The second round of the French municipal elections revitalizes the left

The Socialists and the main Green winners of these municipal elections
Mesa electoral durante la segunda vuelta de las elecciones municipales francesas en un colegio de Marsella, el 28 de junio de 2020

AFP/CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU  -   Polling station during the second round of the French municipal elections in a college in Marseille, 28 June 2020

The coronavirus has become the major player in the French municipal elections. The first round took place on Sunday 15 March, just a few days before a state of health emergency was declared in the country. The fear of COVID-19 led to a historic drop in the turnout to 44.66%, almost 19 percentage points lower than in 2014. In some places, abstention even exceeded 70%. The exceptional measures that were subsequently taken forced the postponement of the second round of municipal elections until the health situation had improved. The date chosen for this was this past Sunday, June 28, but not even the coronavirus renitence has stimulated a greater participation than in the first round, because in the absence of official data, participation could have fallen to 41%. 

This low participation has undoubtedly had an enormous political impact, as it has rewarded those parties that have been able, despite everything, to mobilize their voters. These have been mainly the left and the greens, who the current climate of social and health crisis has been able to favour the impact of their discourse. The big loser in these elections has been, without a doubt, President Emmanuel Macron's party, La Republique en marche (LREM), which has remained outside the mayor's office in the large French cities, accusing them of not being locally established. On the contrary, the strong entry of the Greens, seems to present a change in the paradigm of French politics, since it breaks the public debate between the National Grouping of Marine Le Pen and Macron's LREM.

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Until now, the political debate has revolved around the nationalism-localism of some as opposed to the globalism-europeism of others. The arrival of this new political line will undoubtedly introduce new elements into the political framework, something that will enrich the debate, but which could have a great impact on the forthcoming French presidential elections. It is necessary to mention, in fact, that several of the victories of the waning French Socialist Parties, have taken place precisely in places where they were presented in a left-wing coalition with the Ecological Europe - The Greens (EELV). The clearest example has been that of Anne Hidalgo in the French capital. 

In Paris, the main battle of the traditional French parties was taking place, both of which are currently far from a greater national role. The withdrawal of Macron's candidate for mayor, after the publication of some intimate videos with which he was attacked - something he did not want to make a political gain from - facilitated the race between the socialist candidate and the conservative candidate of Les Republicains (LR), Rachida Dati. Finally, and following the forecasts, the left-wing coalition led by the mayor of Spanish origin won over what could be one of the political references of LR in the near future, with nearly half of the votes, 48.7% against 33.8% of Dati. 

La alcaldesa de París, Anne Hidalgo, en el Hotel de Ville de París tras su reelección el 28 de junio de 2020
AFP/ JOEL SAGET - The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, at the Hotel de Ville in Paris after her re-election on 28 June 2020

In other big cities such as Marseille or Lyon, the alliance between socialists and greens has been equally key. In the first round, the left-wing candidate Michele Rubirola has managed to put an end to several decades of government by the right with almost 40% of the votes in the second round. In Lyon, one of the most convincing victories of the Greens, supported in this case by the Socialists, has been achieved with more than 50% of the votes for Grégory Doucet against 30.8% for the centrist candidate Yann Cucherat. In Toulouse, there has also been a disputed political battle between LR and EELV, both supported by other parties, with the balance going to the conservative side with just 3% of the vote. The city of Nantes and Montpellier are left, while in Nice the right is left.

Representative of this is the victory of the Greens in the Europeanist Strasbourg, one of the main mayoralties to which the Macron candidate aspired. The environmental candidate won with 41.71% of the votes to 34.96 for the centrist Alain Fonantel. The city of Bordeaux is another city on the list of electoral turnovers in favour of the left. There, the green candidate Pierre Hurmic has beaten the center-right coalition led by Nicolas Florian by barely 1,400 votes. Even tighter was the victory of the Socialists in Lille, where even the exit polls gave the victory to the Greens. Finally, the Socialist mayor Martine Aubry remained at the head of the council by 227 votes. Another significant event was the election of the current French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, as mayor of the iconic city of Le Havre in the north of the country, with almost 60% of the votes.

La presidenta del partido de extrema derecha Rassemblement National (RN) francés, Marine Le Pen
AFP/CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT - The president of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party in France, Marine Le Pen

In view of the results, the analysis leaves several trends and issues to be highlighted. Firstly, that the party of French President Emmanuel Macron, has not been able to weave a successful implantation at the local level, despite having been at the head of the Elysée Palace for several years and with a strong majority in the National Assembly. Secondly, Marine Le Pen's leading role and her chances of winning a presidential election are also far from giving her greater political representation at local, regional or national level. Thirdly, the Socialist Party has managed to maintain, and even expand, important and noteworthy mayoral offices from which it could boost its role at national level. And finally, in line with what is happening in other European countries, the Greens are increasing their role in European politics at all levels, thus introducing areas that are not so prominent in public debate such as mobility or the environment, and also causing concern in a left that has traditionally been dominated by socialism, in which various ideologies must now compete for the same sector of the electorate.

There are now six years ahead of us in which high abstention, due to the coronavirus and disaffection, may put greater pressure on the political legitimacy of these results, given the doubt as to whether they would have been different in another health context.