not make them change any of their political objectives. The political crisis in France might therefore settle for more years.

The right-wing party, Les Républicains, has been crushed violently. Obtaining 22.41 % (around 5 millions votes), it makes its worst result ever at the European level. Confirming what the presidential election had announced with the elimination of François Fillon, the right wing is trapped between the far right and LREM which both have channel its electorate. Difficult to see how they could find a quick solution to their predicament. Today already some of their leaders asked the party leader (Laurent Wauquiez) to resign, opening a traditional « guerre des chefs » (war of leaders).

The left has been shattered in the election. The France Insoumise has barely realised the same result as the Front de Gauche in 2014. They failed to invite themselves as a third alternative between the Rassemblement National and LREM and scored 6.31% with 1.5 millions votes. Their 2017 electorate has spread across the whole left and towards the Greens, or mostly abstain. The Socialist party saved a few seats but continuously seems to appear in a lethargic state with a similar 6.2%. Benoît Hamon and his movement Generation.s barely reached the 3% threshold that allows him to get his campaign fees reimbursed, yet announced in front of voters that, if he did not get at least 5% he might leave politics. The Communist Party led by Ian Brossat conducted a remarkable campaign but failed to convince the electorate to let them a chance. They scored 2.49% (a bit more than half a million votes).

Finally, the Greens have imposed themselves as the third political option in the country. They gained particularly high support from the 18-35 electorate and partly from the one that had supported the France Insoumise. Their responsibility in the left will be huge in the years to come. Indeed, they campaign mostly on leftist propositions, however they positioned themselves as « neither left or right », sometimes even sending signals to more liberal electorates. This will be the core challenge for the years to come and for the left.    

In the context of high social tension, numerous yellow vests in the movement had called to “vote for anyone but Macron” and it is probable that the Rassemblement National benefited from it. However, it seems that France Insoumise and the Greens did too. Therefore, it is still an open question to determine what effect the social movement had on the electoral event. If numerous political commentators seem quick to answer it helped the far right, more precise analysis are required to ascertain its real effect.