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France Municipal Elections: The Aftermath - Part 2

by Bernard Sat Aug 8th, 2020 at 06:53:44 PM EST

Recap from Part 1 and eurogreen's diary: Municipal elections were held in France last spring to elect the municipal council (and the mayor) in the 35,000-odd municipalities throughout the country, ranging from small villages with 10 inhabitants to major cities like Lyon, Marseille or Paris, and as far away as Papetee, French Polynesia.

In about 30,000 cities, the municipal council was elected after the first round held on March 15, by getting over 50% of the vote. For the remaining 4,600 cities, including most big cities, the second round, initially due for March 22, eventually took place on June 28, after the country-wide lockdown from March 18 to May 11.

These were local elections and not necessarily an indication of national political trends for the next presidential elections in 2022, when E.Macron is expected to run for re-election.

Still, do these unusual elections give us any indication as to the mood of the French electorate? Are they showing any significant evolution? Do we see similar trends in other European countries?

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger


Green wave: a new political power?

I have mentioned the string of cities won by the Greens (EELV), including some of the largest ones like Lyon or Bordeaux. Even though, these successes are often limited to some big cities and not necessarily to the larger metropolitan areas which have their own councils, it sill show a dramatic shift in political power. For decades, the paradigm was that the Greens had to ally with the mainstream PS as a junior partner in a municipal coalition. But then, when "serious" decisions had to be taken, say for new industrial or commercial development, the PS majority would have its way, overruling environmental objections. Only in a handful of cases would the PS support a Green candidate rather than running one themselves, mainly to counter a possible right wing win.

It all started changing during the 2014 elections, when the Greens led by Eric Piolle ran against the PS for the second round in Grenoble and won a majority at the city hall; Piolle was re-elected this year. In many cities won by EELV, the PS was actually present as a junior partner in the coalition. There are still many cities won by the PS with support from EELV, like Lille or Paris, but the signs are unmistakable: the Greens are becoming a political force to reckon with.

Will it translate into national level at the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in 2022? This is still a long shot, but with the COVID pandemic and the unprecedented heat wave and drought hitting the country this summer, people are not going to forget so easily.

The same trend has been observed in other European countries like Ireland and of course Germany, where Die Grünen have been a powerful presence for a long time at the local level - there is even speculation that when Merkel eventually leaves next year, the future GroKo might very well be CDU-Grünen rather than the usual CDU-SPD.

PS and LR: Diluted but stable overall

The mainstream right party Les Républicains (LR) and the Parti Socialiste (PS) have long been parties with a strong presence at the local governments level; this year was no exception, but it can noted that most candidates were not displaying any party affiliation at all and were referred to by the media as "Miscellaneous Right" or "Miscellaneous Left". They manage to retain a large part of their footprint and hold back any significant implantation of the Macronistas (LREM). However, both parties still lack any obvious candidate to oppose Macron's re-election bid in 2022, which explains some of the Macron's strategy for the next two years, as we'll see later.

Extreme right: On the backfoot

The extreme right RN was expecting some big gains, in the wake of growing unpopularity of Macron policies - highlighted by protests like the Gilets Jaunes. Overall, they total number of seats and number of cities where they are present have been halved with respect to 2014, despite the win of Perpignan, the main city of French Catalonia. In addition, Robert Ménard, who is not part of the RN party but still extreme right, has been re-elected in Beziers. The RN itself has seen a lot of infighting recently: Marine Le Pen removed several members of the national bureau last month. Not to mention the various financial scandals involving Le Pen and the RN structures.

Still, even if the RN footprint has shrunk somehow over the past years, it has also solidified: many RN mayors in medium size towns have been re-elected easily, starting with Hénin-Beaumont in the north, which Le Pen wants to showcase as a "window front" for the RN municipal administrations.

Internal warfare within extreme right parties is not exclusive to France: in Italy, the famous Salvini has lost a lot of credibility and political capital by first denying the magnitude of the COVID crisis and then changing his tune on face masks. His Lega party is running the Lombardy region, the worst hit by the virus, and the governor is being investigated for fraud over medical supplies. Similarly in Germany, the AfD is also engaging into internal infighting between the national leadership and the AfD leader in the state of Brandenburg.

