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European elections 2019: The French perspective

As the European elections are approachingFrench political parties have a lot to debate about in the upcoming days. This time however, the issues that are debated, as well as the political parties involved, look somehow slightly – not too say radically – different from what France has been used to, particularly since the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic. 

The end of the left-right political spectrum? 

Since the French presidential election in 2017, French voters have witnessed a change in their country’s political spectrum as every political debate in France over European politics seems now to revolve around France’s two main political parties: President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN). However, these two parties cannot be identified as traditional left-wing or right-wing parties since neither LREM nor RN want to position themselves on a left-right political spectrum. Indeed, Macron’s party proudly supports unapologetic pro-European liberal policies while RN openly wants to put forward an anti-EU and protectionist agenda. French politics do not seem to be about left or right anymore, but rather on who is a pro-European liberal and who is not. 

Towards a clash between liberals and anti-liberals 

Over the past fifty years, French politics have barely known a situation in which at least one of the two traditional parties (France’s Parti Socialiste or the French right-wing party Les Républicains) was neither in first nor in second position in the polls for the European elections. Even though the latest polls slightly differ on who will be the other one’s challenger, LREM and RN will probably reach at least 20% of French voters respectively, giving them the certainty to have a minimum of 20 seats each in the next European Parliament (and a few more in the case of Brexit). A recent poll even predicted Marine Le Pen’s victory over Macron’s pro-European party with 24% for RN against 21.5% for LREM, setting the scene for a clash between a liberal vision of Europe and an anti-liberal one. Other French parties are lagging behind with 14% for France’s right-wing party Les Républicains (LR) and with around 8% for La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s radical left party. Right behind are the Greens of Europe-Écologie Les Verts (EELV) with 7%, closely followed by France’s traditional left-wing party, the Parti Socialiste, which has rarely been so low in the pollswith only 5%. 

Immigration, climate change, taxation 

The acknowledgement of the recent renewal of France’s political spectrum should however not make one forget that the topics discussed in France have also moved from rather traditional issues (employment, housing, economy) to more trending ones such as the fight against climate change, immigration, and taxation. While debating over Europe at the beginning of Aprillead French candidates put forward their respective ideas on how the EU should be reformed. Regarding immigration, RN’s young lead candidate Jordan Bardella (23 years) exposed his will to stop migrants at national borders while LREM’s Nathalie Loiseau, ex-Minister for European Affairs under President Macron, declared she only wanted the EU’s external borders to be reinforced”. As far as the environment was concerned, all the candidates agreed on the need to tackle this issue even though they differed on the concrete actions to be implemented. Lead candidate for La France Insoumise Manon Aubry stated that as rich multinational companies were “for the most part responsible of CO2 emissions”, they should be the ones to pay the biggest amount of taxes to finance the fight against climate change. 

The challenge of participation 

As no one can precisely predict which party will be the winner of the European elections in France, it is very likely that the abstention rate reaches at least 50%. Some polls even foretell a rate of 60% of abstentionism for the upcoming elections (77% among young French voters) compared to only 42.4% in 2014. More than ever, French political parties’ main challenge remains to reach out to these undecided voters in hope for a victory.