EU 2014: France
The European Parliament elections were held in France on May 25, 2014. Its results, with the victory of the far-right National Front (FN), made headlines across the EU and became one of the top media stories out of the EP elections.
Electoral system and history
France returns 74 MEPs to the European Parliament, two more than in the 2009 election. Since the 2004 election, France’s MEPs are elected in eight multi-member inter-regional constituencies – special constituencies drawn for EP elections which follow the boundaries of France’s existing administrative regions. In each region, seats are distributed by closed party-list proportional representation (highest averages method) with a regional threshold of 5%. In practice, however, because of the low magnitude of a lot of the constituencies, the effective thresholds can be significantly higher. France’s eight EP constituencies are Nord-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Haute-Normandie and Basse-Normandie), Ouest (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Bretagne, Pays-de-la-Loire and Poitou-Charentes), Est (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Bourgogne, Franche-Comté, Lorraine and Alsace), Sud-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon), Sud-Est (13 MEPs, composed of the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and Corsica), Massif central-Centre (5 MEPs, composed of the regions of Centre, Limousin and Auvergne), Île-de-France (15 MEPs, composed of the region of Île-de-France and French citizens resident abroad) and Outre-Mer (3 MEPs, composed of all overseas regions and collectivities). The Outre-Mer constituency is further subdivided in three ‘sections’ with one seat each: Atlantic (Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon), Indian Ocean (Mayotte, La Réunion) and Pacific (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis-et-Futuna). The constituency’s three MEPs are allocated at the constituency-wide level, but the names of the MEPs to be elected for each list are determined by the results of their list in the sections. For example, a party which won one seat in the constituency and polled highest in the Pacific section would see the list’s Pacific section candidate elected.
From 1979 until 2004, French MEPs were elected in a single national constituency using proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The new electoral system was adopted by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2003, with the stated aim of fighting decreasing turnout and increasing ties between citizens and local MEPs. Smaller parties, which have been the losers of the new system, have supported the re-creation a single national constituency. In 2013, deputies from the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small centre-left party allied to President François Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS), tabled a bill to re-create a single national constituency. While the idea was supported by all small parties – from the FN to the Left Front (FG) – it died in first reading because both the PS and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the main right-wing party, opposed it. However, in 2010, when the PS was in opposition, its senators had supported a bill to create a national constituency.
There has been a near-consistent decline in turnout in EP elections in France, like in most European countries, since the first elections in 1979. In 2009, turnout reached a record low of 40.6%, while thirty years prior, turnout in the first EP election was 60.7%. Like in other EU countries, EP elections in France have usually been seen as midterm elections fought around national political issues, often with the aim of punishing an incumbent government.
In European elections, the system of proportional representation (since 2003, the EP elections are the only French national elections fought under a pure PR system) and the low stakes of the election have led many of those who did vote to vote for smaller parties or protest parties rather than their traditional parties. As such, past EP elections have seen the success of a number of ‘small’ parties, results which were not replicated in subsequent high stakes national elections.
On the right, a lot of voters who backed the traditional mainstream right in national elections have voted for conservative Eurosceptic (non-FN) parties – the UDF dissident Majorité pour l’autre Europe list led by Philippe de Villiers in 1994 (12.3%), the Charles Pasqua-Philippe de Villiers alliance in 1999 (13.1%, placing second ahead of the mainstream RPR list led by Nicolas Sarkozy) or de Villiers’ Movement for France (MPF) in 2004 and 2009. These successes for Eurosceptic conservatives outside the mainstream parties of the right (Jacques Chirac’s neo-Gaullist RPR and the centre-right alliance UDF) failed to be replicated in the next presidential elections. In 1995, fresh from his success in the EP elections and having launched his own party (the MPF), Philippe de Villiers’ presidential candidacy won only 4.7%. In 2002, Charles Pasqua (a former leader of the hard-right and Eurosceptic wing of the RPR, who broke with Chirac in 1990) failed to win the signatures necessary to run for President (his alliance with de Villiers having already fallen apart, two years earlier).
Before 2004, other lists from the right have enjoyed some success as well. In 1989, a Christian democratic (CDS) list ran independently of the UDF, led by Simone Veil and the rénovateurs – a group of twelve young ambitious politicians from the RPR and UDF (including big names such as François Fillon, François Bayrou, Michel Barnier, Bernard Bosson, Philippe de Villiers, Jean-Louis Borloo etc…) who challenged the old guard’s (Jacques Chirac, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Raymond Barre) hold on the RPR-UDF machines after the 1988 defeat. It won 8.4%, a result which was disappointing at the time and led to the early demise of the rénovateurs challenge. Between 1989 and 1999, a right-wing rural hunters’ party (Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Traditions – CPNT) won significant support, culminating at 6.8% and the election of 6 MEPs in 1999. CPNT appealed to a very rural and culturally conservative electorate largely made up of hunters, largely but certainly not exclusively right-leaning in presidential elections (the far-right has won a large share of the CPNT vote, especially in the Somme estuary, CPNT’s strongest region).
On the left, the Greens have seen their support in EP elections fluctuate fairly dramatically, but they achieved very strong results in 1989 (10.6%), 1999 (9.7%) and of course 2009 (16.3%). In general, Green support in French EP elections have followed zig-zag patterns. In 1994, the Greens – divided between two lists (one by the Greens, the other by Génération écologie) – lost all their MEPs due to the deep infighting in the green movement after their underwhelming result in the 1993 elections and the questions over political alliances. In 2004, the Greens fell back to 7.4% and lost 3 seats, hurt by the new electoral system and the decision of their 1999 top candidate – Daniel Cohn-Bendit – to run in Germany instead.
The far-left has usually had limited success in EP elections, given that the French far-left usually does better in more personalized presidential elections provided that they have a telegenic and amiable face. However, in 1999, a common list between the two ‘fraternal enemies’ of the far-left (the traditional Trotskyist Workers’ Struggle, LO and the more May ’68-New Left Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) won 5.2% and 5 MEPs. In 2004, the LO-LCR common list collapsed to 2.6%. In 2009, the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) – the reformed LCR under Olivier Besancenot – won 4.9% but no seats; the NPA’s poor showing and the end of a brief popularity upsurge for Besancenot around that same time led to the NPA’s premature death.
The far-right FN has a mixed record in European elections. The party’s first national breakthrough came in the 1984 EP election, when the FN emerged from near-total obscurity to win a remarkable 11% of the vote – just a few points behind the Communists, whose support fell from 20.5% in 1979 to only 11.2% in 1984. In the 1980s, the FN’s support in EP elections (1989: 11.7%) was fairly close to its support in national elections – especially legislative elections (10% in 1986 and 1988). In 1994, however, the FN won ‘only’ 10.5% of the vote, while Le Pen took 15% in the 1995 presidential election. In the 1999 EP election, held in the wake of the painful and debilitating split between Jean-Marie Le Pen and his former ally Bruno Mégret in December 1998, the FN list won only 5.7% of the vote (and Mégret’s MNR list won 3.3%, falling short of the threshold in what would be the MNR’s best result before a slow death). However, only three years later, Le Pen famously qualified for the presidential runoff in 2002, taking 16.9% of the vote in the first round. In 1999, besides the split, a lot of FN supporters had also sat out the election – demotivated by the split on the far-right, they lost a major motivator to vote in an election which most ultimately cared or knew little about. In 2004, the FN increased its support to 9.8%, although that result too remained weak in comparison to the FN’s results in the 2004 regional elections held just a few months earlier. In 2009, the FN’s vote fell to 6.3% and the party saved just three MEPs. In 2007, Le Pen had been crippled by Nicolas Sarkozy’s candidacy, who stole first round FN supporters and left the FN in a chaotic and disorganized state. In 2009, the FN was still at a weak point: the leadership handover from the patriarch to his daughter would take place in 2011, Sarkozy’s popularity had declined but retained some degree of goodwill from far-right supporters, and the record-high abstention penalized the FN.
In contrast, the traditional forces of the left and right – the PS and RPR-UDF/UMP – have not done well in a lot of EP elections. In 1984, Lionel Jospin’s PS list suffered from the unpopularity of President François Mitterrand and won only 20.8%. In 1994, the PS list led by former Prime Minister Michel Rocard won a terrible 14.5%, putting an early end to Rocard’s presidential ambitions. Rocard faced the open enmity of his eternal enemy, President François Mitterrand, who offered a very thinly-veiled endorsement to controversial businessman and ephemeral politician Bernard Tapie’s Énergie radicale list, which ended up taking a remarkable 12%. In 1999, after Philippe Séguin withdrew his name due to Chirac’s weak support of his leadership and candidacy, the RPR-DL (Démocratie libérale, the split of the right-wing liberal wing of the UDF, led by Alain Madelin) list led by Sarkozy and Madelin fell to third place with only 12.8% against 13.1% for the Pasqua-Villiers list. In 2004, Chirac’s UMP was dragged deep down by his unpopularity, and won only 16.6% against 28.9% for the PS. In 2009, while the UMP did quite ‘well’ for a governing party in an EP election (27.9%), the PS won only 16.5%, saving second place by a hair against the Greens (Europe Écologie). The PS had been severely weakened by the leadership chaos and infighting at the Reims Congress in late 2008 (the infamous Martine Aubry-Ségolène Royal contest) and its subsequent difficulty at being a credible opposition.
The Communist Party (PCF) fell from low to low in EP elections between 1979 and 2009 – falling from 20.5% in 1979 to 5.9% in 2004, with nothing seemingly able to shift the tide – in 1999, for example, PCF leader Robert Hue’s Bouge l’Europe! list had expanded to social movements and non-communist leftist activists, but its support still fell from 1994. Only the creation of the Left Front (FG), in which the PCF added the institutional and grassroots structures to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new Left Party (PG), shifted the tide somewhat. In 2009, the FG lists- with Mélenchon leading the list in the Southwest constituency – received 6.5%, which was far from spectacular but nevertheless allowed them five instead of three MEPs (in both 2004 and 2009, one MEP came from the Reunionese Communists).
These EP elections came only two months after municipal elections in March 2014 and come as President François Hollande has completed his first two years in office.
Hollande is now the most unpopular President in the history of the French Fifth Republic. Almost every single pollster which regularly measures the popularity of the President and Prime Minister have his approval rating below 20%. Ifop’s June 2014 barometer showed his approval rating at 18%, with 81% disapproving. Ipsos showed his approval rating at 19% in May 2014. TNS-Sofres has Hollande even lower: only 16% expressed ‘confidence’ in the President, with 81% expressing no confidence in him.
The results of the municipal elections in March, which I covered in very extensive detail here and here, were a bloodbath for the left, which had not expected such a phenomenal defeat. The right now controls 63.3% of all municipalities with over 30,000 inhabitants while the left holds only 35.5% – before the election, the left held 57.9% of these same municipalities. The right gained a number of large cities and towns from the left (Toulouse, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Angers, Limoges, Tours, Amiens, Caen, Argenteuil, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Pau, Ajaccio, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, La Roche-sur-Yon and Belfort among hundreds), while the left only gained two towns from the right (Avignon and Douai). Slightly mitigating the intensity of the defeat, the PS managed to hold Paris and Lyon – two cities which the left had gained from the right in 2001. In Marseille, however, the PS, which was initially optimistic about its chances of gaining the city from the right, ended up a very distant second, tied with the far-right FN in the municipal council (after having placed third behind the FN in the first round) and losing three of the four municipal sectors it controlled prior to the election. The far-right gained two towns with over 30,000 people – Béziers and Fréjus. It also won the 7th sector of Marseille, which has a population of 150,326. Overall, the FN and similar far-right parties/candidate won 13 towns in France – with a major symbolic first round victory in Hénin-Beaumont, the depressed northern mining basin town which has been FN leader Marine Le Pen’s political base since 2007. The FN had strong results in these municipal elections, with results in a number of communes being higher than Marine Le Pen’s 2012 presidential result (a high-water mark for the FN) while the FN made strong gains in some places between both rounds (indicating the party’s ability to attract additional supporters in a runoff); however, the results also showed that there remains a clear limit to the FN’s growth. For example, all the FN’s victories in the second round except in one town came triangulaires/quadrangulaires – three or four-way runoffs in which the FN won with less than 50% of the vote and in other cities targeted by the FN, putative ‘republican fronts’ were actually successful at blocking the FN from winning the city hall.
Hollande’s unpopularity is largely due to the economic crisis, which has been fairly severe and difficult in France. Unemployment was 10.1% in the first trimester of 2014, which is up from around 9.5% when Hollande took office – although the current increase in unemployment began in 2011, under Sarkozy’s presidency. However, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the increase in unemployment when he took office in 2012, and it’s clear that on that commitment, the government has failed badly. In September 2012, for example, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the trend within a year, and despite all indications to the contrary, the government and the President reiterated that promise for the first half of 2013, until September 2013 when it was clear that unemployment would not fall. Over 3.3 million people are unemployed, using the narrowest definition, up from 2.9 million in May 2012. Since then, the government has shifted its rhetorical techniques to emphasize a ‘stabilization’ of unemployment and watering down, delaying the reduction of unemployment. Economic growth has been flat or in recession since Hollande took office two years ago, with 0.3% growth in 2013 and 0% growth in the first trimester of 2014. The debt and deficit situation of the country is hardly better, and the government’s performance on those issues has been poor. Hollande failed to keep his electoral promise of reducing the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2013, but with weak growth, the budget deficit in 2013 was finally 4.2% of GDP – even breaking the government’s second target (3.7%). Now, the government insists that it will meet the EU Commission’s deadline to reduce the deficit to 3% in 2015, but already the Commission has projected that the deficit will be 3.8% in 2014 and 3.7% in 2015 (although the government’s numbers project a 2.8% deficit in 2015). While it would be unfair to blame Hollande for the entirety of the mess which France is in, the government has a large share of the responsibility in the worsening of the economic situation since 2012.
Under Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s often chaotic, cacophonic and incoherent cabinet, the government was often like a deer in the headlights – powerless, lost and incompetent in its handling of the economy. The policies adopted by the government to address unemployment, growth and the budget have all been inadequate and criticized on both the right and the left. For the right – but also a large majority of French voters – their main issue with Hollande’s economic policies have been the tax increases. The government increased the top bracket on the income tax (incomes over 150,000 euros) from 41% to 45%, the wealth tax (ISF) was toughened up, family tax benefits were cut, a pension reform increased employees and employers’ contributions (the same reform also increased the contributory period to 43 years, after the right’s 2010 reform, opposed by the PS, had raised it to 41 and increased the legal retirement age to 62). The government also increased the VAT’s standard rate from 19.6% to 20% (to finance a €20 billion tax credit to employers to reduce unit labour costs), the intermediate rate from 7% to 10% and maintained the reduced rate at 5.5% (despite previously promising to bring it down to 5%). Although the government announced in early 2013 that there would no tax increases in 2013, it was quickly forced to backtrack and announce ‘small’ tax increases in 2014 and talk of ‘tax cuts’ after 2016.
In 2012, Hollande’s manifesto was filled with flowery but ultimately meaningless blabber about ‘growth’ and opposition to austerity policies. In power, Hollande has continued austerity policies – consisting of tax increases, spending cuts and public sector job cuts – which had begun under Sarkozy (although, in the French tradition, austerity is disguised as ‘efforts’). Hollande approved the European Fiscal Compact without any substantial changes, despite having pledged to renegotiate it. The pledge for Eurobonds has been buried, the government gave up a promise to legislate on ‘excessive pay’ in the private sector and Hollande’s ambitious promises to deepen European/Eurozone political integration have been abandoned. The Constitutional Council forced him to scrap his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over €1 million. The government reframed the 75% tax a temporary tax to be paid by employers on salaries over €1 million.
In 2014, Hollande announced a pacte de responsabilité with employers, proposing to reduce payroll taxes paid out by employers if they took on new, especially young, workers. The announcement, which led to significant talk of Hollande shifting to the right, was met with skepticism in France. Regular citizens, who have seen Hollande’s record of failure since 2012, have little optimism in his proposal. The left and unions were skeptic or hostile towards the idea of dropping costs on employers (up to €30 billion in cuts to payroll taxes) in exchange for very vaguely defined (and probably minimal) job creations. On the left, the rumour that Germany’s Peter Hartz would come to advise Hollande led to fears of a ‘neoliberal’ economic agenda.
Following the municipal elections, Hollande fired Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was seen as weak, indecisive, lacking authority and had been very effaced compared to the President. Manuel Valls, the popular Minister of the Interior under Ayrault, replaced him as Prime Minister. Valls, a fairly young Catalan-born ambitious politician perceived as being on the PS’ right, who, as interior minister, often ranked as one of the government’s most popular members because of his hardline policy on criminality and immigration. Although Valls himself had previously decried the Sarkozy administration’s controversial immigration policies, he effectively continued them – deporting undocumented migrants and dismantling Roma encampments. Valls ran into several controversies while he was interior minister, but none of them really hurt him. Last fall, he said that it was ‘impossible’ to integrate the Roma population into French society (because of ‘different lifestyles’) and that the only solution was to dismantle the camps and return occupants to their country of origin. A few months prior, Valls had said that the Roma were intended to stay in Romania or return there. In October 2013, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year old undocumented immigrant from Kosovo attending a French school, was arrested during a school field trip and deported to Kosovo. Valls’ behaviour as responsible minister once again raised debate and criticism on the left. Hollande was forced to intervene, and he haplessly proposed a compromise: while supporting the decision, he proposed that Leonarda be allowed to return, alone, to complete her studies (she refused). On the left, the decision was criticized (even the leader of the PS, Harlem Désir, signaled his disapproval) on humanitarian grounds. The right attacked Hollande’s “indecision”, denounced a terrible blow to the authority of the State and Marine Le Pen called on him to resign for humiliating France. The UMP proposed abolishing jus soli, Valls talked of reforming asylum policy.
Valls’ nomination to Matignon as Prime Minister was, from the looks of it thus far, an attempt for Hollande to divest himself of some domestic political responsibilities and lay low for a while. The initial reaction from the opposition – left and right – was negative. The left, especially the left outside of the PS, is very critical and suspicious of Valls, who has a strong reputation as a ‘maverick’ and iconoclast challenging the left’s dogma, for example on the sanctity of the 35-hour work week introduced by Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government (1997-2002). The Greens (EELV, Europe Écologie-Les Verts), who had sat in the Ayrault government, faced a major test of credibility with Valls’ nomination and the issue of their continued participation in government. Already under Ayrault, EELV had been displeased with several of the government’s decisions, notably the unceremonious dismissal of the environment minister (Delphine Batho) who had lamented budget cuts at her ministry, and a left-wing anti-government minority within EELV challenged the pro-government leadership of the party at EELV’s federal congress in October 2013. With regards to valls, former EELV leader and housing minister Cécile Duflot had decried Valls’ comments on the Roma, and after his nomination to Matignon, EELV’s two ministers (including Duflot) announced that they would not join a Valls cabinet. Valls met with EELV and proposed the creation of large environment ministry, 3 portfolios and a dose of proportional representation, but EELV voted against participation in the Valls government. However, on April 8, 10 of EELV’s 17 deputies voted in favour of the government on the initial vote of confidence in the National Assembly.
Valls’ government included Ségolène Royal, the PS’ 2007 presidential candidate and François Hollande’s former girlfriend (and mother of their four children), as Minister of the Environment. To reassure the left, two of the Ayrault government’s members from the PS’ left, Benoît Hamon and Arnaud Montebourg, received promotions to Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research and Minister of the Economy respectively. Neither had been particularly impressive, especially Montebourg, ever the flamboyant one, in Ayrault’s government. Montebourg and Hamon, although both rhetorically on the left of the PS, found common ground with Valls in being the leading opponents of Ayrault in the old government. Montebourg has continued his anti-austerity posturing, as he had in the old government, but he has been fairly quiet (uncommon coming from him) thus far.