Macron: right turn for 2022

How did Macron and his LREM party react to these elections? Macron was already focusing on one thing and one thing only: running for re-election in 2022. Back in 2017, Macron won the election on being a "centrist", somewhere between the main parties of left and right. Since then, of course, he has appointed a right wing PM and has started policies to dismantle workers protections, weaken retirement plans, defund the public hospitals and of course, tax breaks for the rich. His authoritarian traits were visible before: police has been sent out to break up the major rallies organized by the unions or the grassroots Gilets Jaunes, often violently: dozens of people have lost an eye or were severely injured.

Since the elections, Macron has been doubling down on his rightward turn: his new PM is also coming from the right, but Jean Castex is a rather low key politician; there is no doubt as to is running the show. And what a show: three years ago, Macron announced that equality between men and women would be the 'grand national cause' of his term in office. His first cabinet was 50% female, although most women were in junior positions. A law against 'street harassment' was passed, a first in Europe.

Fast forward to July 2020:

Gérald Darmanin is appointed Minister of the Interior, in charge of the police, even though he is himself under criminal investigation for rape .

Éric Dupond-Moretti, a famous criminal defense lawyer is appointed Minister of Justice, even though he has been an outspoken opponent of the street harassment law and the #MeToo movement.

On top of that, a group of women working in the Macron staff at the Élysée Palace has been complaining publicly of sexist behavior and jibes from their male colleagues (and often boss), a group of thirty and forty-something nicknamed 'the Mormons', for their uniform white shirts and dark ties. The main offender, Marc Guillaume, who was chief of staff at the Élysée, has just been promoted prefect of the Île-de-France region.

Despite a swarm of protests from women rights activists, the government (and 'Jupiter') has dismissed the issues, invoking the 'presumed innocent' principle for Darmanin.

A river in Egypt

In other areas too, the right turn of Macron policies is palpable, starting with denial: denial of any 'propriety issue' of appointing a man under rape investigation by the police to lead said police. In the wake of the BLM movement, there have been calls to remove statues of the main actors of slave trade and colonization, like Colbert, Galliéni, Faidherbe or Lyautey. Macron, who in 2017 famously called the French colonization 'a crime against humanity', was adamant: "France will not erase any traces or any figures from our history".

Same denial about police brutality: the government has pushed back against this very notion: Darmanin said there's no such thing as 'police brutality' ("violences policières"), because the use of violence by the police is 'legitimate'. Macron and the government don't want to antagonize the police unions who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge any issue with excessive force.

This strategy from Macron is of course deliberate: Macron reportedly believes that the left is too fragmented to unite and provide a meaningful opposition for the 2022 presidential election, so he's moving to occupy the LR right wing "law and order" territory, betting that the next election will pit him again with Marine Le Pen in the second round. Will it go as planned? This is less than certain.

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There goes the crowd, I am their leader, therefore I must follow... (Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin - probably apocryphal)

So despite the decline of the far right and the rise of the Greens, Macron feels the need to swing right to ward off the challenge of Le Pen?

That doesn't say much for his opinion of the collective forces of the left.

And if there is no such thing as police brutality, can a policeman ever be charged with a crime? That seems to be a page out of the Trump manual as if Black lives matter had never happened.

Brexit and the far right response to Covid seems to have undermined their support and yet Macron is more worried about them? pity their left couldn't get their act together under one candidate for the Presidential election.

At least Macron seems to be playing a more positive role within the EU. I expect him to use Brexit to shore up his position in France by taking a hard line against Perfidious Albion.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Aug 10th, 2020 at 12:00:06 AM EST
At least Macron seems to be playing a more positive role within the EU. I expect him to use Brexit to shore up his position in France by taking a hard line against Perfidious Albion.

Mr. Macron may too busy meddling in the Mediterranean: Macron rebuilding Lebanon or Macron wants sanctions on Turkey.

There is a serious tension building up in the Mediterranean with Turkey pushing into Syria and Libya, while France, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt are moving to stop this. At least the Libya and oil/gas drilling part.

by pelgus on Mon Aug 10th, 2020 at 11:03:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Macron apparently believes the main challenge to be coming from the right: LR and RN, rather than the left which is still fragmented and not perceived as a danger - not even the Greens at this point. So he's encroaching onto the LR territory to be the only alternative to the extreme right, since he's unlikely to attract voters from the left: that's the word on the street.
by Bernard on Mon Aug 10th, 2020 at 08:59:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That would make sense if he sees his main first round challenge coming from LR. Every vote he takes from them is worth two as it decreases their vote and increases his. However he will also need some soft left votes for the second round against - presumably - Le Pen. So he should avoid antagonising the left unduly - unless he thinks his liberal/centrist vote will be sufficient to defeat Le Pen without soft left support.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 11th, 2020 at 01:21:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There have been only two instances of presidential second rounds with the extreme right: J.Chirac vs. JM.Le Pen in 2002 (Chirac won with 80%) and E.Macron vs. Marine Le Pen in 2017 (Macron won with 67%).

