French regional elections: the "Hangover Generation" effect hermesmarana via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1TeZ0C0)

This article has been written by Maeva Chargros and Robin Alves.


The elections of 6 and 13 December were held in trouble. It’s a victory for no party, reflecting the general feeling following the Paris Attacks in November. Nevertheless, the results from these elections can’t be reduced to this explanation. If The Front National made no gain in the final round, the party has reached a historical high of 28% of the expressed votes. It is worrying and the traditional political parties do not offer alternatives. A concern that affects the European Union in general.

Why were there so many abstentions?

At the French regional elections, over half of the registered voters abstained in the first round, a little bit less in the second and many who did go to the polls voted for the Front National. Why so many abstentions? People do not express their vote, their right to participate to a significant dimension of political life. Is it negligence, indifference, or something else?

We can highlight two different phenomenons:

- For Alexis de Tocqueville, the democracy leads the citizen to care for their own privacy rather than the public space. Politics is a counter-time. It’s a disinterest for the democracy.

- For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the political choice is accountable. The citizens denounce the principles of representative democracy. It is the “social contract”. Electing someone is accepting the risk of the confiscation of power by a small party of men. It’s the political ideology of anarchism.

Beyond these explanations, we can highlight the lack of electronic vote in France, the difficulty to move for some people (for example disabled people) and the difficulty to follow and understand the political debate (old people, young people). Therefore abstention has different meanings, it’s difficult to judge with efficiency. A solution would be to get involved in the general debate, to involve the parties and to renew the political offer from the inside.

French regional elections, a success for the Front National?

Most of the people who did go to the polls voted for the Front National. This party, well-known for its extreme positions, has manipulated the debate with national topics. Indeed, the regions have no competence in the field of immigration, or security and the FN has created an atmosphere of fear. Especially in the regions, one of the very few proposals was to halt the subsidies paid to associations defending refugees and dealing with immigration. Also, to cut the subsidies for the family planning (promoting sexual education, STDs prevention, and the right to contraception and abortion). Actually, diminishing women's freedom which affects the sensitivity of some people.  But it is a clear lack of professionalism in the sense of the region control principally both high school and TER (regional express train). Two issues where the Front National’s proposals are limited.

Nonetheless, all in all, it was not a success as the party made no gain in final round. It’s neither a failure since it has never received as many votes (6,8 million!) and secured so many regional advisors (358). Actually, for the Guardian, “the defeat of the FN was down to mass tactical voting, an increase in turnout and warnings by the left”.

PM Manuel Valls has deliberately avoided any triumphalism. “Tonight there is no relief, no triumphalism, no message of victory,” he said. “The danger of the far right has not been removed, far from it, and I won’t forget the results of the first round and of past elections.” He said it was now the government’s duty to “listen more to the French people” and “to act in a stronger, faster way” particularly on employment in a country with record unemployment rate.

Lots of comments point out the isolation because FN has made no covenant with another party and counts only on itself. Today, this moment is a chance, but we must be careful because following the events could lead to a development and the expansion of the grassroots of the party. Less than 18 months before the next French presidential elections, the FN monopolizes sensitives issues such as security, Eurocrisis, refugee crisis.

The Guardian concludes by saying “Despite the FN failing to grab its first region, Le Pen will still use her party’s first-round breakthrough performance as a springboard for her bid for the 2017 presidential election.”

The traditional parties saved the day:

Every time we have elections in which the Front National increases its results, we hear politicians from the two main sides make speeches. “Yes, we hear you”, “we have to do something about it”. However, as the 2017 presidential elections approach, we realise we might have to choose between Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy… again. It’s what we can call a “hangover” in politics and in society.

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Both sides failed in the past years. Both sides are involved in trials, scandals and even corruption sometimes. Before the regional elections, they both predicted the defeat of the other side’s candidates and they both spent their time urging the French people not to vote for the Front National. But their ideas and projects for their respective regions are very limited.

The results of this weekend’s elections can be interpreted as a clear warning towards not only the current Government, but also the right-wing party Les Républicains. Claude Bartolone did not succeed in keeping the Île-de-France region; the Socialist group in the National Assembly (parliament) re-elected him a couple of days later as the President of the National Assembly (4th most important person in the 5th Republic constitution). Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet criticised Mr Sarkozy’s decision in regards to his party’s guideline following the first round; she was evicted from the direction of the party the day after the elections.

None of the two main parties can call the regional elections a victory since the Parti Socialiste lost many of the regions it was leading, Les Républicains did not get as many regions as predicted and the Front National collected more votes than they ever did.

If you look at some accurate maps from Hervé Le Bras (French demographer), the places where the traditional parties got the least votes are the places where there is a high amount of unemployment, poverty and it is also places that are not too far from the big cities, but not too close either. Translation: the people who voted for the Front National suffer from the failures of the traditional parties (PS/UMP/Républicains).

However, the people voting for the traditional parties are the ones who, during an improvised debate in the street, can discuss any topic with various arguments and explain their votes and ideas. It’s time to renew the politicians in France if we want to change our politics and block the Front National.

Examples from specifics regions :

In Normandy, despite what has been said, it is not “Les Républicains” who won the region, but the centre-right and liberal party Union des Démocrates Indépendants. Indeed, the leader of the winning list is Hervé Morin (UDI); he based his campaign on the idea of creating a balanced region uniting the Lower and Upper Normandies, with two capitals, Rouen and Caen.

In Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou)Charentes, a territory as significant as Austria,the Parti Socialist lead by Alain Rousset won during the second round. Elected for a long time in this socialist land, he has lead an intense election campaign. His contestant, Virginie Calmels, endorsed by Alain Juppé did not achieve this gamble.

In Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne, the Parti Socialiste had very strong roots thanks to Gérard Collomb, president of the city of Lyon and its suburban area. Though, the right-wing list of Les Républicains was elected. This choice can be interpreted as a clear warning towards the Government.

In Corsica, the independentist list won the elections, which is a clear sign coming from this region: they are not discussing in terms of “left/right/extremes” but in terms of “how to deal with the centralised power in Paris?”. It might be interesting to keep an eye on this region in the upcoming years.

Eventually, in Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine (let’s hope they find a shorter name soon), the Front National was leading after the first round. However, the right-wing list of Les Républicains won during the second round. The socialist candidate refused to withdraw between the two rounds, even though his party asked him to do so. He kept almost the same number of votes and the Front National did not win.

A European concern :

Throughout Europe we can see the populist parties gaining in number of votes, seats, elected candidates. In Denmark, the recent referendum about the cooperation in the European security and migration policy sent a clear “No” from the Danish people to Brussels. In Poland, the eurosceptics won the last elections. We can also mention the Greek example, with a strong eurosceptic feeling in this country. Soon, it will be the United Kingdom’s turn to send its message towards Brussels and the whole European Union member states.

Nevertheless, it is important to see the evolution of politics in other countries such as Spain, for instance, where Podemos and Ciudadanos will probably build a new future for the Spanish people, but without the extremes, nor the traditional political parties. In many European countries, we still lack of this kind of political options. The people end up voting for the only alternative they have: the extremes, the populists.