Conservatives win departmental elections
The conservative UMP won 30 percent of the vote in the first round of the French departmental elections on Sunday. The far right Front National was the second-strongest force, while the governing Socialists came third. While for some journalists the Le Pen party's advance has been stopped, others fear that xenophobia and Euroscepticism will continue to spread, and not only in France.
An end to the FN's triumphal march
The election results prove that French voters are turning away from the far right, the daily Le Soir is convinced: "In the first round the Front National failed to win the landslide victory that the polling agencies have been predicting for several weeks. It is not - or is no longer - the 'most important party in France', as it announced proudly after the European elections last May. So much the better. The rise that had until now seemed unstoppable can be braked. French voters wanted to punish their government, but they've understood for the most part that voting for the FN can only lead to an impasse. That it's programme is an aberration. That its display window hides a back room where its candidates still wallow in racism and Islamophobia."
Far right now permanent part of French political life
The election confirms the end of the French two-party system, the conservative daily Le Figaro comments: "Even if it hasn't gained new ground, the Front National confirms that it's strong and is here to stay. Public opinion - and all leading politicians - have got used to that. The proof? The same people who were alarmed when Marine Le Pen got 18 percent of the vote three years ago are now relieved when her candidates score 'only' 26 percent. So a three-party system - left, right, FN - can no longer be considered the result of a voting anomaly. As of now it's a structural given."
Europe following France into the abyss
The French election result is symptomatic of the general situation in Europe, the liberal-conservative daily Corriere della Sera warns: "The conservatives have only undermined the populist and xenophobic Front National by taking up the issues it cares about, namely security and immigration. … Only a blind man wouldn't realise that the lower classes and the impoverished middle class have paid the highest price for the financial policy of the last few years, the arbitrary immigration policy and the insecurity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the coarse arguments of the populist leaders and the academic analyses of renowned economists who, citing figures, ultimately say the same thing. France is - since it rejected the EU constitution - the most interesting laboratory for studying the trends accosting the Old Continent in their most dramatic form. France is the big sick man that has been struck down by the wave of populism and is at the same time incapable of tackling reforms."
Hollande's days in the Elysée are numbered
The departmental elections in France have not only strengthened the right wing but also underscored the likelihood of a quick end to François Hollande's presidency, the liberal business paper Hospodářské noviny believes: "The left-wing government under President Hollande must face the fact that it has lost the elections. The defeat of the most unpopular president in the history of the country can also be attributed to the low voter turnout. The French seem to feel as much resignation about politics as we do here in the Czech Republic. Most of the blame goes to the economic crisis, which despite all his efforts President Hollande has not been able to find a solution to. Hollande hasn't given up the fight, but his days in the Elysée Palace are numbered. The left simply cannot present such an unpopular man as presidential candidate again. Au revoir, monsieur le président!"