Don’t count on Macron’s collapse – or on the rise of French nationalism

EMMANUEL Macron’s centrist party may have been swept by a Green wave in the municipal elections, but his 2022 bid for re-election is in no danger, an expert has told Redaction Politics.

La République en Marche (LREM) has failed to take roots locally since it was formed four years ago, despite Macron’s Presidency.

The Greens and other left-wing coalitions had brilliant nights in major hubs like Paris and Lyon, while Marine Le Pen’s FN took Perpignan – their first city with over 100,000 people.

However, Dr Paul Smith, an expert in French Politics at the University of Nottingham, told this publication that polling day will just be a small bump in the road for Macron who didn’t bother to campaign seriously for these elections.

He told Redaction Politics: “The ruling party has not done well in municipal elections in France since 1995 and those elections happened just a few weeks after the election of Jacques Chirac as President.

“It was back in the days when the presidential and general elections did not coincide). Macron did very badly, but he and his party already knew that and had decided, pretty much by January to give the elections up, get past them and push on.

“Then Covid slowed the whole process down. What matters now is how he manages the next phase of his presidency ahead of 2022.”

The President does, however, need to “reboot” his tenure leading up to 2022 – and it already appears to have started with the surprise resignation of Édouard Philippe, whose retention of the Le Havre mayorship was a rare victory for LREM.

Dr Smith said the focus now needs to be on reforming the party’s social and environmental policy in order to mitigate the Green wave.

He said: “Philippe is not really that man and made that pretty clear in private discussions.

“According to my sources. there was a bit of a set-to last night between the two men and that’s why it was all a little bit rushed.”

New Prime Minister Jean Castex is fairly unknown, but he could prove to be a solid appointment, the expert said.

“Castex drafted the plan for coming out of lockdown. He is a mayor (for Prades in the southwest), he is a senior civil servant and a member of the right-wing LR. But he has that’social’ dimension. But the keys will be the key ministries next week.”

While the left-of-centre had a successful night, the more anti-establishment parties failed to make their mark.

Jean-Luc Melenchon – many leftists’ choice for President in 2017, and a candidate who outperformed expectations that same year despite losing in the first round – called the relatively low turnout of 40% “a form of cold insurrection against the country’s institutions”.

He said the abstention “is a form of disengagement” now turned “against the rules of the game to which the people no longer consent”.

However, this could just mask La France Insoumise’s poor performance at the polls.

Dr Smith claimed Mélenchon made no effort to engage with the electoral process and ran very few candidates.

He added: “He has focused its efforts at the local level in a different way, infiltrating local active citizens groups and organisations.

“On a night when the left was winning back some glory, they were nowhere. Mélenchon, like Le Pen, is a pop-up politician and will pop-up again probably in 2022.

“In the meantime, it suits him to make a lot of noise about low turnout as a crisis in democracy, but all the parties need to look at themselves. All he does is shout loudly. And in the UK, 40% for local elections would be a better-than-average turnout.”

On the other end of the political spectrum, Le Pen’s party heavily underwhelmed aside from the Perpignan gain.

For the right-wing leader, who is hoping to take the mantle in 2022, a night in which her party only won 840 seats in 258 towns was disappointing.

For comparison, in 2014, FN took 1,438 council seats in 463 towns and won and in mayoral races, Le Pen’s party captured three towns and lost two.

Like with Macron, however, Le Pen should not use the results as a prediction for 2022.

Dr Smith said: “The FN has never done well in these elections.

“They are a pop-up party that pops up at European and Presidential elections and once at regionals.

“Since 2017 there has been little effort by the party to focus on spreading the word at local level.

“So the party deliberately aimed low, consolidated what it had, but otherwise did not waste energy needlessly.

“Let’s not forget that Le Pen after 2017 took over a year to recover her composure and she has failed to make much headway during the Gilets Jaunes crisis or Covid-19.”

Dr Paul Smith is an Associate Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Nottingham. His areas of expertise include contemporary French politics and institutions.

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Featured Image: Jacques Paquier @Wikimedia Commons


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