In his speech to the National Assembly, Valls largely recycled existing pledges and promises made by Hollande – most notably confirming the pacte de responsabilité. On that topic, Valls announced several specific initiatives: removing employer contributions on minimum wage jobs, reducing employer contributions on low-wage jobs, reducing employee contributions and reducing the corporate tax by 2020. In mid-April 2014, Valls detailed the government’s plan to ‘save’ €50 million. The government called for €18 million in ‘savings’ from the state budget, €11 million from local governments, €10 million from health insurance and €11 million from other social security benefits. ‘Savings’ included a freeze in social security benefits, a deferment in the increase of several welfare benefits (including the RSA, a minimum income for unemployed, underemployed or low-wage workers) and a continued freeze of the ‘indexation point’ (used to calculate civil servants’ wages) until 2017 (the indexation point has not increased since 2010). The latter means that, with inflation and no concomitant increase in the base for calculating public sector pay, civil servants will suffer not only a pay freeze but a net loss in salary.
The €50 million savings plan, effectively an austerity program in all but name, was very controversial and provoked strong negative reactions from the PS’ left, which had already been suspicious of Valls’ intentions. The austerity plan was approved by the National Assembly on April 29, with 265 votes in favour, 232 against and 67 abstentions. What was historic, however, was the abstention of no less than 41 deputies of the Socialist group (SRC), the bulk of them from the PS’ left. 11 PS deputies, from the left of the party, had abstained on the vote of confidence in early April. On the austerity program, there were now 41 frondeurs within the ranks of the governing party. Only 3 green deputies voted in favour, with 12 of them voting against. The predominantly Communist GDR group voted against, while the centre-right UDI group largely abstained while only the Left Radicals (PRG) – very close allies and junior coalition partners of the PS – voted in favour.
Valls also announced plans to reduce the number of regions in metropolitan France from 22 to 14, abolishing general/departmental councils by 2021 (despite the fact that he had re-created them himself, as interior minister!) and abolishing the general power of competence (which was abolished by Sarkozy in 2010, re-instated by Valls in 2013…). Hollande presented a draft map of France’s 14 new regions, which the government (but no-one else) insists will result in cost savings, efficiency and competitive regions. The regional reform and the new map (which reduces regions by merging existing ones, instead of re-drawing new ones) has been poorly received.
French voters have been surprisingly kind on Valls so far, although the popularity trend is already looking south. His approval ranges between a high of 52% (in the latest Ifop, BVA) and 39% (CSA); in all cases, his popularity is declining, slowly but surely. Hollande has seen no improvement in his popularity since March, although he has hit a floor of 16-20% approval. At this point, a lot of voters have lost all faith in Hollande (or his policies) and that practically anything he says or does has no effect on his popularity. He has lost so much credibility that it would take a miraculous and huge improvement in the economy for Hollande’s popularity numbers to look north again. The situation for the PS is so bad that Hollande himself has already openly said that he may not seek reelection if unemployment does not decline before 2017.
The government has been further dragged down by a plethora of other issues: broken promises, promises delayed indefinitely (assisted reproductive technologies, law on families), corruption scandals (the Jérôme Cahuzac, the then-budget minister, and his secret offshore account in Switzerland), crises (the manif pour tous against same-sex marriage and adoption, the Leonarda affair).
Parties and lists
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front (FG)’s presidential candidate in 2012, has been extremely critical of the government’s austerity policies. However, despite incessant and violent attacks by Mélenchon and the FG on the government’s policies, they have largely been unable (thus far) to profit from the government’s unpopularity with left-wing voters. Mélenchon is a polarizing figure; his abrasive, in-your-face and often unpleasant public person is off-putting to many voters and the FG generally appears to lack credibility as a credible leftist alternative to the PS. The municipal elections opened up very public and damaging divisions between Mélenchon’s small Left Party (PG), which is firmly anti-PS and the Communists (PCF), the largest party in the FG, which still retains some attachment (mostly for strategic and self-serving electoral reasons) to the old alliances with the PS. The FG is a contradictory alliance of people with similar ideologies but differing strategies. The PCF latched on to Mélenchon’s charisma and relative appeal to a left-wing electorate, and it initially served the PCF well in the 2012 presidential election. However, after the FG (PCF)’s unexpectedly horrendous performance in the 2012 legislative elections, there was some reticence within the PCF towards Mélenchon’s radical and dogmatic opposition to any kind of cooperation with the PS in elections. In the 2014 municipal elections, the PCF chose to ally by the first round with PS lists in major cities such as Paris, Toulouse, Rennes, Grenoble, Tours and Rouen. Mélenchon’s Left Party (PG) is largely an empty shell and, with the departure of Marc Dolez (the PG’s only deputy), Mélenchon is the only one in the PG who is actually elected to some kind of parliamentary institution (the EP). Given that it has nothing to lose from doing so, the PG has followed a strategy of total independence from the PS, refusing any first round alliances with the PS. In municipalities where the PCF allied with the PS in the first round of the local elections, the PG ran independent lists of its own, often alongside other components of the FG (Ensemble, a new movement uniting various small parties – old and new – ranging from dissident ‘reformist’ communists to dissident factions of the NPA which left the dogmatic far-left microparty disagreeing with its anti-FG stances). These PG lists did fairly poorly, although in Grenoble, where the PG allied with EELV against a PS-PCF list, the EELV-led list was victorious in the second round against the PS list backed by the retiring PS mayor.
The FG managed to hold together for the EP elections; although Gauche unitaire, an old far-left movement which emerged from a pro-FG faction of the old LCR (now NPA) in 2009, decided not to participate on FG lists. The FG was defending four incumbent MEPs in metropolitan France, in addition to one MEP from the Overseas constituency (Younous Omarjee, who replaced Reunionese Communist MEP Élie Hoarau in 2012).The FG incumbents were Patrick Le Hyaric (PCF-Île-de-France), the current director of the communist daily L’Humanité; Marie-Christine Vergiat (independent-Southeast), an independent left-wing activist; Jacky Hénin (PCF-Northwest), the former PCF mayor of Calais (2000-2008) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (PG-Southwest). Mélenchon has been one of the least active MEPs, participating in only 71% of roll-call votes. The PG held the top candidacy in the East and Centre, while former NPA spokesperson Myriam Martin (who joined the FG in 2012) led the list in the West. In the Overseas constituency, the FG supported the ‘Union for the Overseas’ list led by incumbent PCR MEP Younous Omarjee and supported by the Martinican Progressive Party (PPM), the largest party in the regional and general councils of Martinique. The FG campaigned against austerity (with the clear target being the French government, rather than the EU), for higher wages, against the proposed Transatlantic free trade agreement with the US and against NATO.
On the far-left, which is as divided as ever but also weaker than ever, there was no agreement on common lists between the NPA and Workers’ Struggle (Lutte ouvrière, LO) nor was such an hypothesis ever realistic. LO, led by the party’s leader and public face Nathalie Arthaud (candidate in Île-de-France) had lists in every region, including the Overseas. The NPA, which is increasingly divided, ran only 5 lists.
The Socialist Party (PS) had already performed very poorly in 2009, and was not expected to perform much better in 2014 given Hollande’s massive unpopularity. The only question, especially after the PS’ defeat in the municipal elections in March, was whether or not the PS would perform better or worse than its 2009 result (16.48%). At the end of the EP term, the PS was left with 12 MEPs (it had elected 13 in 2009). The PS formed common lists with the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small party ostensibly following in the radical-socialist (social liberal, pro-European) tradition but in reality known solely as being an annex of the PS. The PRG had not participated in 2009 and ran a few lists independent of the PS, with very weak results, in 2004. The PS’ top candidates were: incumbent MEP Gilles Pargneaux, an ally of Lille mayor Martine Aubry (Northwest); incumbent MEP Isabelle Thomas from the party’s left (West; Emmanuel Maurel, a regional councillor also on the left of the PS, was second); Édouard Martin, a CFDT trade unionist active in social movements against the closing of the last blast furnaces in Lorraine (East; Catherine Trautmann, a two-term MEP and former mayor of Strasbourg, was second on the list); Jean-Paul Denanot, the president of the regional council of the Limousin since 2004 (Massif central-Centre); Virginie Rozière, a little-known PRG member and deputy director of cabinet to Sylvia Pinel, a PRG cabinet minister (Southwest); former MEP Vincent Peillon, the former education minister who was not kept in the new Valls cabinet because of an unpopular education reform (Southeast); four-term MEP Pervenche Berès (Île-de-France) and Joseph-Louis Manscour, a former Martinican PS deputy (Overseas; Marie-Claude Tjibaou, the widow of assassinated New Caledonian Kanak nationalist leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, was the lead candidate for the Pacific section). Harlem Désir, an incumbent MEP and secretary-general of the PS from 2012 until March 2014, was due to run for reelection as the PS’ top candidate in Île-de-France, but after the PS defeat in the local elections (for which he was held responsible by many Socialists), he was quietly fired from the party leadership and became Secretary of State for European Affairs – even if some of his EP colleagues judged him to be a completely useless and inactive MEP.
Unsurprisingly, the PS’ campaign literature made no mention of the government and only included very small PS and PRG logos (all PS lists were named Choisir notre Europe – choosing our Europe). Instead, they very much emphasized Martin Schulz, the PES candidate for president of the Commission. Quite disingenuously (and dishonestly), the PS campaign attacked austerity policies and ‘social dumping’, calling for pro-growth job policies, fair trade and a tax on financial transactions (an issue which the PS government seems to have forgotten about). No mention was made, of course, that the Valls government is effectively carrying out austerity policies (although it denies it) rather than ‘growth-oriented’ policies.
There was a new movement/party on the left contesting the EP elections: Nouvelle Donne, or New Deal, a party founded in November 2013 by Pierre Larrouturou, a longtime but little-known activist on the left (who has come and gone from the PS several times) who has embraced causes such as a four-day workweek or, these days, an interventionist economic policy modeled on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies in the US. The party was joined by EELV deputy Isabelle Attard, EELV MEP Malika Benarab-Attou and PS MEP Françoise Castex. The party’s campaign was fairly Eurosceptic or EU-critical, attacking the EU from a left-wing angle – austerity policies, ‘fiscal dumping’, the need for a ‘social treaty’ and the democratic deficit (no new treaty without a referendum). It called for a €1,000 billion pact to save the climate, fighting layoffs and renegotiating working hours. Pierre Larrouturou, who is a regional councillor (elected for EELV, when he briefly joined that party between 2009 and 2012), was top candidate in Île-de-France.
Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) had nowhere else to go but down after the record-breaking and shocking performance by the Greens (Europe Écologie coalition) in the 2009 EP elections (16.28%). The 2009 success was the result of a perfect storm for EE: a divided and chaotic PS a few months after the Reims Congress, and the green movement’s remarkable ability to temporarily overcome the factional and strategic divisions which had weakened it for so long. EE was a coalition which extended from traditional Green politicians to non-partisan environmentalist activists in NGOs and anti-globalization movements – uniting people like José Bové, the peasant leader and anti-globalization leader; political newcomers from civil society like Eva Joly (the Norwegian-born magistrate, who went on to become EELV’s 2012 presidential candidate), Sandrine Bélier and Yannick Jadot and regionalist allies like François Alfonsi (from the PNC – Partitu di a Nazione Corsa, a moderate nationalist party from Corsica). The candidacy of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who had already led the French Greens’ list in 1999 but had run for the German Greens in 2004, also provided a charismatic and well-known leader to the movement. Some in the media have also speculated that the airing of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s movie Home (on global biodiversity and environmental destruction) days before the vote may explain the very late surge for EE, undetected by most pollsters at the time. Although EE’s success prompted The Greens to transform the party into EELV in 2010, aiming to attract new members and activists who had not been members of the old green party, since 2009, the party’s star has faded. In 2012, after a very mediocre campaign, Eva Joly won only 2.3% of the presidential vote. In the legislative elections, EELV only elected 18 deputies thanks to an electoral alliance sealed with a magnanimous PS. In the Ayrault government, in which EELV had two minister (Cécile Duflot as housing minister and Pascal Canfin as junior minister for international development), the party faced internal and external criticism for largely bowing down to the PS and largely accepting several policies which they privately disagreed with. In 2013, there was major internal pressure within the party for it to leave the government or at least take a more assertive stance. Pascal Durand, the national secretary of EELV, was forced to retire after launching an ‘ultimatum’ to the government. At EELV’s federal congress in October 2013, a left-wing anti-government minority faction won about 40%. Several prominent members of EELV have since left the party: Cohn-Bendit in late 2012, and Noël Mamère in September 2013.
The EELV top candidates were: Karima Delli, a young MEP of Algerian descent (originally from the poor textile town of Tourcoing in the Nord) elected in Île-de-France in 2009 but running in the Northwest; Yannick Jadot, an incumbent MEP and former Greenpeace member (West); incumbent MEP Sandrine Bélier (East; Antoine Waechter, the old leader of the Independent Ecologist Movement, MEI, was ranked in second); Clarisse Heusquin (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MEP José Bové, the famous anti-globalization peasant leader (Southwest); incumbent MEP Michèle Rivasi, also a former Green deputy (1997-2002) (Southeast; incumbent MEP Karim Zéribi, a former Socialist, was second) and Pascal Durand (Île-de-France; Eva Joly was second). EELV also had a list in the Overseas. EELV supports a federal Europe, and its campaign focused on environmental priorities, promoting democracy, reducing the ‘power of the market’ (it opposes the FTA with the US) and ‘changing economic models’.
EELV lost the support of its minor regionalist partners, the Régions et peuples solidaires (R&PS) – an alliance of left-leaning autonomist parties from several regions (Brittany’s Breton Democratic Union, Corsica’s PNC, the Partit occitan, Basque and Catalan nationalists, the Mouvement région Savoie) affiliated with the EFA. R&PS ran lists in 6 regions (all except the East and Northwest), the most important being a Corsican one led by incumbent PNC MEP François Alfonsi in the Southeast, the Breton Democratic Union (Union démocratique bretonne / Unvaniezh Demokratel Breizh, UDB) list led by regional councillor Christian Guyonvarc’h in the West, a Basque list led by Jean Tellechea from the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNB) and an Overseas list led by incumbent EELV MEP Jean-Jacob Bicep. In the West, there was also a strong regionalist led led by Christian Troadec, the popular Breton nationalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) who was a key leader in the 2013 bonnets rouges protests against the application of the écotaxe, a proposed tax on heavy goods vehicles. Troadec’s list – Nous te ferons Europe ! – was backed by Troadec’s local left-wing Mouvement Bretagne et progrès and the moderate nationalist Breton Party (Strollad Breizh).
In the centre, François Bayrou’s Democratic Movement (MoDem) formed common lists with the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI).
The UDI, created in late 2012, is an alliance of several small centre-right pro-European parties which were allied with the UMP during Sarkozy’s presidency and continue to be closely identified with the UMP-led parliamentary right. The UDI included Jean-Louis Borloo’s Radical Party (PR, social liberal and pro-European), Senator Jean Arthuis’ Centrist Alliance (AC, largely an empty shell in the centrist tradition of partis de notables), the New Centre (NC, the original pro-Sarkozy dissidents from Bayrou’s UDF in 2007, which has a strong base of elected officials but little independent electoral support), the European Democratic Force (FED, founded by Jean-Christophe Lagarde and other anti-Hervé Morin dissidents of the NC in 2012), the Modern Left (LGM, a social liberal party founded by Jean-Marie Bockel, a Blairite ex-Socialist who joined the Fillon government in 2007), Territories in Movement (TEM, the personal machine of Jean-Christophe Fromantin, the maverick right-wing deputy and mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine), the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD, a tiny libertarian/right-wing liberal party), GayLib (the former gay rights lobby within the UMP) and two tiny shells. The UDI is often seen as a recreation of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), which was one of the two major components of the right-wing bloc in French politics between 1978 and 2002, and which was originally an alliance of several ideological families of the traditional non-Gaullist right (liberals, Christian democrats in the MRP tradition, anti-Programme Commun right-wing social democrats and the Radicals). The UDI won the support of former members of the UDF who had joined the UMP in 2002, like Pierre Méhaignerie or Louis Giscard d’Estaing (the son of the former President, who also supports the UDI). The UDI has a strong parliamentary caucus, with 28 deputies and 30 senators, but the party suffers – like a lot of non-Gaullist centre-right movements before it in French politics – from the lack of a strong leader in France’s presidential-centric system and the absence of a reliable electoral base. Jean-Louis Borloo, the UDI’s leader and one of its most most popular and well-known figures, has retired from politics for health reasons and the initial reaction was that his retirement will badly hurt the UDI. There are, nevertheless, a few other talented or promising politicians within the UDI.
The MoDem was crushed in the 2012 legislative elections, which followed Bayrou’s mediocre performance in the presidential race. Although Bayrou had personally endorsed Hollande in the 2012 runoff, since 2012, the party has generally moved towards the right-wing opposition. In the 2014 municipal elections, the MoDem supported the right (UMP-UDI) by the first round in a number of major cities including Paris, in return for the UMP begrudgingly endorsing Bayrou’s ultimately successful bid for mayor of Pau. Relations between the MoDem and the UDI (or its component parties prior to 2012) have generally been fairly acrimonious, but there has been a clear thaw since 2012. The alliance for the EP elections served both parties’ strategic objective: for the MoDem, to retain its base in the EP and prominence in French politics; for the UDI, a tailor-made opportunity for the party to prove that it is not a mere annex of the UMP and that it can run without UMP if it wishes too (a strategy the UDI tried in some towns, notably Caen, Strasbourg and Rouen in the locals). In 2009, the Radicals (which were still an affiliate of the UMP) had elected 4 MEPs, the NC 3 MEPs and the Modern Left 2 MEPs running on the UMP’s Presidential Majority lists.
The UDI-MoDem lists – known as L’Alternative or Les Européens – were led by: incumbent Radical MEP Dominique Riquet, a close ally of Borloo in Valenciennes (Northwest); Mayenne Senator Jean Arthuis from the AC (West); incumbent MoDem MEP Nathalie Griesbeck (East); incumbent FED MEP Sophie Auconie (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MoDem MEP Robert Rochefort (Southwest); incumbent MoDem MEP Sylvie Goulard (Southeast, elected in the West in 2009); incumbent MoDem MEP Marielle de Sarnez (Île-de-France, with incumbent UDI MEP Jean-Marie Cavada in second) and a list in the Overseas. The UDI and MoDem are two parties which come a very pro-European (federalist) tradition in French politics, and it ran a pro-European campaign although it did not use the word ‘federal’ unlike EELV. It called on the EU to strengthen and concentrate its powers in industrial policy, infrastructure, social and fiscal harmonization, small businesses, protection of European industry, foreign policy and a coherent immigration policy and border police. It also called on a more democratic EU, with a directly-elected European president and more direct democracy.
Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister under Chirac (1995-1997) and a centre-right green who ran for president in 2002 as candidate of her ‘blue green’ party (Cap21), had been elected MEP on a MoDem list in 2009, but Cap21 left the party a year later and Lepage unsuccessfully tried to run for President in 2012. She ran for reelection atop her own new lists – Europe Citoyenne – with Lepage as the movement’s candidate in Île-de-France. It claimed to be a non-political movement of normal citizens, emphasizing ethics and the creation of a ‘heart’ of the EU with 6-10 members acting as the lead forces for the EU.
Denis Payre, a businessman, launched an ‘independent citizens’ movement, Nous Citoyens (We citizens) in late 2013. With lists in all metropolitan constituencies, the list, despite being fairly vague on specifics and claiming to be ‘independent’ (with lists of non-politicians) leaned towards the liberal centre-right with pro-European positions.
The Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is the main opposition party to the PS government, and it has led an uncompromising opposition to the government’s policies on nearly every front and has been very virulent in its criticism of what it describes as the ‘socialist state’. However, the UMP has done a fairly mediocre job in opposition and the party faces nearly as many crises as the PS.
Sarkozy’s defeat in May 2012 traumatized the UMP, which, for the first time since its creation in 2002 was now an opposition party. In November 2012, a UMP congress to elect a permanent president for the party turned into a nearly fatal civil war between the two candidates, the incumbent secretary-general Jean-François Copé and Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon. In an election marred by fraud and vote rigging by both sides, Copé was initially proclaimed the winner by 98 votes by an internal party commission. Fillon’s supporters later challenged the results, claiming that Fillon won by 26 votes because the party commission ‘forgot’ to include 1,304 votes cast in three overseas federations. This opened a civil war between both men; mediation by party elder and the popular moderate mayor of Bordeaux (and former Prime Minister) Alain Juppé failed, an appeals commission (led by a man who had backed Copé) ruled on a challenge lodged by Copé against filloniste fraud in the Alpes-Maritimes – it proclaimed Copé as the winner nationally, now with 952 votes (they cancelled the results, very selectively, in pro-Fillon Alpes-Maritimes and New Caledonia), and Fillon created a dissident parliamentary group in the National Assembly (R-UMP). Facing the very real threat of a split in the UMP, which would cripple the financially strapped party, the two enemies agreed to a temporary compromise in January 2013: Fillon’s R-UMP would dissolve, Copé would remain president while all other leadership positions in the party would be ‘doubled’ – one filloniste, one copéiste (creating an unwieldy and tense leadership, described by critics as a ‘Mexican army’).
