Regional elections in France: a warning?

The conservative Les Républicains have unexpectedly emerged as the strongest party in the first round of France's regional elections, followed by Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National. Meanwhile, President Macron's La République en Marche barely managed to secure fifth place. Voter turnout was at an all-time low of 33.9 per cent. Europe's press takes stock.

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Die Presse (AT) /

Ballot box no longer the locus of political will

Politicians should be deeply concerned by the low voter turnout, Die Presse warns:

“Never since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958 have so many French people stayed away from a key election. ... The French are no longer rebelling at the polls but by staying away from them - above all the young: almost 90 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds did not go out to vote. These figures should set alarm bells ringing for politicians of all stripes. Because this voter fatigue is an expression of alienation and disappointment with the poor 'performance' of representative democracies. ... But the French remain very 'political'. It's just that they no longer express their anger via parties, but on the street. The yellow vests showed where this leads not so long ago.”

El País (ES) /

Triumphal march of the far right is not a given

El País detects a yearning for moderation:

“The low turnout and the fact that there wasn't that much at stake in this election mean that the defeat of the former National Front can't be directly extrapolated to the 2022 presidential election. But at least these results refute the idea that sooner or later the far-right will automatically take over the French presidency and that the democrats can do nothing but wait for the government to fall into the hands of the right like ripe fruit. It doesn't have to be that way. And it's not just Joe Biden's victory that can convince us that alongside the deep current of disaffected populism in Western societies there is also a yearning for moderate politics.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Presidential duel becomes a three-way race

In the Hauts-de-France region, the conservative Xavier Bertrand received the most votes for the presidency of the regional council (41 percent). This sets the stage for more clashes, the Financial Times predicts:

“Macron would have hoped for a closer contest in the Hauts-de-France to be able to ride to Bertrand's rescue in the second round. But Bertrand did not need his help. The centre-right Republicans strengthened their hold over other regions too, showing that France has tilted firmly in a conservative direction even if the left proved less moribund than thought. Bertrand can expect a big boost for his presidential campaign, assuming The Republicans fall in behind him. The duel between Macron and Le Pen has now become a three-way race.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Election routs left, right and centre

Disenchantment with politics has won the day, La Stampa laments:

“Abstention from voting has been confirmed as a structural evil in the land of the yellow vests (who didn't go out to vote yesterday, not even for Marine Le Pen). And the few who did go to the polls behaved differently than expected. The Rassemblement National, Le Pen's party, was expecting to triumph but only came first in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. ... For Emmanuel Macron's party La République en Marche, it was a disaster. Surprisingly, the candidates of the Republicans, the classic neo-Gaullist right, whom many pundits expected would fail, were the ones who prevailed.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Failure of democracy at the top and at grassroots level

Le Figaro cautions the two-thirds of voters who stayed at home:

“Abstentions or a blank ballot paper can be justified when voters are faced with a binary alternative, a choice 'between plague and cholera' or something they perceive as such. But in the first round of regional and departmental elections, given the abundance of choices on the ballot slips, this was certainly not the case. The behaviour of the ruling class and certain political leaders in this country does not excuse everything. Abstention reflects a form of political desperation for which there are certainly good reasons. But it also reflects a collective renunciation of one's right.”

Les Echos (FR) /

The wrong focus

Les Echos points out one reaseon for Sunday's low voter turnout:

“Local elections and a national campaign. This is a classic problem with every mid-term election. ... This regional election campaign short-circuited itself through false debates that revolved mainly around the issue of security. The issues to focus on - even if they don't arouse the enthusiasm of the masses - should be things for which the regions are directly responsible (transport, high schools, vocational training, economic development, regional planning, etc.), by questioning the results of the incumbents and asking how things can be done better.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Macron is playing with fire

Macron is courting votes on the far right despite the risks of such a strategy, Jutarnji list warns:

“The battle for Côte d'Azur shows that Le Pen and Macron are relying on the same strategy for victory. The key objective is to win the votes of the traditional right. But analysts warn that in cosying up to the right, Macron is potentially encouraging a normalisation of extremist ideas. As a result of this courting of the right, the number of citizens across France who view Le Pen's party as a threat to democracy has dropped to 49 percent. Meanwhile the number of voters on the traditional right who view Le Pen favourably has increased.”