In each case, many left voters cast their ballot holding their nose, but with a clear aim to prevent a Le Pen from getting to the Élysée. Hence, the outsized scores, much higher than "regular" left-right presidential races.

Macron is obviously betting that, like in 2017, the left voters detestation of the extreme right will surpass their detestation of Macron's LREM. This is a risky gambit and many things may happen in the next two years.

by Bernard on Tue Aug 11th, 2020 at 05:28:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the chances, even if Macron does win re-election, that he will have a PS and Green majority in at least one branch of Parliament? That could provide a check on the worst of his right wing tendencies, given that he would be constrained in the new legislation he could get passed.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Aug 11th, 2020 at 03:29:53 AM EST
Chances are close to none because of the re-jigged electoral calendar since 2001.

Like in the USA, the president does appoint the cabinet (led by the PM). But unlike the US system, the cabinet can be overthrown by the parliament; so in practice the government ministers always come from the parliamentary majority. When the president and the parliamentary majority are from opposite sides, as happened a few times in 1986-88, 1993-95 and 1997-2002 (we French call it "cohabitation"), there is constant tension between the president and the PM, even though most of the powers, at least for domestic policies, reside with the government, not the president.

A president can do close to nothing without a parliamentary majority, but it can dissolve the parliament (at least the lower house called National Assembly), call for snap elections (just like in the UK) and hope to get a majority this time: this is what F.Mitterrand did once elected in May 1981; the legislative elections in June returned a solid PS majority.

But this was the last century: in 2000 a constitutional reform was passed to reduce the presidential term from seven years to five, just like the parliament term. And in 2001, the parliament voted a law to adjust the electoral calendar, so that the 2002 parliamentary elections would happen in June, barely one month after the presidential election due in May 2002. This calendar has been in effect since then: the presidential election in April-May and parliamentary election right after in June. Each and every time, these elections have returned a majority to the newly elected president: Chirac (UMP) in 2002, Sarkozy (UMP) in 2007, Hollande (PS) in 2012 and then Macron (LREM) in 2017.

There is no reason at this point to suspect that 2022 would be any different: the voters tend to give the newly elected president a majority; past experiences of cohabitation are mostly remembered for constant tug of war between the PM and the president and a weakened capacity overall of the executive power to address any pressing issues.

This could change of course, as nothing in politics lasts forever: voters, especially younger ones who don't have the past memories, may decide that Macron should be kept in check by not having an outright majority. Macron could also call for snap elections and break this de facto coupling between the presidential and parliamentary elections. However, the most likely case is still that whomever gets elected president will get a majority, even a relative one, at the parliament.

by Bernard on Tue Aug 11th, 2020 at 06:27:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The French Municipal elections and the "Green wave" received little coverage in the English language press. Politico.eu, based mostly in Brussels, is one of the few to cover extensively local politics in continental Europe.

How France's youngest green mayor wants to transform her city

Léonore Moncond'huy, a 30-year-old member of the green Europe Ecologie-Les Verts party, in June beat previous Socialist Mayor Alain Claeys, who had run the city for a dozen years. Moncond'huy built her campaign on a promise to radically change her city's approach to economic growth and the environment.

She's part of a broader green wave that swept through cities including Strasbourg, Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux in France's local elections.

Just two months after taking office, Moncond'huy is already upending Poitiers' priorities.

One of her first decisions was to put on hold the construction of a new building on the city's riverbank because it didn't include sustainability standards. It's part of a vision to halt urban sprawl and to protect farmland.

She's also keen to apply some of the ideas from the country's experiment in direct democracy, the citizens' climate convention. "I appreciate the radical nature of these measures, which shows that society is ready for radical change," she said.

"Leading by example is for us the first lever to create a ripple effect among citizens and businesses," Moncond'huy said, "to show it's possible."

She also plans a U-turn from her predecessor's economic development policy, which was aimed at attracting outside investors to the city of 90,000. Instead, she's counting on empowering local businesses and creating a more circular economy.

by Bernard on Sun Aug 23rd, 2020 at 05:09:37 PM EST


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