Copé suffered from a very acute image problem: he is extremely unpopular with voters (Ipsos’ monthly barometer in March 2014 showed him with a 70% disapproval rating, Fillon had a 49% disapproval – both men’s ratings took a hit from the 2012 congress and civil war). Copé was perceived as too right-wing, too economically liberal, too rash and the story of the 2012 congress (and how, if he won, it owes a lot to organized fraud and vote rigging by Copé’s men) further hurt his image. His leadership, by all accounts, was hardly inspiring stuff. The UMP has been desperate to oppose the government at every turn, in the process latching on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues – for example, Copé once complained about how a children’s book on nudity was destroying the youth; the UMP, at the same time, briefly went nuts with faux outrage over ‘gender theory’ education in public schools (the government has a program to promote and teach gender equality in primary school). In the meantime, the UMP is not considered to be a credible alternative to the government – it lacks coherent policy (except being anti-government), its fire is often stolen by the far more popular far-right FN and the division between Copé and Fillon remains very clear – quite tellingly, at a final EP election ‘unity rally’, Fillon only came in for his speech and left as soon as Copé took the stage.
Copé has also been mixed up in several scandals. In late February 2014, Le Point revealed that an events organization firm (Bygmalion) owned by two friends of Copé received €8 million in UMP funds for organizing events in the 2012 campaign.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the defeated President, has never been far behind in all this. It is known that he took his defeat in 2012 pretty badly, and holds a deep grudge against Hollande (his singer/songwriter wife, Carla Bruni, wrote a song, Le pingouin, which was widely assumed to be referring – negatively – to Hollande). The UMP’s rank-and-file remains, by and large, solidly sarkozyste and would love to see him return in 2017. For UMP sympathizers and many on the right in general, Hollande’s disastrous presidency only vindicates Sarkozy and reinforces their burning desire to see Sarkozy return to the presidency in 2017. That Sarkozy himself is very much planning for a return in 2017 is probably the worst keep secret in French politics right now. If he were to do so, polls show that Sarkozy would win the UMP’s 2016 primaries in a landslide. But Sarkozy, since 2012, has been dogged by several scandals.
In December 2012, the campaign finance and public financing commission rejected Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign finance report. The issue plunged the financially troubled party further in debt, but an appeal by Sarkozy to UMP members to contribute to the party allowed the UMP to raise over 11 million euros in just two months, which is equivalent to the sum lost by the party in public financing after Sarkozy’s campaign finances were invalidated. Sarkozy has faced other scandals. In March 2013, Sarkozy was indicted in the Bettencourt affair (illegal payments from L’Oréal shareholder Liliane Bettencourt to UMP members, part of a wider tax fraud case involving Bettencourt and her family) but charges against him were dropped in June 2013. One of the most important ones is the Sarkozy-Gaddafi scandal: in April 2012, Mediapart published documents which indicated that the former Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi may have given 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. During the Libyan Civil War, officials in Gaddafi’s regime, including his son Saif al-Islam had said that Libya had funded Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. In April 2013, a Parisian court opened a judicial investigation (citing no names) in the Gaddafi case. On March 7, 2014, Le Monde revealed that Sarkozy (and two former interior ministers Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, close allies of Sarkozy cited in the Gaddafi case) had their phones bugged as part of the judicial investigation, beginning in September 2013. The transcripts of the wiretaps had found that Sarkozy and his lawyers were benefiting from insider information on the judicial process from judges and law enforcement sources – Sarkozy was appealing to the Court of Cassation the decision a judge in the Bernard Tapie scandal to send Sarkozy’s personal agenda to the judge in charge of the Bettencourt case.
The wiretap case shifted against the government, when the UMP successful changed the angle of media focus in the case to whether or not Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, had been aware of the wiretaps. Taubira claimed that she had not been aware until the media revealed it; the following evening, Ayrault said that the government had indeed been aware. Taubira later showed two documents which she claimed proved that she was not aware, but those documents in fact did state that the minister was kept aware. The UMP claimed that Taubira lied and called on her resignation, but it may now appear that Taubira was not lying – her chief of staff was aware, but had not shared the information with Taubira. Since then, new revelations by Mediapart, on how Sarkozy was suspicious of the wiretaps and bought a phone under a ‘fake name’ to talk with his lawyer.
Sarkozy published an op-ed in the right-wing Le Figaro only days before the first round of the municipal elections in March 2014. He claimed, disingenuously, that he remained silent and ‘in retreat’ since 2012 and that he has no desire for revenge or ill-feelings against anyone. He continues by saying that ‘sacred principles of our Republic are being trampled unprecedented violence and unscrupulousness’ and even denounced Stasi-like techniques.
The UMP’s preparation for the EP elections was hindered by the difficult balancing act between the Copé and Fillon factions of the UMP, and the wranglings of the UMP’s small but vocal Eurosceptic (often from the party’s hard right) faction. Henri Guaino, a UMP deputy from the ‘social Gaullist’ tradition, said that he could not support the UMP list in his region because of its pro-EU top candidate; Juppé issued a thinly-veiled rebuke telling him to leave the party if he was unhappy. The UMP’s campaign concealed all ties it had with the EPP or Jean-Claude Juncker, the federalist candidate of the EPP. Instead, it explicitly targeted Hollande and ran on the terribly vague slogans of ‘a more efficient Europe’ and ‘a Europe which works’ – mixing support for the EU with pablum about ‘a stronger France’ in Europe. It opposed enlargement and Turkish membership, called for a reduction in immigration and a stronger Europe in international negotiations. In another Sarkozy op-ed right before the vote, the former President called to suspend the Schengen agreements and replace it with new agreements conditional on a common immigration policy and a Europe of co-existing identities. Oftentimes, however, the EU-critical rhetoric coming out of the UMP (and PS) is mostly for show: for example, of 40 UMP parliamentarians who signed an op-ed penned by Laurent Wauquiez and Henri Guaino (criticizing the current form of European integration, ‘excessive’ freedom of movement, austerity, social and fiscal dumping), only 8 of the 33 deputies who signed the op-ed actually voted against the European Fiscal Compact (17 UMP deputies in total had voted against, along with 20 SRC deputies) and two of them had voted against Lisbon at the time (5 UMP deputies in 2008 had voted against Lisbon, against 206 who voted for it). Therefore, when it comes to a vote, a lot of the UMP and PS deputies who criticize the EU will actually vote for the EU treaty or policy in question.
The UMP lists largely included incumbent MEPs or former deputies defeated in 2012 – confirming the old adage about the EP being a repository for failed or defeated politicians. In the Northwest, the UMP list was led by Jérôme Lavrilleux, a general councillor in the Aisne who served on the Sarkozy 2012 campaign and is a close ally of Copé, for whom he’s served as chief of cabinet since 2004. Tokia Saïfi, an ex-Radical filloniste MEP (elected since 1999), was second on the list. In the West, the list was headed by Alain Cadec, an incumbent MEP and general councillor (Côtes-d’Armor), followed by Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, an incumbent MEP and former president of the regional council of Poitou-Charentes (2002-2004, succeeded her ally Jean-Pierre Raffarin, lost reelection to Ségolène Royal in 2004). Marc Joulaud, the mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe – the former stronghold of François Fillon – who lost his bid to succeed his mentor (Fillon) as deputy in Fillon’s old constituency in 2012, was third on the UMP list. Nadine Morano, a fairly unpleasant loudmouth copéiste and former junior minister who lost her seat in the National Assembly in 2012, led the UMP list in the East; Arnaud Danjean, a filloniste incumbent MEP, followed her on the list. In the Massif central-Centre, the UMP was once again led by Brice Hortefeux (incumbent MEP), a close friend of Sarkozy and former cabinet minister (immigration, then labour and finally interior between 2007 and 2011). Jean-Pierre Audy, France’s most active MEP, was third on the list. In the Southwest, the UMP list was led by Michèle Alliot-Marie, a political veteran who’s served in cabinets under Chirac and Sarkozy (in portfolios such as defense, justice, interior and foreign affairs) who lost reelection in her constituency (first elected in 1988) in June 2012; as foreign minister, until February 2011, she had gotten into hot water for vacationing with friends of Ben Ali during the Tunisian Revolution. In the Southeast, the UMP was led by Renaud Muselier, another deputy defeated in 2012, who likely got his MEP gig in exchange for not getting Marseille city hall with his rival, the patriarch Jean-Claude Gaudin (the UMP mayor since 1995) opting to run for reelection. The UMP list in Île-de-France was led by Alain Lamassoure, a strongly pro-European MEP in the EP since 1999. Lamassoure’s political base, however, is in the Basque Country, and he was elected from the Southwest in 2004 and 2009. Incumbent MEP and the mayor of Paris’ 7th arrondissement Rachida Dati was second, with two other incumbent MEPs placing third and fourth on the UMP list. In the Overseas constituency, the UMP was represented by their incumbent MEP, Maurice Ponga, from New Caledonia – although Ponga’s local party, the Rassemblement-UMP, is no longer the official UMP affiliate in New Caledonia.
Christine Boutin, a political gadfly and former cabinet minister known for her very socially conservative positions (and other controversial positions for which she is often the target of ridicule) ran socially conservative pro-life and anti-gay marriage lists in all 8 constituencies – Force Vie. Boutin had been fairly close to the UMP between 2007 and 2009, and served in Fillon’s government until she got fired in 2009, at which point her small Christian Democratic Party (PCD) took its independence from the UMP and Boutin gradually shifted away from the UMP, although she endorsed Sarkozy in 2012 after failing to run herself and the PCD’s elected officials all won as UMP-endorsed candidates. Since the 2012 election, Boutin has left the leadership of the PCD and somewhat acted as a loose cannon and was a major leader in the 2013 manif pour tous against same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, Boutin – who is a bit nuts – claimed that homosexuality was an abomination; her name has stuck in popular memory in France for allegedly waving her Bible during a 1998 debate on civil unions (legalized by the left-wing government at the time) and she has faced controversy and ridicule for having married her first cousin. Christine Boutin led the Force Vie list in Île-de-France, with the PCD mayor of Montfermeil Xavier Lemoine in second position. In the Southwest, the top candidate was Jean-Claude Martinez, a former FN MEP (1989-2009) who left the FN in 2008 because he strongly opposed Marine Le Pen. The list’s platform focused on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, but had more Christian-social positions on economic issues (‘social market economy’, a European basic income). On the EU, it opposed Schengen, Turkish membership, EU ‘deepening’ and called on the affirmation of ‘Christian roots’ of Europe and an ‘alliance of civilizations’ with Latin America.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is the leader of Debout la République (DLR, Arise the Republic), a small right-wing paleo-Gaullist and Eurosceptic party founded in 1999 and an independent party since it broke with the UMP in 2007. NDA won 1.8% in the 2012 presidential election, and DLR’s media profile is very low – stuck in between the UMP to its left and the FN to its right (it claims to be a non-extremist anti-EU party; something of a FN-lite or ‘bridge’ between the UMP and FN, comparable to UKIP, the uniqueness of Gaullism notwithstanding). NDA did not run in the EP elections (a symbolic 29th place on the DLR list in IdF notwithstanding), but DLR put up lists in all 8 regions. Only Dominique Jamet, a right-wing journalist/writer, who was DLR’s top candidate in Île-de-France (the only region where DLR could win a seat, with the lowest effective threshold at 6% according to DLR’s campaign lit). With a slogan of ‘neither system nor extreme’, DLR proposed to drain the EU of 80% of its powers, end Schengen, adopt French protectionist policies, limit the number foreign workers in France and reducing bureaucracy and welfare dependency in France. Unlike UKIP and some other Eurosceptic parties on the right, DLR’s economic positions are more statist – in the traditional Gaullist tradition of dirigisme.
The one party expected to profit the most was the far-right National Front (FN). Marine Le Pen won a record high 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election, and after Sarkozy nearly killed the FN in 2007, the FN under Marine Le Pen’s leadership has roared back. Marine Le Pen benefits from a better image than that of her father and FN patriarch, Jean-Marie Le Pen. If most academics agree that under the veil of dédiabolisation, not much has changed in reality and policy; she does a much better job at appearances and communication than her father, who has a knack for provocative, racist and outrageous statements, lacked. She appears, in the eyes of part of the public, as cleaner, more acceptable, more credible and more moderate. Marine Le Pen has been quite careful at ensuring that the cranks and neo-fascist loons in the FN are kept quiet and has moved quickly, as much as she could without alienating her father and the more radical factions of the FN (who have been suspicious of her), to remove from public spotlight anybody who was inconvenient for the FN’s rebranding efforts. Marine Le Pen has surrounded herself with a new generation of FN leaders who are more polished and presentable to the media than some of the old guard (men like Bruno Gollnisch, who have said crazy things in the past); they include men like Florian Philippot, a technocrat who is now a FN vice-president.f
An Ipsos poll in November 2013 showed that a majority of respondents still think the FN is a far-right party, dangerous for democracy and would never vote the FN and most don’t think that the FN is a credible alternative. The FN’s positions, the poll showed, are not endorsed by a plurality (with one exception, on maintaining local services) although very substantial minorities (up to 46%) agree with the FN on immigration and immigration. However, the results did show favourable trends for the FN: a 9% drop since 2003 in those believing the FN is dangerous for democracy, a 13% drop since 2003 in those who say the FN is a far-right party (most notably with FN voters themselves, 57% in 2003 said the party was far-right but only 34% think so nowadays, a confirmation of the shifts in the FN’s electorate) and an overall ‘potential’ support of 35% (combining those who have already voted FN and those who say they may potentially do so).
The FN did quite well in the municipal elections, although they did confirm that there are clear limits to the FN’s growth. The majority of polls during the EP campaign showed the FN as the single largest party, maintaining a small but consistent lead over the UMP while a limping PS languished in third place. The FN’s campaign was relatively undisturbed by the obligatory last-minute racist provocation from the patriarch, who suggested that the ebola virus could solve the ‘demographic explosion’ in the world within three months. The FN’s electorate, still largely made up of malcontents and protest voters rather than dogmatic fascists or far-rightists, seems to have accepted Jean-Marie Le Pen’s continued presence in the party as a strategic necessity but downplaying his influence as that of a senile old man. Nevertheless, there is a thinly-veiled conflict between Marine and her father within the FN. Marine Le Pen has made real efforts to ‘clean up’ the party – expelling the neo-Nazi nutcases (Alexandre Gabriac, a vile skinhead elected to a regional council in 2010 on a FN list got kicked out in 2011 after publication of pictures showing him doing the Hitler salute to a Nazi flag), drawing closer to the European radical right and dropping ties with the extremists (although Bruno Gollnisch nevertheless attended the rally of the quasi-Nazi Jobbik party in Hungary) and polishing the party’s public image and rhetoric. She has also shifted the FN’s policy and its thematic focus – a greater focus on economic issues (where she has taken a statist and interventionist tone – with protectionism and the préférence nationale, and strongly anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal angle; a major break with the FN’s original radical economic liberalism of 1984) and refocusing the immigration rhetoric around the popular ‘republican value’ of laïcité (and nothing about the ‘Christian roots’ or Catholic traditionalism, as existed in the past; the FN no longer supports repatriating all immigrants). She has been backed in her shift by a ‘new guard’ of young, polished and somewhat technocratic figures – Florian Philippot (the ‘teacher’s pet’; a polished technocrat strongly attached to the dédiabolisation and moderation), Louis Aliot (Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend), Steeve Briois (the new FN mayor of Hénin-Beaumont and Marine Le Pen’s local right-hand man in her stronghold) and more minor FN cadres such as Nicolas Bay, David Rachline and Julien Sanchez. On the other hand, her father has become identified with a traditionalist wing, which is suspicious of excessive dédiabolisation – which it sees as unacceptable moderation which is causing the FN to lose its specificity – and is silently critical of Marine Le Pen for ‘abandoning’ traditional issues such as immigration, security and same-sex marriage (Marine Le Pen and Philippot did not participate in the manif pour tous, but Gollnisch and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen – the young granddaughter of Jean-Marie and Marine’s niece who is now one of two FN deputies – did march in it). At times, Jean-Marie Le Pen has even been publicly critical, in a thinly-veiled manner, of his daughter’s leadership and he is especially irked by the influence of her young ‘clique’ led by Aliot and Philippot. In this, Jean-Marie has been joined by Marion, who has emerged as a major rival of Marine and provided a young face to Jean-Marie’s ‘faction’.
In 2009, the FN had elected only three MEPs – Le Pen father and daughter and Gollnisch. The FN was not hurt by the fact that its three incumbents MEPs were quite inactive in the last EP, with low attendance records and limited participation in the daily and ‘unglamorous’ parliamentary activities; some in the media attempted to question them on their records, but they disingeniously claimed that the VoteWatch website was unreliable and biased (Mélenchon, another top inactive MEP, made a similar claim) or avoided the issue. Marine Le Pen refused to participate in a French TV debate with Martin Schulz, the PES candidate, likely because she would have been asked by the President of the EP why she was so inactive in her job. In the end, she had the last laugh…
This year, with polls showing them in the lead and therefore heading for a record 20+ seats, the composition of the FN lists beyond top candidates mattered a lot more. However, besides a fairly small elite of party cadres and elected officials in regional and municipal councils, the FN lacks the UMP or the PS’ grassroots bases across the country – so a lot of their candidates beyond the first two or so names tend to be quite anonymous (with the danger, as they saw in the locals, that these nobodies turn out to be hidden neo-Nazi cranks or racist fruitcakes). The law requiring the lists to alternate men and women to ensure gender parity also annoys the FN, a largely male-dominated party which has publicly ranted against the need for gender parity on lists.
In the Northwest, Marine Le Pen led the FN list, followed by Steeve Briois. Nicolas Bay, a former mégretiste turned young Marine protégé and politburo member, was fourth on the list. In the West, a weak region for the FN, the list was led by Gilles Lebreton, a law professor aligned with the small SIEL party (an ideologically quasi-identical party besides a Gaullist identity, aligned with Marine’s Rassemblement Bleu Marine broad front-thing). In the East, the FN list was led by Florian Philippot, who is trying (with very mixed results) to set up a base in the depressed old coal mining basin of Moselle (he ran for mayor of Forbach but lost to the PS incumbent in March, victim of a number of right-wing voters flocking to the PS in the runoff to block the FN). Jean-François Jalkh, a quiet party vice-president, was third on the list behind Sophie Montel, a regional councillor and FN leader in Franche-Comté. In the Massif central-Centre, the FN list was led by Bernard Monot, a libertarian economist. In the Southwest, it was Louis Aliot, styled the ‘prince consort’ by an irritated Jean-Marie Le Pen, who led the FN list. In the Southeast, the other major FN stronghold, the FN list was led by Jean-Marie Le Pen (who is the FN’s ‘boss’ in the PACA region), followed by party vice-president Marie-Christine Arnautu (an ally of Jean-Marie) and Bruno Gollnisch (elected in the East in 2009, but whose historical base was in Rhône-Alpes although he seems to have shifted to the Var now). In Île-de-France, the FN’s list was led by Aymeric Chauprade, a souverainiste realist polisci academic known for his controversial work on ‘civilizations’ and pro-Russian viewpoints. The FN also had an Overseas list, but the FN is obviously weak there outside some regions (New Caledonia).
The FN’s campaign was quite simple and had a clear target: the EU – the ‘destroyer’ of the nation-state and the culprit for unemployment, deindustrialization, outsourcing, mass immigration, dilution of the French identity, criminality, ‘communitarianism’ and undemocratic supra-national governance. The FN called for border controls to stop anarchic immigration and free movement of Romas and criminals, opposed austerity policies (the tax increases and destruction of social services), relaunching growth and jobs by abandoning the Euro for the Franc, reindustrializing France through protectionism, ‘refounding’ democracy by ‘returning to the people its legislative sovereignty’, protecting the labour market (by abolishing the EU directive on posted workers which allows, the FN said, for the mass immigration of cheap foreign labour), defending French agriculture and industry, opposing the FTA with the US, defending public services and defending identity and traditions. The FN’s slogan was straightforward stuff: NON à Bruxelles / OUI à la France (also the official registered name of all FN lists).
An oddity in the French electoral system: the individual lists are responsible for the costs of printing their own ballots, which are sent to the city halls (for distribution at the polling station) and by mail to all voters (alongside their campaign literature, or profession de foi, which they must also print and cover the costs thereof). The government (often subcontracted out) is responsible for distributing ballots and campaign lit it has received from the lists to all voters, by mail. Parties with lists in five of the eight constituencies, however, have access to free campaign ads on TV. Lists which have received over 3% of the vote will have the costs of printing ballots, campaign ads and campaign lit refunded. Given that it is very easy to run in EP elections provided you have a complete list with an equal number of men and women, a huge number of small lists sign up to run. Given the costs of actually printing ballots and campaign material, a lot of these small makeshift lists or parties usually decide to either call on their voters to print out their ballot, distribute ballots in public the day before the vote or send a limited number of ballots to polling stations on election day. Therefore, in the mailers sent out by the government to voters, only the major lists and ‘major minor’ lists actually have included their ballot and/or campaign lit.
The picture shows sample ballots in the Île-de-France constituency – PS-PRG, FN, Force Vie and DLR.
Turnout: 42.43% (+1.8%)
Seats: 74 (nc, +2 on 2009 EP election)
Electoral system: Closed list proportional representation in 8 inter-regional constituencies, 5% threshold at the constituency level, highest averages method
The results were calculated by Laurent de Boissieu on his website france-politique.fr, because the Interior Ministry are totally incompetent nincompoops when it comes to accurately representing nationwide results. Seat changes compared to the 74 French MEPs as they stood at the end of the term.
FN (EAF) 24.86% (+18.52%) winning 24 seats (+21)
UMP (EPP) 20.81% (-7.07%) winning 20 seats (-5)
PS-PRG (S&D) 13.98% (-2.5%) winning 13 seats (+1) [12 PS, 1 PRG]
UDI-MoDem (ALDE) 9.94% (+1.48%) winning 7 seats (-3) [4 MoDem, 1 UDI-NC, 1 UDI-RAD, 1 UDI-AC]
EELV (G-EFA) 8.95% (-7.33%) winning 6 seats (-6)
FG (GUE-NGL) 6.61% (+0.13%) winning 4 seats (-1) [1 FG-PCF, 1 FG-PG, 1 FG-Ind., 1 UOM-PCR]
DLR (EUDemocrats) 3.82% (+2.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nouvelle Donne 2.9% (+2.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Nous Citoyens 1.41% (+1.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LO 1.17% (-0.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
AEI 1.12% (-2.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Force Vie – PCD 0.74% (+0.74%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europe Citoyenne 0.67% (+0.67%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Citoyens du Vote Blanc 0.58% (+0.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nous te ferons Europe! – MBP – PB/SB 0.44% (+0.25%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPR 0.41% (+0.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NPA (EACL) 0.39% (-4.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
R&PS (G-EFA) 0.34% (+0.34%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Pirate 0.21% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.61% (-5.8%) winning 0 seats (-1)
The French results made headlines across Europe and much of the world, and it was the election – out of the ’28 elections’ – which retained the most attention, and became the main basis for (often flawed) media analysis of ‘pan-European’ trends in the results especially as it relates to the surge of (some) Eurosceptic/populist parties. The far-right FN topped the poll – a first for the party in any nationwide election in France – with its best percentage of the vote in its history. With 24 MEPs, the FN will not only be the single largest French party in France’s delegation to the EP (the second-largest) but it will also be one of the biggest individual national political parties in the new EP. It is a huge caucus for the FN, which will now have all their national leaders and several prominent local/regional leaders serving as European parliamentarians.
It is worth keeping in mind, before jumping to conclusions, that this was a low turnout election: 42.4%, although for the first time since 1994, turnout was actually slightly higher than in the last EP election – something which most people did not expect. The FN won about 25% of those who voted, but that’s only equivalent to 10.1% of the electorate. The FN lists won 4,712,461 votes – which is less votes than Marine Le Pen won in April 2012 (6,421,426) with 17.9% of the vote. This is not to say, however, that if turnout had been at presidential-levels the FN would not have done strikingly as well. An Ifop pre-election poll asked those who planned not to vote who they would vote for if they did actually vote showed the FN leading with 24% against 22% for the UMP, with the PS performing just as poorly (14%) and EELV quite a bit better (11%). The overall results were strikingly similar to the voting intentions of those who intended to vote and the final results. Therefore, if turnout had been considerably higher, it is likely that the FN would have performed as well as it actually did – likely with 23-25% of the vote.
Differential turnout played a key role in the FN’s success, but it is not the only factor explaining its victory. According to Ifop’s exit poll, 51% of Marine Le Pen’s 2012 voters turned out on May 25, compared to 42% of the wider electorate, 56% of Sarkozy’s first round voters, 57% of Bayrou’s voters but only 42% of Hollande’s first round voters and 34% of Mélenchon’s voters. Ipsos reported very similar numbers (except for Bayrou’s voters), with about half of Marine’s 2012 voters showing up but about 42% of Hollande’s first round voters doing likewise. An Ifop publication on the FN’s performance, based on analysis of the actual results, found that turnout increased the most in those places where the FN gained the most between 2009 and 2014.
It is quite a remarkable feat for the FN to achieve, however, considering how structurally ‘abstentionist’ its electorate is – manual workers (35% turnout per Ipsos), those without the Bac (41% turnout), low income households (30% turnout) and the anti-EU voters (according to OpinionWay, 66% of those who want to abandon the Euro and 72% of those who say that the EU should be abandoned did not vote) are all FN-leaning demographics which have below average turnout. In 2009, admittedly a low-point for the FN, about two-thirds of FN sympathizers had not voted. The FN overcame these major obstacles and motivated a core group of supporters to turn out. In a low turnout election decided by who turns out and mobilizes their base best, the FN did a significantly better job than the left. As in the municipal elections in March, most left-wing voters unhappy with the government or the partisan offer on the left largely stayed home rather than vote for another party.
However, it is important to point out that this result did not come as a surprise (although one could have assumed that it was a major surprise given the media’s usual sensationalism on election night). Polls since April 2014 have almost all had the FN in first place, stable between 21% and 24% of voting intentions since at least March, with the UMP in a consistent second with 21% to 23.5% of voting intentions. The PS, as in 2009, saw its support decline during the campaign from about 19-20% in April and declining to 16% by the end of the campaign. EELV increased its support, unsurprising given that it is a party which benefits from greater attention during an election campaign. From 7-8% at the outset, it increased to 9-10% at the end of the campaign. The FG, however, declined somewhat. Ifop had a daily tracking poll with Paris Match, and it last had the UMP ahead of the FN in late April.
The current political and socioeconomic situation in France has created a perfect storm for the FN, which has been the only major political party to benefit from the situation. It is useful to refer to Ipsos’ very informative study on French society from January 2014. According to that study, the main issues in France are unemployment (56%), taxes (43%, up 16 from 2013!), buying power (36%) followed by pensions (24%), safety (23%), social inequalities (21%) and immigration (21%). Ipsos’ exit poll found that immigration (31%), purchasing power (30%), the Eurozone crisis (27%), unemployment (27%) and peacekeeping in Europe (21%) were the most important issues on voters’ minds; for FN voters, immigration was one of the two main issues for 64% of them.
Immigration, unsurprisingly, has been the top issue for FN voters throughout the party’s history – one of the very few constants in the demographics of the FN’s electorate since 1984. Although a majority of voters still do not agree with the FN on immigration, a rising proportion do (42% according to an Ipsos study on the FN late last year). President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rhetoric on tough immigration, beginning in the 2007 campaign and reaching a climax with his (in)famous discours de Grenoble and the 2012 campaign (heavily influenced by Patrick Buisson, a political strategist with old ties to the far-right), arguably legitimized the FN’s positions on immigration and served to blur the differences between the FN and the ‘respectable’ parliamentary right. For years now, French voters have expressed support for tough policies against immigration and a large majority agree with the view that ‘there are too many foreigners in France’ (66% in Ipsos’ aforecited January 2014 poll). Manuel Valls was so popular as interior minister largely because he took hard stances against illegal immigration and Roma squatter camps, and his controversial measures (the Leonarda expulsion) and statements sparked an outcry on the left with a minority of pro-immigration activists and voters, but the electorate largely endorsed him on those statements and issues.
Most political institutions and office holders, except mayors, are poorly perceived according to data from Ipsos: a majority lack confidence in the justice system (54%), the EU (69%), the National Assembly (72%), deputies (77%) and political parties (92%). Pessimism is widespread: 90% say France’s economic power has declined in the past ten years although 65% still think that decline is not irreversible. There remains a strong demand for the notion of ‘authority’, with 87% feeling that authority is too often criticized and 84% saying that France needs a ‘real leader’ to ‘restore order’. A majority (about 60%) expressed protectionist views. A large majority expressed dissatisfaction with politics: 65% feeling that most politicians are corrupt, 78% saying that the democratic system is not working well, 84% who think politicians act primarily for their own interests and 88% decrying that politicians don’t preoccupy themselves with what people like them think.
Opinions are split on the EU depending on the kind of question asked, but there is a general slant towards more Eurosceptic opinions. According to Ipsos’ exit poll, 41% feel that membership in the EU is a good thing while only 23% explicitly say that it is a bad thing (the rest saying that is neither good nor bad), and a large majority continue to reject the FN’s pet idea of returning to the Franc – that idea was supported by only 28% of respondents in Ipsos’ exit poll. At the same time, however, 64% said that national powers should be strengthened and 51% said that the EU worsened the impact of the economic crisis in France.
Politically, the government is – as explained above – extremely unpopular, and even if Valls remains popular at this early stage, there is little optimism that his polices will succeed. Obviously, given such a situation, the PS as the governing party has become terribly unpopular. Besides the unending succession of policy failures and bad results, the several major promises broken and the direction of the government’s policies have alienated, disappointed or angered a good number of voters on the left. The PS, like Hollande, lacks any credibility. However, neither the FG or EELV have been able to profit from the PS’ unpopularity. As in many other European countries, the crisis and the sad state of social democracy have not significantly strengthened the radical left. In France, the FG has been totally unable to benefit from Hollande’s unpopularity. The coalition has been divided, unable to overcome the strategical contradictions between its numerically dominant party (the PCF) and its charismatic heavyweight and public figure (Mélenchon); the latter has a clear interest in the FG being an independent force with a clear and coherent stance against the PS and the government, while the latter is still mostly concerned about saving its ass. Yet, for all his charisma and appeal to certain left-wing voters, Mélenchon is a terrible spokesperson for the radical left. He is unpleasant, abrasive, rude, condescending and retains public attention only for his latest tirade against a journalist or Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, in contrast, is a far smarter political strategist: while the FN dislikes journalists and hates them questioning their policies or actions, Marine Le Pen appears calmer, measured, polished and relatively polite to the general public. The FG has received mostly negative coverage in the media for the last few months, stemming from the extremely public divisions between the PCF and PG factions and speculation about the ‘upcoming’ (?) death/explosion of the FG. FG supporters were worn down by these internal squabbles (in addition to squabbles within some of the parties making up the FG, like Gauche unitaire), general pessimism about the state of the FG/left and the direction of the country.
The UMP is in no better shape than the PS, and its performance as the largest opposition party to the government has been horrendous by most standards. In Ipsos’ exit poll, only 21% of voters said that the UMP-UDI would manage the economy better than the government (the same percentage thought the FN would manage the economy better). In a recent OpinionWay poll on the opposition, only 14% of voters – and 32% of Sarkozy’s first round voters from 2012 – identified the UMP as the party which was the best opposition to the government, against 40% who answered ‘none of the above’ and 34% who said that the FN was the strongest opposition. The UMP was badly hurt by the crisis which followed the 2012 congress, and the ensuing protracted factional conflict reduced the popularity of both Fillon and Copé. To make matters worse, Copé is one of the most unpopular politicians in France, and his stint as president of the UMP did not nothing to shake off the image of Copé as an opportunistic, double-faced, insincere, morally bankrupt and corrupt career politician. Copé’s hold on the party was not only weakened by the smoldering and lingering factional conflicts between copéistes and fillonistes, but also – especially in the past few months – by a series of scandals, most recent the Bygmalion scandal. Nicolas Sarkozy also continues to cast a long shadow over his party, and the constant speculation over his imminent (or not) ‘return’ to active politics has further weakened the hold of the leadership on the party and confirmed depictions of the UMP as being rudderless and leaderless in Sarkozy’s absence. The bulk of the UMP’s rank-and-file are praying for Sarkozy’s return, and the UMP base remains heavily sarkozyste; on the other hand, the fillonistes and juppéistes oppose Sarkozy’s return and there remains strong resistance from ambitious politicians in the UMP to the prospect of Sarkozy ‘usurping’ their spot in 2017. However, Sarkozy’s popularity with the broader electorate has not improved all that much: he remains very unpopular on the left – even with Hollande’s massive unpopularity, there is little convincing sign of buyer’s remorse. Ipsos’ exit poll found that only 38% of voters want Sarkozy to ‘return’ (86% of UMP sympathizers) and, on another question, 54% judge that he would not be a good candidate.
The UMP, since its defeat in 2012 and the rising strength of the FN, has been divided over which political direction it should move towards – to the right, to become a clearer direct competitor to the FN; or the centre, to reassure centrist voters about the UMP and build a winning coalition in 2017 by a ‘traditional’ moderate and pragmatic appeal to the centre (Mitterrand 1988, Chirac 2002). As a result, the UMP’s ‘policy’ direction has been totally incoherent and it has largely failed to appear as a credible alternative to the government on a good number of issues. As noted above, the UMP’s strategy to mitigate the internal incoherence and discordance over the policy line has been to virulently oppose the government at nearly every turn and latch on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues. This strategy, however, has often appeared to be desperate and unconvincing to most voters. In the EP elections, the UMP further proved its internal dissonance, in this case over its views on the EU. The party includes a broad range of views on the EU, from committed federalists to actual Eurosceptics and those pretending to be Eurosceptic if that’s what cool kids do. The PS is, of course, in a similar position, but this year the most public dissonances over the EU came from the UMP.
The UMP won the municipal elections because local dynamics are more favourable (even in the context of a national wave) to the UMP. It has a strong existing base (unlike the FN), with popular incumbent mayors or strong locally-implanted candidates (former mayors, parliamentarians, local star candidates) which parties such as the FN generally lack at the local level. In the second round, especially in closely-fought left-right battles in duels (two-way) or triangulaires (three-way, generally with the FN), there was a consolidation of the far-right vote behind the candidate of the parliamentary right to defeat the left. However, despite a strong numerical result in March, the UMP won the municipal elections ‘by default’. In contrast, in an EP elections, those local dynamics are no longer relevant and EP elections are, of all elections, the ones in which voters are the most likely to use their vote to ‘let off steam’ and punish the largest parties.
The end result was that the FN topped the poll with nearly 25% of the vote and elected 24 MEPs (23 – one of them, Joëlle Bergeron, a random nobody, got into trouble when they found out that she supports voting rights for foreigners, and faced leadership pressures to not take her seat – she will be taking it, but will sit in the EFD group alongside UKIP) – up from only three in the last session of the EP. The UMP, with 20.8% of the vote, saw its support fall by about 7.1% from the last EP election in 2009. The UMP – which ran in alliance with the NC and GM (which are now part of the UDI) at the time – had a fairly ‘good’ result for a governing in the 2009 election, although 27.9% against a combined 39.2% for the left (FG-PS-EELV) at the time was not a particularly stellar result. Nevertheless, the then-governing UMP’s fairly decent performance was the result of a minor uptick in Sarkozy’s popularity around the time of the election and differential turnout, with the participation of a slightly more right-leaning and pro-EU electorate than is usual.
The PS had its worst result in a EP election – falling below not only its 2009 results (16.5%) but also the record low of 1994 (14.5%). The PS lists received only 2,650,357 votes against over 10.2 million votes for Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election. According to Ifop, of the minority of Hollande’s first round electorate which actually voted on May 25, only 53% of those voters backed the PS (in contrast, of the first round Sarkozy 2012 voters who voted in the EP election, the UMP retained 62% of them; the FN won 86% of Marine’s 2012 supporters who turned out). Compared to 2012, the PS not only bled a whole ton of voters to abstention, a substantial percentage of those who did turn out voted for other parties on the left – EELV (14%), the FG (7%) and Nouvelle Donne (5%) while another 6% backed the FN. Ipsos and OpinionWay reported quasi-identical figures. Basically, only a small quarter of Hollande’s first round voters from 2012 remained loyal to the PS. Of course, given the very different nature of presidential and EP elections, it’s not a perfect comparison: even if the government was very popular, fairly substantial loses to abstention and other small parties of the left (such as EELV) would be expected. But it can serve to underline how horrible the PS’ performance was.
In contrast to 2009 and 1994, the two other EP elections in which the PS did terribly, there was no strong left-wing competition to the PS in this election. In 2009, a lot of the PS-leaning base – especially well-educated, white-collar and middle-class urban and suburban dwellers – switched to EE, which benefited from a perfect storm of favourable tailwinds in 2009. In 1994, the PS list led by Michel Rocard faced the quasi-public enmity of the Élysée Palace and President Mitterrand, who supported Bernard Tapie’s anti-establishment and anti-system Énergie Radicale list, which ended up with 12% of the vote. Although with EELV (9%), FG (6.6%) and Nouvelle Donne (2.9%) there was some left-wing competition to the PS, it was rather weak and amounted to only 32.5% of the vote.
The UDI-MoDem alliance, with 9.9%, slightly improved on the MoDem’s performance alone in 2009. The parties, to put it simply, largely retained a centrist and Christian democratic electorate which had largely voted for Bayrou in April 2012. There were, according to the several exit polls, significant voter ‘flows’ between 2012 and 2014: depending on the pollster you trust, the UDI-MoDem held between 48% and 59% of the Bayrou 2012 vote which turned out on May 25, with the rest going to the right (UMP) and some to the left (EELV); of the UDI and MoDem sympathizers which voted, about three-fifths to two-thirds of them backed their parties’ common lists, with the rest going to the UMP or other parties in smaller numbers.
Compared to its 2009 high, EELV suffered major loses – over 7% of its vote and a caucus cut down by over half from where it stood in 2009. A significant decline in support from its 2009 heights was to be expected, because 16.5% represents an abnormally high level of support for the green movement in France even in a European election. As explained above, EE(LV) in 2009 had cashed in on a perfect storm: a very rare moment of unity in green ranks, a unique cohesion between the political and non-political/civil society actors in the green movement, the candidacy of a popular and charismatic leader (Cohn-Bendit), a divided and weakened PS (very similar to the state in which the UMP is in today) and even the Home effect (although that theory has always appeared, personally, to be post hoc confabulation by a clueless media). In 2014, EELV lost most of that: the new party, although meant to unite old Greens with new members from social movements and civil society has largely turned out to be Les Verts 2.0 (a party of professional politicians out of touch or disconnected with the green movement in society), the absence of a leader like Cohn-Bendit and the loss of any particular advantage over the PS. On that last point, EELV has clearly been weakened by its participation in the unpopular Ayrault government and the perception that it compromised on a lot of its values and generally performed very poorly in cabinet. At the same time, however, 9% (or 8.95% to be exact) is not a bad result for EELV – it is a bit below the Green records of 1989 and 1999, but it is higher than the Greens’ result in 2004 (7.4%).
The FG, however, as mentioned briefly, performed poorly – with 6.6%, its support was basically equal to 2009, while the FG (PCF) lost one MEP (Jacky Hénin, a longtime incumbent, lost his seat in the Northwest constituency). The FG’s clear under-performance is a another hit for the very fragile alliance. Given Hollande’s unpopularity, the parallel unpopularity of the PS, the growing left-wing opposition to Valls and the government’s moderate policies and EELV’s weaknesses, the FG could stand to benefit from the current situation. But instead of gaining support from the left, it has been drawn down by its internal divisions and a very ‘clan’-like behaviour which has kept the FG from presenting a strong, credible and coherent left-wing alternative to the PS. This is not all that surprising, however, if you look at the history of the radical left and the PCF in France. The PCF since the 1980s is often ridiculed by critics as being the stupidest communist party in Europe, which is often not far from the truth given the PCF’s electoral strategies. The French radical left has and always will be an exploded nebula – a complex array of factions, movements, parties, social organizations and warring politicians who spend most of their time fighting one another. Mélenchon’s strength in 2012 came from his one-off ability to unite the radical left and part of the PS left behind a single candidate, drawing a diverse electorate which had supported the far-left or the PS in 2007 (but at the same time, not all those who backed far-left candidates in 2007 voted for Mélenchon in 2012, whose hold on the 2007 radical left (LO+LCR+PCF) base was very imperfect); that ability, which owed a lot to the particular dynamics of the campaign (Hollande’s persistent image, on the left of the left, as weak, indecisive and with questionable left-wing credentials; Mélenchon’s successful campaign and his personal charisma), was a one-off thing and it has since not transferred on the FG. The 2012 legislative election was the first cold shower for the FG, which unexpectedly suffered substantial loses to the PS. As long as France’s radical left remains so caught up in its arcane and silly squabbles and divided over what strategy to adapt, it cannot expect much success at the polls.
The smaller parties had mixed performances, although their cumulative result was, as would be expected in an EP election, very strong. DLR did very well for a party with relatively low notoriety and no clearly-defined base of support; it won 3.8% of the vote (but did not come close to a seat anywhere), up from an already fairly decent (for the times) result of 1.8% in the 2009 election. Nouvelle Donne, for a new party lacking strong leadership and resources, did well although it obviously failed in its wet dream of surpassing the PS. It won 2.9% of the vote, largely appealing to an urban, young, well-educated progressive electorate which had voted EELV, PS or FG in 2009. It remains to be seen if the party will go the way of so many other similar projects on the left or if it could manage to establish a tiny base for itself. Nous Citoyens won 1.4% of the vote – with the ideologically fluffiness and the vague slogans, it likely won protest votes and ‘NOTA votes’. The Independent Ecologist Alliance (AEI) first ran in 2009 as a coalition of three parties: Antoine Waechter’s MEI (founded as by Green dissidents in 1994 who rejected the Greens’ turn to the left and alliance with the PS-led left), Génération écologie (originally Brice Lalonde’s party, which lost all relevance and shifted right in the mid-1990s) and La France en action (a very vague and shady ‘green party’, allegedly used by religious sects such as the Scientologists and Raëlians to make money). It won 3.6% of the vote – thanks in good part to various star candidates in the regions including Antoine Waechter, former weather presenter Patrice Drevet and singer Francis Lalanne). However, it fell apart in 2010 as the MEI and GE left the AEI to pursue their own alliances (Waechter has finally made up with his old enemies and the MEI now regularly allies itself to EELV; GE briefly allied with the PRG in 2011-2012 and then dropped out of view again), leaving the AEI as La France en action. Given the loss of star candidates and support, the AEI ran only five lists and dropped to 1.1%.
Christine Boutin’s Force Vie did poorly, as expected; the market for a socially conservative and in-your-face religious right party in France is tiny (and the Catholic traditionalist minority was historically aligned with other parties, such as the FN) and Boutin is mostly known because she’s the target of so much parody and ridicule. Boutin’s list won 1.2% in Île-de-France, its second best result after the West (1.45%). Corinne Lepage lost reelection in her terribly ill-advised bid to run independently on her own platform. Europe Citoyenne‘s best result, by a mile, came in Île-de-France, where Lepage herself won 2.3%.
The Breton regionalist list (Nous te ferons Europe!) led by Christian Troadec in the West did surprisingly well – winning 3.05% in the region as a whole, 7.2% in the region of Brittany and 11.5% in Finistère. In Brittany, Troadec’s list easily outperformed the other regionalist list – led by the old UDB, which won only 2% of the vote in the region. In Corsica, nationalist MEP François Alfonsi’s list – which received only 0.75% in the Southeast region, won a solid third with 21.5% of the vote and placed second with 22.9% in Haute-Corse. In the Southwest, the Basque regionalist list won only 0.25%, but managed 3.3% in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques (which also includes non-Basque regions).
On the far-left, the NPA did horrendously. Granted, the NPA managed to put up against five lists while its fraternal enemy, LO, put up lists everywhere and held its vote share from 2009. In Île-de-France, where LO leader Nathalie Arthaud went up against Olivier Besancenot, the old face of the NPA, the LO list narrowly beat the NPA 0.85% to 0.84%. Even led by Besancenot, who in the past carried a personal vote, the NPA’s poor result shows how moribund the outfit really is and how totally irrelevant Besancenot has become. The French far-left is at its weakest level in years.
Demographic and geographic analysis
The trends in the ‘Marine era’ spatial and sociodemographic distribution of support for the FN noted in 2012 were confirmed this year. These trends included a ‘proletarianization’ of the party’s electorate, a strengthening of the ni-ni (alienated and dissatisfied voters identifying with neither the left or right) component of the FN at the expense of the ideologically far-right base, very high levels of support in the old industrial regions of the north, a slight fall-off (compared to 2002) in the southern bases, a stark urban-suburban/rural divide, very strong support in distant exurban areas (périurbain), a very strong negative correlation with higher levels of education, a reduced gender gap and finally a ‘nationalization’ of FN support with some strong gains (compared to 2002) in traditionally weak regions west of the famous Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis. The novelty of 2014 would be the nationwide gains made by the FN, which won incredible results in its strongholds and strong results in traditionally weak regions. However, the low turnout means that these gains are slightly less impressive in reality than on paper, but still…
Exit polls all confirmed that the FN won excellent results with voters in the lower social categories (CSP-) – employees and manual workers (ouvriers).
From the three main exit polls (Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay), the FN received 43 to 46% of the vote with ouvriers – well, the minority of them which actually voted. With employees, a largely feminine but broad sociological category (which has been generalized to lower-echelon employees and so forth; consisting of lower-level public servants, clerks, secretaries, administrative employees, cashiers, clerks, salesmen but also personal service workers), the FN won between 34% and 38% depending on the pollster. The UMP performed very poorly with ouvriers (10-11%, with Ipsos reporting a likely exaggerated 17%), and the PS support collapsed (8-12%). The FG won about 9% of ouvriers which turned out on May 25. EELV won about 6-9%, depending on the pollster, which is below average but a comparatively decent result for a party whose electorate is largely white-collar. With employees, the PS did slightly better, with support at 12% (Ifop) 0r 15-16% (Ipsos/OpinionWay); EELV and FG both did fairly well, with 8-10% and 7-10% respectively. The UMP won only 12% or 15% of employees.
Délits d’opinion averaged the numbers from all exit polls, and found the FN won about 45% with ouvriers against 13% for the UMP, 9% apiece for the FG and PS, 8% for EELV and only 5% for the centre. With employees, it averaged to 36% for the FN against 14% apiece for the UMP and PS, 9% for EELV, 8% for the FG and 6% for the centre. The strength of the FN with employees, three-quarters of which are women, shows the absence of a gender gap in the FN’s vote: Ifop did show a 5-point gap (but it was largely due to older women being significantly less FN than older men), OpinionWay and Ipsos both reported a statistically insignificant or nonexistent gender gap. In the past, the FN’s electorate had been a fairly significant gender gap and masculine bias in the FN electorate, which is the norm for a far-right party, but it has been reduced or eliminated with Marine Le Pen. The FN’s figures with workers and employees are both major gains on the FN’s 2012 results with these groups, but making comparisons is silly given the major differences in turnout between the two elections.
In the FN’s support, there remains a difference between those in the private and public sectors. Those employed in the private sector have a strong right-wing lean, and it’s with those in the private sector that the FN performed better. The private sector is marked by greater job insecurity, lower unionization rates, less generous social conditions and more concerns about unemployment, purchasing power and cost of living pressures (but with tough times befalling the public sector, the FN has been pulling strong numbers with public employees as well – likely expanding from its base with military personnel and policemen). In the sphere of workers and employees, the FN’s traditional demographics are cashiers, vendors, those employed in small industries/firms and construction sector workers. The left does far better with public employees. Additionally, the FN does better with non-unionized workers (34% vs 25% according to Ifop), but the FN support has increased with unionized workers – Ifop reported that, in the EP election, the FN won 33% with those close to Workers’ Force (FO), 27% with those close to Sud-Solidaires and 22% with those close to the largest union, the historically communist CGT (the FG won 30% support with those aligned with the CGT). Its support was lower, 17%, with those close to the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), a moderate union with roots in the 1960s New Left and Christian left tradition.
FN support tends to be middle-aged, and weakest with older voters (retirees were one of the FN’s weakest groups, with 18-19% support). According to OpinionWay and Ifop, which had detailed age breakdowns, the FN did best (32% average) with those 35 to 39 but did almost as well with those 18 to 24 (29% average), 50 to 64 (26%) and 25 to 34 (24%). With those over 65, the FN won 16% against 31% for the UMP. Worryingly for the PS, its support, like the UMP, increased with age (9% for the PS with those 18-24 and 17% with those 65+). Younger left-wing voters, like in other countries in the EU (Austria, most significantly) preferred the Greens (14-15% with those 18 to 34).
Traditionally and historically, ouvriers formed the backbone of the French left, which, in the glory days of the 50s and late 70s used to command the support of about seven in ten workers. A strong tradition of socialization in a Communist milieu in the immediate post-war era maintained strong familial links of left-wing (and oftentimes, Communist) political orientation. However, since Mitterrand’s election in 1981 and especially since the 1990s, the left has been alarmed at the pace at which their old backbone have been deserting them and flirting for anti-system options, be it the unconventional far-left of Arlette and Olivier or the far-right of Jean-Marie and his daughter. There is a feeling that the left has abandoned its working-class roots and has shifted its style, rhetoric and strategy towards gentrified middle-classes, salaried public employees and the bobos. Indeed, the PS’ style since 1983 has been edging towards either feel-good consensual, moderated toned-down centre-leftism or New Left rhetoric about social justice, equality or tolerance. The Marxist rhetoric about the class struggle, the proletariat and even the mitterrandien creed of changer la vie was left on the side of the road, ready to be picked up by parties to the left or right of the PS. That being said, unlike the PCF, the PS was never a ‘worker’s party’ (parti ouvrier) – even in the 1970s. The share of manual workers in the PS membership has always been very low – significantly lower than in the PCF; today, the vast majority of PS members are from the new middle-classes (teachers, public servants, intermediate-grade public/parastatal sector, social workers and white-collar professionals) and workers made up only 3% of the PS membership according to a 2011 study (down from 10% in 1985). The PCF, which had a real working-class membership in the better years, has seen a similar decline of its working-class component and a concomitant increase in the number of cadres and middle-classes; at the same time, most of the PCF’s remaining working-class members are unionized and work in the public sector or parastatals. The PS, meanwhile, has grown further disconnected from social movements and the unions.
Since the 1980s, the working-classes in Western Europe have suffered acute social dislocation. The working-classes have suffered from deindustrialization (factory closures), the fall of large industrial interests (shipbuilding, mining), a significant increase in unemployment, a marginalization of the secondary sector by the tertiarization of western economies and the loss of working-class identities and class consciousness as the ouvrier ceased to be the vanguard of societies. Simultaneously, the nature of French society – particularly the working-class and industry – was altered by a major increase in North African immigration. With the recent economic crisis (and yet more unemployment and even lower incomes), many have felt that yet another psychological ‘threshold’ of working-class resentment and alienation has been broken. Cautious optimism has been replaced by pessimism – pondering whether the crisis will ever end, feeling that politics is controlled by an international financial oligarchy. Recent studies have found that there was a deep-seated feeling of insecurity (physical but also economic and social) and injustice.
Naturally, immigration – and the ethnocentric sentiments it creates – is quite inseparable from socioeconomic explanations aforementioned. In situations of social dislocation, the victims seek a scapegoat who can be held responsible – either entirely or in large part – for their situation. The immigrant, who settled in the same industrial urban regions as the original working-class, is seen as responsible for the lack of jobs (since they took the jobs), the loss of social welfare protections (the immigrants and their often large families seen as leeching off welfare) and increased criminality. For such voters, the FN, which offers a simple solution to the ‘immigrant problem’ and quick fixes to their socioeconomic woes, is a very attractive option. The FN speaks directly to their feelings of exclusion, marginalization, alienation and demands for a ‘strong’ response to their problems. Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique convincingly showed, however, that the working-class vote for the FN only becomes significant on the condition that voters express authoritarian sentiments and hostility towards immigrants – regardless of socioeconomic anxiety, sense of insecurity or rejection of the political system. There is a strong correlation between ethnocentric attitudes and a high FN vote; but unlike with the left or the far-left, there’s no correlation between the FN and negative views towards economic liberalism and globalization. However, Michelat and Simon’s numbers did show that the FN vote still increased alongside the degree of identification with the working-class. While voters supportive of immigration will not vote for the FN regardless of socioeconomic woes or working-class ties, working-class voters opposed to immigration are more likely to vote for the far-right than non-working-class voters with similar views on immigration.
Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique also established that the connection between the PCF’s loses with workers and the FN’s gains, which both began at the same time (1980s), was extremely tenuous and a fairly minor occurrence. There was very little direct transfers from the PCF to the FN – the PCF’s working-class electorate grew old and retired, voted to the far-left or joined the very large numbers of non-voters election after election. The FN’s gains with working-class voters came primarily from those who had voted for the right or the PS. The existence of a fairly substantial number of blue-collar voters who tend to support the FN in the first round but the left (PS) in a second round against the right, which first became a major phenomenon in 1995, has created an engaging academic debate on whether this should be called gaucho-lepénisme (PS-leaning voters who vote FN in the first round) or ninisme. The latter, to which I admittedly lean towards, argues that what is called gaucho-lepénisme should instead be seen as part of a wider phenomenon of political disengagement and working-class alienation from the traditional left. Nonna Mayer (Ces français qui votent Le Pen) claimed that while the FN’s working-class supporters have left-wing roots through their parents and may vote for the left against the moderate right in a two-way runoff scenario, they no longer identify with the left and exhibit signs of profound political apathy and general pessimism towards politics and partisanship in general. In short, while voters of left-wing tradition do make up a significant part of the FN vote, it is simplistic to assume that it’s as easy as PCF/PS voters just deciding to vote FN now.
Mayer’s arguments underline the common idea that there are two major ‘blocs’ of FN voters – to put it crudely, one is ideologically far-right and less blue-collar while the other is a traditional protest vote which is more blue-collar and not ideologically far-right. The idea has recently been picked up by the media, which has decided to dumb the picture down further (as usual), and linked the idea of these two blocs (which have become somewhat geographically defined) to the animosity between Marine Le Pen and Jean-Marie Le Pen/Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. In 2013, Ifop had an interesting study on the ‘FN du nord’ and the ‘FN du sud’ which found similarities and differences between the FN core geographic bases in the northeast (Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Haute-Normandie) and the south (PACA, Languedoc-Roussillon). They share isolationist/protectionist views, quasi-universal hostility to immigration and foreigners, feelings of insecurity but also fairly ‘hard’ stances on unemployment (agreement with the idea that unemployed people could find work ‘if they really wanted’); although the intensity of anti-immigrant sentiment is highest with the southern ‘ideological’ FN. There were more important differences of opinion regarding same-sex marriage (the south being about 10% more opposed, although all segments of FN voters rejected it by wide margins); but the widest differences of opinion came on economic issues – the south expressing right-wing views and the northeast more statist views. For example, Ifop’s study found that 60% of FN voters in the south said taxes were too high, compared with only 37% of FN voters in the northeast. Unsurprisingly, the southern and northeastern FN also reflected sociological differences: 50% of the FN voters in the northeast were workers/employees against 36% of those in the south. Retirees made up 24% of the southern electorate but only 16% of the northeastern one; CSP+ groups and self-employed made up 14% of the southern electorate and 7% of the northeastern one. Finally, the FN’s southern base, according to Ifop, split 59% to 15% in Sarkozy’s favour in the 2012 runoff (with the other 26% not voting or spoiling their vote) while those in the northeast only split 42-20 in Sarkozy’s favour with 38% not voting or spoiling their votes.
Exit polling on the vote by ideological self-definition in 2012 also confirmed the dual nature of the FN’s vote: Marine won 71% of those who were ‘very right-wing’ and 18% of those who were ‘right-wing, but took first place with 36% with the voters who identified as ni-ni (neither left nor right). Marine Le Pen won only 4% support with those who identified as left-wing, although that was a bit better than Sarkozy+NDA (1%). There was no such exit polling question this year, but the usual breakdown by partisan self-identification is still quite telling: Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay showed that the FN topped the poll with those who declared no partisan affiliation (although estimates of FN support ranged from 24% to 35%…); in addition to taking nearly every single voter who identified with the FN. In addition, the FN lists in 2014 also pulled a substantial number of support from voters who identified with the UMP/UDI: 11-16% of UMP supporters, 5-10% of UDI supporters. 4% of those identifying with the left voted for the FN, although the FN won up to 8% of Hollande’s first round voters (those who actually did vote) and, according to OpinionWay, 12% of his runoff electorate (only 32% of the minority of his 2012 runoff electorate which actually voted stayed with the PS). The FN also won 32% of the Sarkozy runoff electorate which turned out, against 45% for the UMP and 12% for the centre.
The FN’s strong numbers with working-class voters was seen geographically by the astronomical FN results in the northeast, especially departments in Picardie – Aisne (40%), Somme (37.2%), Oise (38.2%) – and the Pas-de-Calais (38.9%). These results were even higher than the equally as excellent FN numbers in its southern strongholds: Vaucluse (36.4%), Pyrénées-Orientales (35.2%), Gard (32.9%), Var (35%), Alpes-Maritimes (33.2%) and the Bouches-du-Rhône (32.5%). The FN also did well in other parts of the northeast – Ardennes (33.5%), Meuse (33.7%), Haute-Marne (33%) and Haute-Saône (34.2%). The FN’s huge numbers in Picardie and the Pas-de-Calais owe partly to a personal factor: Marine Le Pen led the FN list in those regions, and like in 2009, the FN did comparatively better in the Northwest constituency (as a whole: FN 33.6% and UMP 18.8%) thanks to Marine than in other strongholds (Southeast with daddy: 28.2%; East with Philippot: 29%; Southwest with the Prince Consort: 24.7%).
In the Pas-de-Calais, where Marine Le Pen and friends have made the old left-wing mining basin their top stronghold (expanding out of Hénin-Beaumont, as noted with some very strong FN local results in some other towns in the mining basin in March 2014), the FN utterly dominated the mining basin (despite generally lower-than-average turnout) – 53.5% in Hénin-Beaumont, 43.3% in Liévin (vs. 17.5% for the PS), 39.6% in Lens (18.1% PS), 42.2% in Carvin (15.2% PS), 43.3% in Bully-les-Mines (15.2% PS), 43% in Nœux-les-Mines (15.2% PS) and 43% in Bruay-la-Buissière (15.9% PS). It did equally as well in the few towns in the Pas-de-Calais mining basin, a Socialist stronghold, which were historically dominated by Communists – Auchel (45%, 12.9% FG), Divion (44.8%, 17% FG), Avion (40.7%, 27.9% FG) and Méricourt (45.3%, 19.7% FG). In the department, the FN also did very well in other traditionally solidly left-wing old industrial and working-class cities and towns – Arques (41.1%), Isbergues (36.5%), Lumbres (39.9%), Guînes (44.4%) and Marquise (34.7%) – or the industrial waterfront cities of Calais (31.8%, with a strong 22% for the FG list led by the former mayor, defeated in 2008 and 2014), Boulogne-sur-Mer (33.4%), Le Portel (42.6%) and Outreau (39.5%). Although the FN’s best results came from the old industrialized regions, it also posted strong results – over 30% – in the rural and historically conservative and religious Artois. Its worst results were in the affluent resort town of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (18.3%, the UMP won 42.8%) and Arras, a more white-collar and middle-class city (23.5% vs 17.1% for the UDI-MoDem).
In the Nord, the FN’s strength extended into the mining basin, which in the Nord had historically been thoroughly dominated by the PCF. The FN won 43.5% in the canton of Denain (15.8% for the FG), 39.9% in the canton of Marchiennes, 37.2% in Douai-Sud, 41.2% in Anzin (where some of the earliest coal mines began operating in the 19th century) and 45% in Condé-sur-l’Escaut. The city of Valenciennes (the political stronghold of Jean-Louis Borloo), a city in the mining basin which has managed its post-industrial re-conversion better than most, the UDI-MoDem list led by Dominique Riquet, the former mayor of the city between 2002 and 2012, topped the poll with 35.5% against 24.2% for the FN. In the south of the department, a poor and economically depressed region formerly dominated by heavy industries (metallurgy in the Sambre valley) or small industrial towns, the FN also did strikingly well. In the metallurgical Sambre valley, centered around Maubeuge, the FN received 40.1% in Maubeuge-Sud, 40.2% in Berlaimont, 42.6% in Bavay and 43.1% in Hautmont. In the other old industrial centres in the south of the department, the FN won over 40% in the cantons of Clary, Carnières and Marcoing and about 39% in the cantons of Trelon and Solesmes. In the industrial waterfront areas along the English Channel, the FN won over 40% of the vote in the cantons of Graveline, Grande-Synthe and Dunkerque-Ouest. Once again, it was a matter of differential turnout – in the very poor industrial town of Grande-Synthe, a PS stronghold, turnout was as low as 28.3% – allowing the FN to win 40% over 17.9% for the PS.
In the Lille metropolis, the FN dominated – for different reasons and with different levels of support. It did very well in some old textile towns such as Haubourdin (37.9%), Seclin (31.2%), Armentières (30.5%), Halluin (36.7%, Tourcoing (30%) and Wattrelos (42.7%) – where turnout was low but still not extremely low; thanks to low turnout – likely especially pronounced in immigrant neighborhoods, which are strongly left-wing and anti-FN, the FN won 26.1% in Roubaix (the PS placed third with 14.1%!) but turnout there was 24.7%. On higher turnout (38%) in Lille, the FN won 18.9% against 18.2% for the PS and 16.3% for EELV; at the cantonal level, there was a clear divide between the city’s poor white proletarian faubourgs which went strongly for the far-right on low turnout (30.1% in Lomme, 24.7% in Lille-Est [Hellemmes]) and the poor immigrant neighborhoods (which narrowly went to the PS), the gentrified bobo/hip/artsy Wazemmes and downtown area (EELV narrowly won Lille-Centre) and the wealthy right-leaning neighborhoods (the UMP won Lille-Nord and suburban Lille-Ouest). In Lille’s most affluent suburbs – the canton of Marcq-en-Barœul – the UMP won 33.9% against only 14.9% for the FN. The far-right also won the most votes in the left-wing university new town of Villeneuve-d’Ascq, albeit with only 19%.
The Aisne, Oise and Somme are three historically industrial departments (with industry traditionally concentrated in smaller towns, although some of the cities were industrial centres too) which have seen industry decline, unemployment increase and the economic situation worsen considerably. Outside the Paris exurbia in the Oise and southern Aisne and the suburbs of the cities, which are more affluent, it is a very poor region with many old industrial cities suffering from high unemployment and demographic decline. When there are jobs for people in the ‘rural’ areas, they need to commute a long distance to reach them; geographically isolated and marginalized semi-rural areas of this type are top FN strongholds. The FN did very well in depressed ex-industrial/working-class towns – Flixecourt (Somme, 49%), Corbie (Somme, 39.4%), Friville-Escarbotin (Somme, 39.8%), Doullens (Somme, 41.9%), Gamaches (Somme, 32.9%), Ribécourt-Dreslincourt (Oise, 41%), Thourotte (Oise, 40.6%), Chauny (Aisne, 38.2%), Hirson (Aisne, 35.7%), Guise (Aisne, 39.5%) and Bohain-en-Vermandois (Aisne, 46.9%). It also performed strikingly well in the cités cheminotes (PCF strongholds) of Tergnier (Aisne, 41.1%) and Montataire (Oise, 36.4%). In the Creil-Montataire-Nogent urban area – an old industrial area (with a metallurgical industry in Creil) which is now one of the poorest urban areas in France and has a large immigrant population from North Africa – the FN did very well, perhaps due to very low turnout on the left and from immigrants (Creil 32.8%, Nogent-sur-Oise 35.8%; the PS won only 18.9% in Creil, where it usually does very well).
Bernard Schwengler, a specialist of the FN vote in Alsace, coined the term ouvrier caché to explain the strong FN vote in rural areas of Alsace, Lorraine and indeed most of the east. Although these very small villages and towns are rural, they are not agricultural but rather traditionally industrial (without precluding local workers also working their own fields as farmers), with a dense network of small businesses and local industries although with industrial decline, a lot of residents are forced to commute long distances to urban areas (or to Germany, in some regions). In regions such as l’Alsace bossue, southeastern Moselle and most of the Vosges and Haute-Marne, the rural blue-collar areas where the FN is doing very well have been hit the hardest by rural desertification (population decline, local shops closing, public services moving to larger towns) and they are marginalized and ‘enclaved’ areas with poor connections to major urban centres and they fall outside the wider urban areas of the cities (Strasbourg, Metz, Nancy etc).
While this region has a very low immigrant/foreign population, workers come in contact with immigrants at their place of work. Schwengler described how these voters felt that their work was no longer valued or recognized, and lamented the loss of reference points – the left no longer defends the working-classes, the lack of job opportunities and so forth. Sentiments of working-class alienation went hand in hand with an ethnocentric rejection of the immigrant as a scapegoat – the interviewees said that the foreigners did not want to work, and complained how they allegedly received undue material advantages (social benefits despite ‘never having worked’) and the sentiment that their advantages came on the back of the hard-working locals who had no social assistance and low wages. It is, in effect, a local version of the so-called ‘halo effect’, whereby the FN does best in areas located close to areas with a large immigrant population rather than in the area with the high immigrant population. In Alsace and Moselle, the FN’s working-class support came from the right.
The Bas-Rhin confirmed Schwengler’s theses – in the department, the FN and UMP were divided by only a handful of votes (25.2% to 24.9%) – and the map showed a rather neat polarization, like in 2009, between areas in the Strasbourg sphere of influence and those remote areas outside of it. The PS narrowly won Strasbourg proper (23.4% to 19.2% for the UMP, 14.6% for the FN and 12.8% for EELV), likely due to the presence of the former PS mayor and incumbent MEP Catherine Trautmann on the PS list in second place (she failed to be reelected, the PS taking only one seat in the East), while the UMP won the city’s affluent suburban cantons by solid margins – in the canton of Truchtersheim, for example, the UMP won 30.7% against only 21.8% for the FN. The FN’s results were lower (under 30%) and the UMP stronger in the fairly wealthy cantons of the Alsace viticole in the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. The FN also did poorly in cantons near the German and Swiss borders (Wissembourg and Lauterbourg in the Bas-Rhin, Huningue in the Haut-Rhin) where a large percentage commute to work in Germany or Switzerland.
On the other hand, the FN won over 35% in Sarre-Union and Drulingen, two cantons in the Alsace bossue and won 34% in the cantons of Saales and Schirmeck, culturally French cantons in the Vosges mountain with an old mining industry. In the Haut-Rhin, where the FN won 30.1% against 23.4% for the UMP, the FN’s best result came from the canton of Saint-Amarin (38%), an old small industrial centre iin the Vosges mountains. It also did very well in the potash basin to the north of Mulhouse (35.5% in the canton of Cernay, 34.9% in Wittenheim, 36.3% in Einsisheim) and in the Val d’Argent (an old silver mining area in the Haut-Rhin and Vosges) with 34.9% in the canton of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and 41.6% in the canton of Fraize (Vosges). These old industrial regions in Alsace, where the FN has always performed very well, are almost all economically depressed regions which have suffered from deindustrialization and a continued demographic decline which began in the 1970s or before.
In Moselle, the FN won 31.1% against 19.7% for the UMP. The FN performed very well in the former coal mining basin, with 35% in the canton of Forbach, 39.3% in the canton of Stiring-Wendel, 41.2% in Saint-Avold-2 and 40.7% in the canton of Freyming-Merlebach; it also swept the Fensch valley – a region of old iron works or defunct iron ore mines – with 35.5% in the canton of Hayange (the city of Hayange, where the FN won 37.7%, has a FN mayor now), 36.9% in the canton of Rombas, 33% in Marange-Silvange, 31% in the canton of Florange (in the depressed town of Florange, famous for the controversies surrounding the closure of the ArcelorMittal plant, the FN won 31.2%) and 35.4% in Moyeuvre-Grande. Across the border, in the Pays-Haut of Meurthe-et-Moselle, the FN still struggled in this region of the iron country dominated by the PCF. The FN won only 25% or so of the vote in the cantons of Villerupt and Herserange, 24% in Longwy, (and, in Moselle, it won only 26.8% in the canton of Fontoy); the FG still topped the polls in a few towns in the Pays-Haut including Villerupt and Hussigny-Godbrange. I speculate that the tradition and presence of Italian and Polish immigrants in this industrial region of Lorraine – in addition to the continued local strength of the PCF in the region – serves to weaken the FN in a region which would be assumed to be as solid for them as the Fensch valley or the coal mining basin of Moselle.
Another general region where the FN did quite well was the greater Paris basin – the far-right won some very strong numbers on the exurban outskirts of the Parisian metropolis, in the outer reaches of the Seine-et-Marne, Val-d’Oise, Essonne and extending into the Oise, Aisne, Eure, Yonne and Loiret. These are right-leaning lower middle-class exurban/outer suburban communities, which have grown rapidly in recent years as high property prices in the urban cores, urban decay in the old suburbs, white flight have forced people to live further and further away from their workplaces in the downtown cores. Those who have been ‘forced’ to move away from the downtown cores did not do so by choice, their low incomes and lower-paying jobs (there are, obviously, few young professionals or cadres sups in these exurbs, but lots of middle-aged employees) meant that they could not afford to live in increasingly costly downtowns and inner suburbs. Clearly, white flight and security concerns motivated some to ‘escape’ the old proletarian suburbs of the Seine-Saint-Denis, but they probably did not particularly wish to live where they may live today. The expression périurbain galère (the French idiom la galère refers to a particularly tough or unfavourable siutation) is a good expression of their lifestyle. By their lower education levels (most have the Bac or a trades certificate) they can only rarely aspire to higher paying jobs. They are forced to a long commute to work, and suffer from public transit strikes or traffic jams. A lot those who suffer the périurbain galère struggle to make ends meet: mortgage payments on their houses or car(s) and rising gas prices. These regions, where the left is weak, have tended to become the FN’s new strongholds in Île-de-France.
There is an important contrast between what can be described as the périurbain choisi and périurbain subi (basically, “chosen” exurbia and “suffered” exurbia). The first denotes more comfortable upper middle-class exurban areas, accessible and connected to large business and educational cities, populated by professionals and higher-income earners who have chosen to live in the suburbs. The latter denotes lower-income, though not “poor” people who have been compelled to move to less desirable, less accessible and semi-rural exurban municipalities because of rising property prices in the old inner city and the inner suburbs. In this case, the FN vote can express concerns about security and opposition to immigration – because despite living in “lily-white” areas, these inhabitants work and socialize alongside immigrants in more ethnically diverse urban conglomerations – but it also expresses the concerns of a lower middle-class electorate which is considered about social marginalization, their wages, their purchasing power and their economic future. Similar to the Poujadist vote in 1956, there is a certain fear of ‘proletarianization’ or déclassement (falling down the social ladder). Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the “invisible” rural and exurban France likely struck a chord and hit all the right notes for these voters. Their vote for the FN does not necessarily represent racism but rather fears about the future and frustration at their marginalization in the “invisible” peripheral regions of France.
The FN received over 30% of the vote in the exurban cantons of the Seine-et-Marne and Val-d’Oise, and reached over 40% of the vote in most of the Oise, a department which combines several favourable demographics for the far-right (a declining, depressed and aging old working-class/industrial base in small centres and marginalized semi-rural cantons; the périurbain subi exurban vote. The pattern can also be observed in the Eure and the Yonne (the regions of these departments closest to Paris).
Ifop has been looking at the FN’s vote share across France in relation to distance from urban centres for a few years now, and analyzed the EP results from that fascinating angle again this year. As in 2012, the FN’s support was weakest (19.5%) in communes which are located 0 to 10km from a urban centre of over 200,000 inhabitants and peaked at about 29% of the vote in communes falling between 30 and 60km of a large urban centre, before slowly declining as distance from the urban core increased further. As these numbers show, the exurban support for the FN is not only confined to the Parisian basin. It’s also a factor in Lyon (Rhône department), with the strong support for the FN in lower middle-class outer suburbs to the east of the city (canton of Meyzieu 31% FN, canton of Saint-Symphorien-d’Ozon 29.7% FN, canton of Décines-Charpieu 27.1% FN) contrasting with low support in the affluent suburbs (canton of Limonest 16.9% FN, canton of Caluire-et-Cuire 15% FN). Around Toulouse, the FN won about 28% in the cantons of Fronton and Grenade, which are exurban areas of the city, while it won only 15.3% in the affluent suburban canton of Castanet-Tolosan
In the 1995 presidential election, the FN’s support was highest (16-16.5%) in communes falling between 10 and 30km of a large centre, while in 2002, Le Pen’s support had been highest – at 18% – in areas between 20 and 50km of a large centre. Since 1984, there has been a particularly pronounced decline in the FN’s support in the urban cores – Paris being perhaps the best example (although many other large cities, notably Lyon, are also good examples); this has been compensated by a significant increase in the FN’s support in outer suburban, exurban and semi-rural areas. Compared to 2012, however, the FN gained in all communes, although the smallest gains (+5.2%) came in the urban cores and the strongest gains (+8%) from the strongholds 30-60km from them. Nevertheless, with the major differences in turnout level, it is unwise to compare both elections directly unless turnout is taken into account.
One of the strongest predictors of voting for the FN is the level of education. According to the average of four exit polls, the FN vote ranged from 36% to 10% depending on an individual’s education. With voters who had no diploma or certification lower than the Bac, the FN won 36% against a distant 19% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With voters who had the Bac, the FN won 28% against 22% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With those voters who had the Bac and two years of post-secondary education (Bac +2), the UMP defeated the FN by 3 points (23% to 20%), with the PS increasing its support to 15% and EELV taking 13% of the vote. With the most educated voters – those with a Bac +3 or more (a Bac +3 is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, anything above that would be a masters or doctorate) – the FN was fifth (10%) behind the UMP (21%), PS (18%), UDI-MoDem (16%) and EELV (12%). In socioprofessional categories, the most educated voters tend to be cadres (managerial and professional positions, including lawyers, academics, doctors, journalists, artists). In this CSP+ category, the FN won only 12% (average) against 21% for the UMP, 16% for the UDI-MoDem, 16% for the PS, 12% for EELV and 6% for the FG. Therefore, the FN’s support decreased with higher levels of education, a higher socioprofessional status and higher incomes (Ipsos and OpinionWay asked for income, and found the lowest support for the FN and the highest support for the UMP, centre and PS [!] in the top income brackets; with the FN’s strongest results from the lowest income brackets, although still pulling a strong vote at or above national average in middle-income categories). In an enlightening tale of who stuck with the PS in 2014, the Socialists had their best result with the higher income, education and socioprofessional groups. As you could infer from the above results in industrial regions, not only did many of the left’s voters in those regions abstain, the voters who turned out punished the PS.
The strong link between education and FN support can be seen in the divide between some urban centres and the ‘rest of the country’. The so-called idéopôles – a term coined by researchers Fabien Escalona and Mathieu Vieria – are large urban centres with a strong, globalized economy and a strong cultural activity (often through the presence of universities or well-educated bobos (American readers will be familiar with the idea, given that it originated in the US). The term can be dangerously reductive in that it tends to assume that each idéopôle is just that, obscuring the social diversity within these cities. For example, while Lille is counted as an idéopôle, the city has a very large low-income population made up of immigrants and ‘poor whites’; other idéopôles such as Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier and Strasbourg all have significant low-income population living in zones urbaines sensibles (ZUS – the equivalent of ‘inner city neighborhoods’ in the US – although in France they tend to be geographically concentrated on the peripheries of cities). Yet, the term is still a useful notion. In this election, the FN performed below average in all the idéopôles identified by Escalona and Vieria: 9.3% in Paris, 13.6% in Lyon, 14.1% in Toulouse, 18% in Montpellier (first place, but only a few votes ahead of EELV – 17.7%), 14.6% in Strasbourg, 13.3% in Grenoble (where EELV won the most votes – 20.4% – ahead of 18.6% for the PS), 10.1% in Nantes, 18.9% in Lille (as noted above, due to a division of the left, and the FN was very weak in those areas of the city which really are idéopôles) and 20.5% in Aix-en-Provence. In the secondary ‘ideopoli’ of Bordeaux and Rennes, the FN won 11.5% and 9.4% respectively. In all idéopôles besides Aix, the PS and EELV vote was above average. In cities such as Rennes and Nantes, PS and EELV placed first and second, ahead of the UMP.
It is not quite a urban-rural divide, however, because the FN did very well in cities such as Marseille (30.3%), which are poorer and include very large concentrations of low-income areas, immigrant-heavy cités, lower middle-class banlieues pavillonnaires (residential suburbs with individual houses) and formerly working-class communities. In Marseille, the results were quite interesting: the FN, as expected, did best in the 13th and 14th arrondissements (the 7th sector, where it won the local sectoral city hall in March) with 39.3% and 42% respectively with some very strong results in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (37.7% and 38.9%). The UMP won the affluent neighborhoods and coastal suburbs (5th, 7th and 8th arrdt with over 35% in the 8th) and the PS was shut out. EELV topped the poll in the 1st arrdt, a very poor and immigrant-heavy downtown ‘inner city’ area, taking 18.7% against 17.8% for the PS. Amusingly, the PS did better in the affluent UMP stronghold of the 8th (11.2%) than the 15th, a very poor and immigrant-heavy area of the quartiers nords (10.9%, but turnout was only 25.6%) which has usually been a PS stronghold. Even in the very poor and solidly left-wing 2nd and 3rd arrdts, the PS won only 16% or so. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, the FN won shocking numbers in its strongholds – 49.3% in Marignane, 40.4% in Vitrolles, 46.1% in Berre-l’Étang, 43% in Miramas and 47.4% in Miramas.
The FN won its best southern results in the Rhône valley – 46.3% in the canton of Beaucaire (Gard), 44.6% in the canton of Saint-Gilles (Gard), 40.6% in the canton of Vauvert, 42.3% in Carpentras-Nord (Vaucluse), 40.9% in Carpentras-Sud (Vaucluse), 40.4% in the canton of Cavaillon (Vaucluse), 46.3% in the canton of Bédarrides (Vaucluse), 42.8% in Orange-Ouest (Vaucluse), 41.7% in Orange-Est (Vaucluse), 44.8% in Bollène (Vaucluse) and 40.2% in Pierrelatte (Drôme). This is a largely urbanized region, and the far-right has been present in one form or another since the 1960s in most of the area. It is often pinned down to the large population of pieds noirs – French settlers in Algeria who were resettled in chaotic and controversial conditions in France in 1962, largely settling in PACA and Languedoc-Roussillon – and an associated tradition of reactionary-nationalist/conservative politics with support for the OAS during the Algerian conflict. But it is not the only factor, and is merely a contributory factor. Agriculture is of lesser importance today, but the region’s strong fruit and vegetable industry has always required a large seasonal workforce. While these roles were often filled by Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese in the 1960s and 1970s, they were progressively replaced by Moroccan and other North African immigrants. By and large, this urbanized region is fairly poor – low incomes, low education levels and most jobs falling in the CSP- category – but not proletarian or working-class, rather predominantly lower middle-class and petit bourgeois (shopkeepers, small employees). This population (sometimes called petites gens) suffer or feel, directly or indirectly, problems such as high unemployment, poverty, cost of living pressures, immigration (there are large immigrant concentrations in cities or neighborhoods nearby) and criminality. The cities where the FN does very well – Béziers, Perpignan, Carpentras and Avignon (among others) – were not industrial centres, but they all have high levels of poverty and unemployment. In cities such as Béziers, Perpignan, Fréjus or many smaller towns inland in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes, the downtown cores have suffered from pauperization and desertification (shops closing down, poverty, criminality); these factors ranked high on the list of FN priorities in the municipal elections back in March, where they won city halls including that of Béziers, Beaucaire, Fréjus and Camaret-sur-Aigues.
The map above shows the results by canton, with the FN in a purple shade (please click the image for the full-size splendor). The map was coloured by Stéphane Guillerez, who kindly shared the data and maps with me. It can complete my commentary on the FN’s results and the showings of the other parties across France. In addition to the FN strongholds noted above, strong levels of support (above 30%) can be seen in the Nord-Isère, much of the Ain, the Garonne valley extending to the coastal regions of the Charente-Maritime, wide swathes of the Franche-Comté and Bourgogne and even many regions in the Basse-Normandie. Although we should keep in mind the matter of turnout and the nature of the EP election, the FN’s support has nationalized. The far-right party won cantons from Alsace all the way to the Finistère in Brittany; although the FN’s strongholds remained east of the imaginary Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis, it won very strong results in its weaker regions. Simplifying matters, across France, the FN’s support is highest outside of major urban areas in outer suburban, exurban or semi-rural areas – regions with lower incomes, lower educational levels and a population largely made up of CSP- workers and employees. In the Garonne valley (and adjacent regions such as the Blayais and l’Entre-Deux-Mers in the Gironde), the outline of which can be seen in the 30%-shaded FN cantons running from the Saintonge (Charente-Maritime) to Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne), there are a lot of low-income groups including shopkeepers, blue-collar workers in small industries (construction, small metal factories, agro-industry), lower middle-classes, pieds noirs, fruits and vegetable producers and less affluent small winemakers (whose wine is less prestigious than Saint-Émilion, Sauternes or Médoc).
The FN polled well in Nord-Isère, a region which has been favourable to the far-right for decades now. A predominantly urban and historically industrial region (with various industries in towns such as Vienne, Roussillon and Bourgoin-Jallieu, the Nord-Isère is now largely under the exurban influences of Lyon and Grenoble, and the decline of traditional industries in the major cities has led to urban decay and rising criminality. The FN polled up to 41% in the canton of Pont-de-Chéruy, an exurban canton of Lyon. In the south of the department, however, the far-right did quite poorly: in the very affluent suburban cantons of Meylan and Saint-Ismier (outside Grenoble), the FN polled only 17.2% and 12.3% respectively.
The FN performed well in the old industrial (predominantly mining, with smaller metallurgical and textile industries) valleys of the Gier and Ondaine in the south of the Loire department, from Firminy to Rive-de-Gier/Givors (Rhône); a region which was badly hit by deindustrialization in the 1980s and which – in parts – retains high levels of unemployment, pockets of severe deprivation and a largely blue-collar population. The FN won 22.2% in Saint-Étienne as a whole, 29.5% in the old mining basin canton of Firminy (traditionally favourable to the PCF), 30.1% in the old industrial (but right-leaning) city of Saint-Chamond, 30.8% in the canton of Rive-de-Gier, 32.7% in the canton of La-Grand-Croix and a peak at 36.6% in the old mining basin of Le-Chambon-Feugerolles. In the Rhône department, the FN won 30.9% against 19.5% to the FG in the old working-class Communist stronghold of Givors, although turnout was below 30%.
Some other old industrial basins – regions which tend to be more economically depressed, and retain a lower-income and less education population – offered strong results for the FN – in the Alpes-Maritimes, the FN’s strongest results came from the old industrial Vallée du Paillon (a former PCF stronghold, incidentally), where the party took 44% in the canton of L’Escarène and 41.4% in the canton of Contes. In the Haute-Savoie, the FN’s strongest results came from the industrial basin of Cluses-Scionzier with 36.3% in the canton of Scionzier and 31% in the canton of Cluses (in contrast, in the affluent lakeside suburban canton of Annecy-le-Vieux, the FN won 16.3% and in the affluent Geneva suburbs of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, the far-right polled 19.3%). In the Haute-Loire, the FN won over 30% of the vote in the old industrial cantons of Aurec-sur-Loire and Sainte-Sigolène (a Catholic working-class region which has always leaned to the right), but it won only 23.5% in the canton of Auzon, part of an old mining basin which is strongly left-wing. In the Tarn, the FN won 27.3% in the city of Mazamet, an old fellmongering industrial centre (which has, however, always leaned to the right) and narrowly topped the poll over the PS in Carmaux (24.6%), the old solidly left-wing mining town of Jean Jaurès. In the textile town of Lavelanet (Ariège), the FN won 33.4% against 19.4% for the PS. The FN did quite well in the industrial suburbs of Rouen in the Seine valley (topping the poll in nearly all of them), with 31.7% in the Communist cité cheminote of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, 32.3% in Le Grand-Quevilly, 33.5% in Petit-Couronne, 30.3% in Grand-Couronne and 33.3% in Elbeuf. However, the pattern is not universal: in other old industrial or mining basins, the FN did not do so well – for example, in the old coal mining town of Decazeville (Aveyron), the FG topped the poll with 22.1% and the FN was third with 17.7%. The FN performed below its national average in other old working-class/industrial towns such as Lacq (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique) and Decize (Nièvre).
The UMP was the largest party in three of the eight EP constituencies: Île-de-France, West and the Overseas.
Although the FN did quite well in Île-de-France, a region where the general trends in the past few elections have generally been unfavourable to the FN, the UMP managed to retain first place thanks to the FN’s very weak support in Paris itself and the UMP’s dominance of its core clientele – the affluent suburban communities in the Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines, two departments where the UMP topped the poll. In the Yvelines, a rather clear divide is visible between regions where the UMP did best and those where the FN did better. In the very affluent canton of Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, the UMP polled 31.7% (in similarly affluent cantons such as Le Vésinet, Poissy-Sud and Le Chesnay, the UMP won over 30% of the vote). In the canton of Bonnières-sur-Seine, the most distant and exurban canton in the northwest of the department, the UMP’s support fell to 20% while the FN won 33.2%. In the canton of Mantes-la-Ville, a low-income area whose chef-lieu is now ruled by the FN, the far-right polled over 30%. Similarly, in the Essonne, which the FN won, the UMP dominated the affluent suburbs of Bièvres and Limours (as well as Gif-sur-Yvette, an affluent community and major research centre; the PS won the affluent and highly-educated scientific research centre of Orsay (with 19.3%) but also the low-income banlieues of Les Ulis and Manuel Valls’ town of Évry. The FN did best in the exurban and distant southern half of the department, winning 36.4% in the canton of Méréville. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s DLR dominated around his political stronghold of Yerres, where the DLR list won 36.1% of the vote.
The FN won 20.7% in the Seine-Saint-Denis, a result largely due to the low turnout (31.2%), especially from the left. The FN has done quite poorly in the ’93’ in recent elections, even in low-income working-poor suburbs where the far-right had done quite well in the 1980s and 1990s. Thanks to low turnout and a division of the vote, however, the FN topped the poll, especially in the less inner suburban communes. The FG won Saint-Ouen, Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers and Bobigny (among others), while EELV narrowly topped the poll in Montreuil (with 20.2% against 17.9% for the FG) and placed second behind the PS in Pantin, Les Lilas and Le Pré-Saint-Gervais. The UMP won its best result, 26.6%, in the affluent town of Le Raincy. The FN was strongest in the canton of Montfermeil, where it won over 30% (it does best in white middle-income banlieues pavillonnaires).
In the West, the UMP won a large bloc of cantons, clearly visible on the map above, straddling the departments of Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Vendée and the Deux-Sèvres. With the exceptions of the urban cantons of La Roche-sur-Yon and the suburban cantons in the vignobles nantais, this corresponds to the traditionally conservative areas of the deeply Catholic inner west – the bocage vendéen and the Choletais. The FN has never broken through in these areas, which despite a major decline in religiosity and the active influence of the Church, remain steeped in a ‘zombie Catholic’ or Christian democratic tradition which is traditionally pro-European and humanist. OpinionWay polled by religion, and found only 10% support for the FN with regular church-goers compared to 34% with non-practicing Catholics. The UMP (38%) and centre (23%) heavily dominated the small devoutly Catholic minority vote. It’s interesting how the ‘zombie Catholic’ effect is clearly visible in the Maine-et-Loire – the UMP topped the poll in the choletais and bocage angevin, historically the most Catholic, clerical and conservative regions, while the FN was the largest party in most of the Beaugeois and Saumurois, where religiosity has always been lesser and social structures traditionally different (in the days of the great André Siegfried, the choletais and bocage angevin were the realms of powerful nobles and large landholdings while the Beaugeois was a region of poorer smallholdings, with an anti-clerical and republican tradition; the Saumurois had a ‘Bonapartist temperament’ because of the dominance of wealthier smallholders in vineyards). In the Mayenne, there was a very powerful favourite son effect for Jean Arthuis, the UDI-MoDem top candidate who as (ex-)senator and president of the general council is a powerful and influential political boss in the department. Arthuis’ list won 32.2% in Mayenne against 18.4% for the FN. In Château-Gontier, where Arthuis was mayor from 1971 to 2001, he won 48% of the vote. Some of this vote spilled over in the Segréen (Maine-et-Loire) and the very conservative and Catholic/clerical eastern half of Ille-et-Vilaine (although I suppose this is another favourite daughter effect, for Laurence Méhaignerie, second on the list and the daughter of the longtime Christian democratic-UDI mayor of Vitré Pierre Méhaignerie).
The UDI-MoDem’s support was quite odd: the vague outlines of the traditional Christian democratic map (which is that of historical religiosity/clericalism) are there, with the centre’s strength in the West, Alsace-Moselle, the southern Massif Central and the weakness in the Limousin and along the southern seaboard. But, in the details, there are several exceptions to that pattern and ‘oddities’ – in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the centre’s support came from Béarn rather than the Basque Country, the traditional Christian democratic/Catholic stronghold; support was weak and patchy in Lozère, Haute-Loire and Cantal, even the Catholic plateaus; support in the Nord was strong in Catholic Flanders but extended throughout most of the department, into the Valenciennois; and support in Moselle was strongest around the Metz-Thionville agglomeration rather than the Plateau Lorrain. Additionally, there were strong results in traditionally less religious regions: the Loir-et-Cher, the Eure-et-Loir, the Marne, the Puy-de-Dôme, the Artois (Pas-de-Calais), parts of the Somme, the Valenciennois (Nord) and the Hautes-Alpes.
Explaining the oddities, one notices the obvious favourite sons/daughters factors (Dominique Riquet in the Valenciennois, Nathalie Griesbeck in the Metz-Thionville area, Arthuis in the Mayenne) but also the clear influence of local UDI (less so MoDem) local barons (deputies, mayors). In the Loir-et-Cher, the strong centrist support in the west of the department (Vendôme) corresponds quasi-perfectly with the constituency of UDI deputy (and president of the general council) Maurice Leroy, while there was also solid numbers for the list in the Blois constituency, held until 2012 by Nicolas Perruchot (ex-NC, now UMP). In the Eure-et-Loir, the strongest numbers came from the constituency of UDI deputy Philippe Vigier. In the Somme, the list did well in the canton of Albert (14.3%) because the mayor of Albert is UDI deputy Stéphane Demilly and in Amiens (14.4%), governed by Brigitte Fouré (UDI) since March. In the Pas-de-Calais, the list did well in Arras, which is governed by the UDI. In the Drôme, the centrists did well in Montélimar (20.2%), whose mayor is UDI deputy Franck Reynier. In the Meurthe-et-Moselle, the centrists won 16.6% in Nancy, whose mayor is now former Radical deputy Laurent Hénart. In the Seine-et-Marne, the centrist list topped the poll in Montereau-Fault-Yonne, the city of UDI deputy Yves Jégo. In the Puy-de-Dôme, the centrist list won 21.4% (second place) in Chamalières, an affluent suburb of Clermont-Ferrand and stronghold of the Giscard dynasty (the current mayor is Louis Giscard d’Estaing, a former deputy and son of the former President) and the support extended in the surrounding area in a way which looks awfully similar to the pre-redistricting shape of Giscard’s old constituency. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the centrists did very well in Drancy (22.1%), governed by UDI deputy Jean-Christophe Lagarde, and also did quite well in Bobigny and Le Bourget, both of which have UDI mayors.
Therefore, the ‘added value’ of the UDI to the MoDem was in the form of local barons who brought along their regional strongholds/constituencies, which is very unsurprising considering that the UDI is very much a parti de notables in the long tradition of the non-Gaullist centre-right.
In Brittany, there was a particularly interesting favourite son and regionalist protest vote in the centre of the Armorican peninsula. Christian Troadec, the regionalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) led a Breton regionalist list which won over 11% of the vote in the Finistère and spilled over into the Côtes-d’Armor and Morbihan. Troadec is less of a politician than a ‘political entrepreneur’ who pays a lot of attention to Breton identity and culture (he famously created the popular music Festival des Vieilles Charrues in CarhaixOn the cantonal and communal map, an impressive bloc of support for Troadec’s list is visible in the centre-west of Brittany, expanding out of the canton of Carhaix-Plouguer, where Troadec won 39.7%. He won most communes in the Monts-d’Arée region of Finistère and the inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor. Troadec’s vote clearly has a strong favourite son tinge to it, given that a generic regionalist list does not perform that well (that being said, with its concentration in the Bretagne bretonnante, it superficially matches the traditional base of Breton nationalism). However, Troadec had run in the 2010 regionals and peaked at 6.8% in the Finistère, so his personal vote is not the only factor. A major reason for his strong result is likely due to his role as one of the major leaders of the bonnets rouges protest movement in Brittany, which began last fall out of opposition to an ‘ecotax’ on heavy goods transport vehicles, protesting the crisis in the agro-industry and expressing regionalist demands including the reunification of Brittany and increased decision-making powers for the region. The movement is led by the local left, but has been controversial because of how some sectors of the far-right and the employers in the polluting agro-industry have latched on to the movement. Troadec’s support corresponds to the poorest and socioeconomically depressed region of Brittany, isolated and distant from the well-off urban and suburban centres driving growth in a region usually seen as more well-off than most. It has an aging, blue-collar and less educated population with fewer job opportunities; but the FN has always performed very poorly in this region. It is also a solidly left-wing region – the Monts-d’Arée were described by Siegfried as a ‘radical democracy’ and have been the most left-wing region in Brittany for over a hundred years. The inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor is also a solidly left-wing region (a poor region of smallholdings, lesser religiosity and a tradition of radical democratic and anti-nobility sentiments), historically dominated by the PS and (less so nowadays) the PCF. Troadec likely won a lot of left-wing protest votes, from voters severely turned off from the government because of national and local issues (the ecotax/bonnets rouges issues, and perhaps its lip-service to regionalist demands such as reunification and the ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages).
Troadec’s support interested Ifop, which has produced an interesting analysis, showing the very localized friends-and-neighbors vote for his list, whose support declines as one gets further away from Carhaix. It also links his vote to support for the 1675 anti-tax révolte des bonnets rouges in western Brittany, the leftist tradition of the Monts-d’Arée/Haute-Cornouaille and the post-war rural communist tradition born out of the PCF-led resistance to the Nazi occupation. Ifop’s study also found that Troadec largely ate into PS support from 2009, but also dragged down EELV and UMP support and limited FN gains.
In the Ille-et-Vilaine, the FN’s strong support in exurban and remote ‘fragile’ regions is clearly visible. The left dominated Rennes (a ‘semi-idéopôle‘) and its middle-income suburbs (the right won the most affluent suburbs of Cesson-Sévigné, Saint-Grégoire and Pacé), the UMP won the affluent coastal towns of the Côte-d’Émeraude (Saint-Malo, Dinard, Cancale) while the right and centre were both strong in the solidly conservative and clerical regions of eastern Ille-et-Vilaine. The FN won a large swathes of communes lying to the southwest of Rennes – semi-rural and growing exurban areas within commuting distance of Rennes, but with a slightly less affluent population than the inner suburbs. It also did well in the Baie-du-Mont-Saint-Michel, a remote (it is not exurban) ‘socially fragile’ and low-income region. This Insée study on the social makeups of regions in the department can be compared to the map of the results – the high-income regions around Rennes and on the coast had low support for the FN, the low and middle-income regions had significantly higher results for the FN.
The UMP also dominated another very Catholic region – the southern Massif Central (Cantal, Lozère, Aveyron; especially the mountainous regions of the Aubrac, Margeride and Plateau of Saint-Flour). The UMP won over 30% – even 40% in some cantons – in these very rural, agricultural (herding) and deeply Catholic/clerical regions. In the Aveyron, EELV – led by local icon José Bové – was quite successful around Millau and in the Larzac while the three left-wing parties – EELV, FG and PS won the Protestant and solidly left-wing communes in the Cévennes (Gard/Lozère).
The PS won only two departments in metro France – the Corrèze (Hollande’s political stronghold) and the Haute-Vienne, both of them traditional strongholds of the left (ignoring the favourite son love affair for Jacques Chirac in the Corrèze from the 1980s to 2007). The PS won 33.7% in Hollande’s city of Tulle (Corrèze) and was also victorious in Limoges and Saint-Junien (Haute-Vienne). The Limousin’s socialist-communist tradition, a fascinating issue, owes to a wide variety of complex factors – to cite a few: smallholders, sharecroppers, rural poverty, strong anti-clericalism, workers’ activism, heavy toll of World War I and very active left-wing resistance to the Nazis. Traditions have not died out in this region: the FG still topped the poll in the canton of Bugeat (Corrèze), which had already been a PCF stronghold in the interwar era. Laird Boswell’s Rural Communism in France, 1920-1939 is an excellent read for anybody interested by the full roots of rural communism in this part of the world.
In urban areas, due to very low turnout from the Socialist base in low-income and multiethnic neighborhoods and cités, the PS largely held an older, more educated, more white-collar electorate (one which turns out in greater numbers structurally and may be expected to be slightly less anti-government). In the Hauts-de-Seine, for example, the PS only topped the poll in Clichy and Nanterre, two old working-class cities which while still fairly low-income have seen some significant social changes with the growth of a new middle-class with higher education and white-collar jobs (only 16% of the active labour force in Nanterre, for example, are ouvriers today); the FG won in Gennevilliers and Bagneux, which remain more heavily low-income and working-poor to this day, with the PS placing a terrible third behind the FN. In the Val-de-Marne, the FG and the FN won the poorest suburbs (28.1% for the FN in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, the FG won Valenton, Ivry-sur-Seine, Bonneuil-sur-Marne, Champigny-sur-Marne etc) while the PS did better in the old working-class suburbs which are now more socially diverse and somewhat gentrified (to a much lesser extent than other high-points of gentrification such as Montreuil) – Créteil, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Cachan and Fresnes. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the FN – mostly due to turnout being so absurdly low – narrowly won the grimmest banlieues such as Clichy-sous-Bois (one of the poorest major towns in France, infamous since the 2005 riots; turnout was barely over 20%), La Courneuve, Stains (with 22% turnout), Sevran and Villepinte. The FG won the old Communist heartlands of Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers, Saint-Ouen, Bobigny and Bagnolet; the PS and EELV did best in the communes closest to Paris which have seen real gentrification (Montreuil, Les Lilas, Pantin to a much lesser extent). In the Val-d’Oise, the PS did win the tough low-income banlieue of Sarcelles, but it lost low-income suburbs such as Argenteuil, Gonesse, Villiers-le-Bel, Goussainville and Persan to the FN. The PS won Cergy, a predominantly administrative and academic middle-class ville nouvelle. In the Grande Couronne of Paris, the pattern was much the same: in the Essonne, although the PS saved faced by winning the Manuel Valls stronghold of Évry and also won the low-income suburb of Les Ulis, but the FN won Corbeil-Essonnes, Épinay-sous-Sénart, Fleury-Mérogis and Ris-Orangis (the FG won the Communist stronghold of Grigny, a very poor and multiethnic suburb home to the huge ZUS of La Grande Borne, a famous and disastrous post-war social housing project of huge proportions). The PS had more success in the highly-educated ‘knowledge corridor’ centered around the research town of Orsay, and was also victorious in Massy, a socially mixed but generally more middle-income academic and administrative suburban town. In the Yvelines, finally, the FN won the low-income banlieues of Trappes, Les Mureaux, Chanteloup-les-Vignes and Limay (with sub-30% turnout everywhere but Limay) while the UMP won the low-income and multiethnic banlieue of Mantes-la-Jolie (28% vs 19.2% for the FN) – although the city is solidly on the left nationally, the right is dominant in local politics since 1995 (with Pierre Bédier, a corrupt politician sentenced to a suspended jail sentence and political ineligibility for a kickback scandal, serving as mayor for most of the time from 1995 to 2005 and president of the general council from 2005 to 2009, who has since triumphantly returned to politics as president of the CG since April 2014) and the FN has done poorly in Mantes-la-Jolie from its heyday in 1995-7.
Outside of Paris, the same pattern repeated itself in Marseille (see above), Lyon, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Rouen (see above) and Lille (see above). In Lyon, the PS remained the largest party in Villeurbanne – a longtime Socialist stronghold and historically working-class suburb of Lyon, which has seen significant gentrification and the growth of a middle-income population in recent years (while still retaining a large low-income and immigrant population). The PS won 19.8% in the city (where turnout was healthier, at 36.9%) against 18.8% for the FN. The FN, however, “swept” the low-income suburbs – the old PCF strongholds of Vaulx-en-Velin (28% vs. 19.4% for the PS and 13.2% for the FG on 21% turnout), Vénissieux (27.1% vs. 15.8% PS and 14.4% FG, on 28% turnout) and Pierre-Bénite (25.4%, the PS and FG in third and fourth), the lower-income blue-collar suburbs of Saint-Fons (29.8% FN on 25.7% turnout) and Feyzin (31.8% FN on 35.7% turnout). In suburban Grenoble, the FN won (but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout) but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout) the three major ‘Red Belt’ proletarian suburbs of Fontaine, Échirolles and Saint-Martin-d’Hères, as well as the poor suburban town of Pont-de-Claix (with a more substantial result of 29.2%, but on 31.1% turnout). In Bordeaux, the FN won its best results in the poorer suburbs of the Rive Droite of the Gironde (victorious in Floirac with 21.6%, second to the PS in Cenon with 21.5%, first in Lormont with 24.9% and strong first in Bassens with 27.7%); in the wealthier left-wing middle-income suburbs of Mérignac, Pessac and Talence the FN’s support ranged from 12.6% in Talence to 16.4% in Mérignac (and the PS won all of these three communes). Four parties were closely in Bègles, an old industrial and proletarian suburb just south of Bordeaux – which has been ruled by ex-EELV deputy Noël Mamère since 1989, but has a Communist tradition: EELV won 17.9%, followed by the PS (17.7%) and FG (17.4%) and the FN in fourth (16%).
The FG did quite poorly in some traditional PCF strongholds. In the NPDC mining basin, the FG’s results fell from 22.9% to 15.8% in the canton of Denain, 22.1% to 14.1% in Marchiennes, 36.5% to 20.8% in Rouvroy and 31.9% to 18.4% in Divion. In the industrial Vimeu region of the Somme, the FG’s support fell from 16.4% to 13.3% in the canton of Friville-Escarbotin. In Tergnier (Aisne), FG support fell from 18.4% to 13.6%; FG support also fell in Tergnier (Aisne), the cité cheminote of Romilly-sur-Seine (Aube), the old PCF stronghold of Vierzon (Cher, an old industrial city), the rural communist country of the Bourbonnais (Allier) and Limousin, the Cévennes mining basin (Alès/La Grand-Combe/Bessèges), the Vallée du Paillon (Alpes-Maritimes), Marseille’s industrial hinterland (Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône – from 37.3% to 29.5%, Port-de-Bouc – from 45.6% to 37.2%, Martigues – from 21.6% to 20.5%) and the communist region in Basse-Bretagne. However, the FG made gains in much of the Pays-Haut iron and steel basin in Meurthe-et-Moselle, increasing support from 18.8% to 21.2% in the canton of Herserange, 17.4% to 18.9% in Villerupt, 17.7% to 19.2% in Homécourt and 11.9% to 13.2% in Fontoy (Moselle). The FG also made gains in the Decazeville-Aubin mining basin (Aveyron), Carmaux (Tarn) and the solidly left-wing rural and mountainous regions of the Southwest (12.2% in Hautes-Pyrénées – the FG’s best result; 11.9% in the Ariège; 9.1% in the Pyrénées-Orientales and even 8.4% in Lozère – where the FG did extremely well in the Protestant cantons of the Cévennes, with 20.4% in Saint-Germain-de-Calberte). I had already noted, in 2012, that Mélenchon’s support was comparatively poor in traditional industrial Communist strongholds (compared to the results of Robert Hue in 1995, who had nevertheless won less support than Mélenchon did) but unusually strong in rural regions, both of communist and socialist tradition. I am hesitant to state that this was the result of a direct transfer of PCF voters to the FN in working-class areas (notably the coal mining basin of the NPDC); while this was likely a small factor, I would tend to suppose that this is more the result of an erosion of Communist traditions as a result of generational change (the traditional cohorts of the working-class, which was raised and lived in a different era of relations between working-class identity and Communism, dying off) and the transformation of the meaning of ‘working-class’ (more non-unionized jobs, atomization, unemployment, low-paying jobs in industry and services requiring longer commutes) in these regions over 20 years after the last mine closed.
The FG also had some poor performances in its urban strongholds: Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Indre-et-Loire), where the FG topped the poll with only 21% (down from 43%); Allonnes (Sarthe), where FG support declined from 23.1% to 18.5% and the FN won nearly 30%; Dieppe (Seine-Maritime), Le Tréport (Seine-Maritime) and Gonfreville-l’Orcher (Seine-Maritime). The FG’s support showed greater resistance in the Parisian region.
EELV’s support was unusually rural in this election: its best departments were Aveyron (16.7% – holding its 2009 levels) and Drôme (14.4%), with Paris only in third (13.8%). EELV also did well in the Lot (13.7%), Haute-Garonne (13.4%), Loire-Atlantique (13%), Ille-et-Vilaine (12.6%), Hautes-Alpes (12.6%), Hérault (12.6%), Lozère (12.5%) and Isère (12.3%). While EELV won strong results in its traditional urban strongholds – Paris, Grenoble (20.4%), Rennes (18.9%), Nantes (17.7%), Montpellier (17.7%), Toulouse (16.9%), Lille (16.3%), Bordeaux (15.6%) and Lyon (13.3%, with 21.9% and first place in the bob0 1st arrondisement), Strasbourg (12.8%), it also did very well in rural cantons – particularly in the Larzac and Grands-Causses regions of the Aveyron and the Diois and Baronnies regions of the Drôme. The Greens have usually performed well in these regions, especially in the Drôme. The Diois and Baronnies are both old rural communist strongholds, a tradition built by the historic presence of Protestants in the region, the republican-leftist traditions of smallholders, poverty and active resistance in World War II; the region is now a popular tourist destination, and it has attracted a small influx of ‘neo-rural’ left-wing/countercultural (‘soixante-huitards‘) urban transplants seeking the mythical calm and quaintness of the unspoiled country. In these rural regions and others, EELV may also have attracted a left-wing, anti-PS protest vote.
In EELV’s results, the very marked cutoff between the Limousin/Auvergne regions and the Midi-Pyrénées/Languedoc-Roussillon lets me suppose that there may have been a personal vote of sorts for José Bové in his Southwest constituency, or that EELV’s vote in the Massif-Centre constituency may have been drawn down by its little-known top candidate (Clarisse Heusquin, a young lawyer who does not seem to hold any elected office).
Favourite sons and local political dynamics (notably the mayor’s partisan affiliation) were important in several regions. Some of the favourite son effects and local political dynamics have been noted above – Valenciennes for the UDI, Mayenne, Troadec in central Brittany and the comparatively stronger performance by Marine Le Pen in the Northwest and specifically in Hénin-Beaumont. Others include a likely a favourite daughter vote for Michèle Alliot-Marie in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, strong support for the UDI-MoDem in and around François Bayrou’s base in Pau and a bizarre favourite son for incumbent UMP MEP Arnaud Danjean in his native Louhans (Saône-et-Loire) with 43.6% for the UMP list (an oddity given that Danjean has no local political mandate and was only second on the UMP list).
Favourite sons and friends-and-neighbors are the main voting determinants in the Overseas constituency, where turnout is low (17.1%) and often results in very weird results. The prize for weirdest result is for French Guiana, with EELV taking 41% of the vote (as I figure, José Gaillou, second on the EELV list was from Guiana) on 10% turnout. The UOM-FG list won in La Réunion and Martinique, the two regions where it had local support (from the PCR in La Réunion and the PPM in Martinique); the PS won Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and Polynesia, the UMP won wealthy Saint-Barthélemy/Saint-Martin, Wallis-et-Futuna, Mayotte and New Caledonia (the PS and UOM-FG won most of the Kanak communes).
The FN’s remarkable victory, although predictable and unsurprising, still came a shock both in France and across the EU; the FN’s French success, even if it was not ‘replicated’ in the other EU member-states, became the main takeaway of the EP election in most initial media analyses and was used to feed the narrative of a generalized swing to Eurosceptic/far-right parties across the EU.
Despite the low turnout and the nature of an EP election, it remains a fantastic result for the FN and little indicates that the FN would not be able to replicate its EP results (23-25%) in a national, high-stakes election with much higher turnout. The FN has, by the looks of it, an increasingly loyal partisan base which is less ‘ashamed’ of admitting their support for the far-right party than in the past. Given the socioeconomic condition of France, an economic crisis which has only widened and deepened existing gaps in French society (between the minority who have ‘won’ from globalization and the new economy, and the increasingly invisible masses who felt as if they have ‘lost’ from globalization and economic transformations), the unpopularity of the left-wing government, the absence of a credible ‘radical’ alternative on the left (like in many EU countries…) and the pitiful state of the UMP torn apart by a continued low-scale civil war and waves of corruption scandals, it can appear ‘natural’ that the FN would be on such a strong footing today. As long as the economy does not show a major improvement, that the right unites around a leader who is popular (but it is doubtful whether Sarkozy fits that role) and that the government regains all its lost credibility, we can only presume that the FN will remain as strong. Even if the economy does improve, it will not change the roots of the FN’s success – which, unlike with that of the Greek or Hungarian far-right, predates the current economic crisis. Since the 1980s, Western society has been transformed by major economic transformations, changes in traditional value structures, the erosion of traditional ‘pillars’ of society, immigration, new technologies, increased education, new conceptions of gender roles and new attitudes which come into conflict with traditional ‘values’ and attitudes. Those who feel alienated, insecure, angry, concerned and worried as a result of these transformations – those less-educated individuals ‘left behind’ by the increased levels in educational achievement; groups of lower socioeconomic status who face unemployment, job insecurity and low wages as a result of the economic transformations; those forced to live outside the ‘cores’ in the ‘peripheries’ because of higher property prices, immigration-related fears and socioeconomic status – provide the FN with its base of support, although not all those who fit this ‘profile’ have shifted to the FN.
Unfortunately for the FN, there was little time to celebrate as the party soon ran into another major controversy which has divided the party. Jean-Marie Le Pen has a weekly Journal de bord (a sort of video blog) on the FN website, where he comments on current events in an ‘interview’ format with a FN member (usually, the one starring alongside the former leader of the FN is a little-known member from the party’s radical wing, but who is married to Frédéric Chatillon, a former member of the extremist far-right students union GUD who has the lucrative contract of printing FN materials and campaign lit). His weekly video blog episodes In an episode after the EP election, Le Pen was commenting on some left-wing/anti-FN celebrities and artists refusing to put on shows in FN municipalities and more particularly on the anti-FN comments of Patrick Bruel, a Jewish (Algerian-born) singer/poker player who has been a staunch opponent of the FN for decades (in 1995, he had cancelled his shows in municipalities such as Toulon which elected a FN mayor in the June 1995 municipal elections). In yet another case of Jean-Marie letting the inner racist and anti-Semite get the better of him, he commented on the topic of Bruel that “we’ll include him in the next batch” (fournée – batch of bread to be baked). It is not Jean-Marie’s first run-in with anti-Semitism: in 1987 he famously stated that he thought that gas chambers were a ‘detail’ of World War II (officially, he continues to claim, because the war is made up of a series of ‘details’ – even the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he claims, are ‘details’) and in 1988 he made a wordplay on the name of Michel Durafour, a centrist politician who had joined Michel Rocard’s PS-led gouvernement d’ouverture, calling him ‘Durafour-crématoire‘ (four crématoire means crematory oven in French).
Given that the comment went against Marine Le Pen’s smokescreen strategy and much-vaunted dédiabolisation, the comments became the centre of a firestorm within the FN. Louis Aliot said that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s comment was dismaying and politically stupid. Florian Philippot said that while the FN had no lessons to take from a wealthy guy like Bruel and, said that Jean-Marie Le Pen should have known what he was saying (but Philippot said the comments were not anti-Semitic). FN deputy Gilbert Collard, who is not from the FN per se and is a bit more FN-lite uncomfortable with racist/anti-Semitic throwbacks (he’s mostly a colourful and slightly insane guy), went as far to suggest that Jean-Marie Le Pen should retire (he is currently ‘honourary president’ of the FN) because his comments hurt the FN and RBM. And finally, Marine herself said that her father made a political mistake and seemed quite naturally peeved at her father’s latest outburst. However, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who prizes his ‘liberty’ (which he interprets as the right to mouth off what he wants) and is, as noted previously, not the biggest fan of his daughter’s leadership, young clique and the process of dédiabolisation, is quite angry at how other FN leaders ‘ganged up’ on him. He said that those who misinterpreted his comments (Aliot) were ‘imbeciles’, disingenuously claimed that he didn’t know Bruel was Jewish (but admitted that he would have said what he said even if he ‘knew’), suggested that his daughter was being influenced by her young clique, that she was losing sight of the party’s history/specificity by cleaning it up and insinuated that Collard was just a random loser who should bugger off.
A civil war is unlikely, given that the FN is not stupid – it certainly knows that all splinter parties from the FN have ended up in the ditch, with only the FN remaining a major force. However, a cold war-like situation may arise, and Jean-Marie Le Pen remains a liability for Marine Le Pen as long as he’s alive. It remains to be seen, however, if this latest controversy will actually hurt the FN or if its base will remain resilient.
The UMP, after a bad result on May 25, went from bad to worse the next day, when MEP-elect Jérôme Lavrilleux, a close ally of Copé, reluctantly admitted cost overruns and that a share of the costs of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign had been billed to the UMP rather than the Sarkozy campaign to cover up the costs which were exceeding legal campaign spending limits. This was the latest twist in the Bygmalion affair: originally, we thought that the story was that the UMP had been overcharged by Bygmalion, owned by close friends of Copé, to the price of €8-12.7 million. The UMP was apparently charged for events which never actually took place. Now, the UMP is the one accused of forcing Bygmalion to issue false invoices addressed to the party rather than the campaign (about €11 million). Lavrilleux admitted this after Bygmalion’s lawyer had came out, hours earlier, with the claims of false invoices being demanded by the UMP to the event planning company. Lavrilleux, however, claimed that neither Copé nor Sarkozy were aware of the issue. Overall, Sarkozy’s campaign may have spent up to €39 million in 2012, far surpassing the legal spending limit of €22.5 million.
The pressure mounted on Copé, whose weak leadership had been weakened further by the first revelation of the Bygmalion affair in March and the defeat in the EP election, and he had no choice but to resign as UMP president after a political bureau met on May 27. According to official statements and leaked details, the meeting was quite heated – François Fillon, Copé’s sworn enemy, called on Copé to resign because the UMP was headed to disaster and that he had lost all confidence in Copé. Fillon’s demands were supported by the fillonistes and the ‘neutrals’ or ‘soft’ fillonistes – Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Xavier Bertrand. Copé resigned officially on June 15, handed power over to a ‘triumvirate’ (+ one) and a new congress to elect a president will be held in October 2014. The new triumvirate of the UMP is made up of Fillon (declared candidate for 2017), Alain Juppé (neutral in 2012, anti-Copé in 2014, likely has presidential ambitions in 2017) and Jean-Pierre Raffarin (copéiste in 2012, long-time poor relationship with Fillon) – three former Prime Ministers. On June 10, faced with pressure from the sarkozystes (mostly ex-copéistes), the leadership was widened to include Luc Chatel, a party vice-president and senior copéiste in 2012, who became secretary-general to support the three-man leadership. The copéistes-sarkozystes worried that the makeshift filloniste-juppéiste alliance of convenience was trying to sideline them and block Sarkozy from returning in 2017.
This hasn’t solved the mess: while everybody is claiming that all is well and that the focus is now on ‘unity’, the reality is one of deep disunity and cacophony. Every potential leader of the UMP is eager to make a mark for himself, either by publicizing their ambitions for the leadership in 2014 or presidency in 2017, or by calling for major ‘renovation’ of the party (NKM, for example, has proposed that the UMP should change its name). Two candidates have officially announced their candidacies for the congress: Hervé Mariton (a former villepiniste despite his pro-Iraq War and pro-NATO views in the past, who became a copéiste for 2012 and most recently led the UMP’s charge against same-sex marriage/adoption) and Bruno Le Maire (a young former villepiniste and fairly decent agriculture minister under Sarkozy from 2009 to 2012, who was neutral in 2012 and is a likely presidential hopeful for 2017). Christian Estrosi, a longtime sarkozyste-turned-senior filloniste in 2012 who has since left Fillon’s clan, is now officially a candidate for the presidency in 2017. For the 2014 congress, Fillon may yet run, while other ambitious leaders with eyes on 2017 – Xavier Bertrand (a soft filloniste in 2012, with a small group of allies), Laurent Wauquiez (a filloniste in 2012 and leader of the ‘social right’) – may also run. Juppé is widely seen as the only UMP leader who could potentially upset Sarkozy in 2017, and polls of UMP sympathizers always place him a distant second behind Sarkozy for a potential UMP primary in 2016. He has said that the new president elected in 2014 shouldn’t run in 2017, and he has a small group of loyal allies behind him. The old copéiste group is divided between a small circle still loyal to Copé and a larger clan of neo-sarkozystes (Nadine Morano, Brice Hortefeux, Guillaume Peltier, Claude Guéant, Henri Guiano, Patrick Balkany); it is unclear what they will do in 2014.
The left is in poor shape as well. The government will not be changing courses as a result of the EP election, largely because it already changed courses in March after the municipal elections and because Valls remains relatively popular (but carrying no impact on the government’s general perception, which is largely negative and tied to Hollande’s extreme unpopularity). The PS knew it would do horribly in the EP election, so the thumping came as less of a hit for them, although it doesn’t change the very dire state of the PS and the government.
Additional maps of interest
Nouvelle Donne support by canton
A predominantly urban and suburban party in affluent, white-collar and highly educated urban areas. The outlines of some urban areas are clear (Rennes, Nantes, Caen, Angers, La Rochelle, Montpellier, Lille, Grenoble, Dijon, Niort) on the map; the extensions outside of urban/suburban areas is close, in many regions, to traditional Green support (Rhône-Alpes). There is a relatively strong R² relationship between the ND and EELV vote in this election (0.42).
Change in FN support from 2012 to 2014
There was, as indicated in the analysis, a very clear personal vote for Marine Le Pen in her EP constituency (the Northwest), with a substantial increase (turnout decreases notwithstanding) in all departments of the Northwest EP constituency. In other regions, patterns were more patchy and difficult to generalize, although the FN’s support also increased (again, turnout decreases notwithstanding) from 2012 in the coastal departments of PACA (where Jean-Marie Le Pen was the FN’s top candidate). Around Perpignan, there may have been a larger increase due to Louis Aliot, the FN’s top candidate in the Southwest whose local base is Perpignan.
The FN’s support decreased from 2012 in Corsica: this is likely due to Corsican nationalist voters who had backed Marine Le Pen in 2012 (the support of some nationalist voters for the FN/her candidacy is documented and proven by local results), who instead voted for incumbent MEP François Alfonsi’s moderate nationalist list this year.
Change in UDI-MoDem support from 2012 (Bayrou) to 2014
A map showing the local factors and local barons (often UDI) who provided a boost (‘added value’) to the centrist vote in some regions.
Some odd and interesting patterns…