Small French Euro-Election earthquake. Several hurt (some profoundly). Few winners. An awful lot of losers.

There were some Euro-surprises

And in the end … there were four main takeaways from France’s Euro-Elections:

  • far more people than expected went to vote
  • ‘pro’-European parties did better than Eurosceptic/anti-EU parties
  • the Greens are probably the only entirely happy party post-Elections, though President Macron’s En Marche party will have certainly felt great relief
  • the traditional two-party political system, Socialist v. Conservative, which ran the French 5th Republic for over 50 years, has definitively – with their cumulative 15% of the vote – been supplanted by Groundhog Day repeats of Macron v Le Pen. These are to be repeated indefinitely … or at least until the end of Macron’s 2nd term of office in 2027, whichever be the sooner.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the one the pollsters got. They collectively failed to discern what the voters of most major parties intended to do. So, uncommonly for France, all final polls proved wrong in several significant respects. Although, as is ever the way with unpredictable voters, the pollsters instantly excused themselves by claiming everything changed over that final weekend [in France no new polls are issued after midnight on the day preceding Polling Day] since ‘a poll is only a snapshot in time’ [pollsters passim].

The now-near-commonplace mea culpa was quickly issued by the pollsters. But their ‘apology’ was tempered: Ipsos explained that the ‘dynamics … accelerated’ over the final weekend. And in a somewhat complicated justification of the extent of their culpa, said ‘we weren’t completely wrong; there were some things we didn’t see’. Ah.

It seems that even French Euro-voters became belatedly aroused over the last couple of days to do their democratic, individual and unpredictable bit. [Euro-Turnout Note: 20 of the EU’s 28 countries recorded increased voter turnout over the 2014 Euro-Elections, with 9 countries increasing by over 10%. The largest increase in turnout was Spain’s 21 point rise to 64%. The biggest fall in Euro-Enthusiasm was in Bulgaria, with turnout dropping 5 points to 31%. NB voting is compulsory in Bulgaria.]

Oh what a night … for the polling organisations

Three polls (Elabe, Ifop/Fiducial and Harris) were published on the final Friday, 2 days before France’s Euro-Election Day, last Sunday. By failing to identify several major trends, the pollsters ended up looking as though their science was more an art:

  • the intention to vote was dramatically underestimated. For months, turnout had been forecast in the low forties, even if the final Ipsos poll showed 47%. That certainly seemed to chime with the commentators’ analyses of voter disinterest in the deeply boring Euro-campaign. However, finally, just over 50% of France’s 47 million voters voted, making it France’s highest Euro-vote since 1994’s 53%.
  • Le Pen’s National Rally party was forecast to win a symbolically important 25% – they actually polled 23.3%
  • President Macron’s En Marche result was the only major party the pollsters got right. Forecast to win 22.6%, they got 22.4%. Luck probably enabled them to get so close with many hundreds of thousands of votes churning between the leading parties over the final weekend
  • polls showed the Greens with 8% support. 2 days later their score soared dramatically to 13.5%, winning 3 million votes
  • hard left Mélenchon’s France Unbound party was given an identical 8% in those final polls … yet their actual vote was a miserly 6.3%
  • the Incredibly Disappearing Socialists were support act to a newly-created party, Public Space. Given 5% (on the cusp of getting no Euro-MPs by failing to break the 5% threshold) they actually garnered (moderately respectable for a near-dead, outdated, entity) 6.2%, merely 27,000 votes behind hard left, France Unbound
  • the traditional right Républicains party was polling 13%. Their vote collapsed over those final 2 days (overdone-souffléwise) to a desperate 8.5%

So what happened in those final days? Giving pollsters the benefit of the doubt – and with the benefit of exit polls – perhaps hundreds of thousands of voters  decided thus

  • many ‘broad left’ voters who had supported the President’s En Marche party –  recognising their concerns as increasingly not being core Government issues – deserted Macron for the Greens, encouraged by the recent emphasis on Matters Environmental, and recognising Le Pen would win regardless
  • a far larger number of ‘broad right’ Républicains gave up on that increasingly socially and politically conservative party and supported the President’s party
  • some of the hard left went Green
  • voters previously inclined to abstain decided to (temporarily?) board the Green bandwagon

Left v Right? That’s seriously out of date. It’s now Young v Old, Poor v Rich and Metropolitans v Peri-Urbans

The Euro-Election vote endorsed the view that France – as with many European countries – was no longer interested in the old Left v. Right political battles. Parties representing those old ‘class struggle’ issues barely accumulated 14% of France’s Euro-vote.

Old issues were replaced by 21st-century problems. The environment. Identity. Migration. Those issues got the attention of the voting public and 60% of France voted for the Greens, the economic liberals and the ultra-right.

A shorthand pastiche of the Euro-Election result would be:

  • Under-35’s were Green, the middle-aged voted for Le Pen’s National Rally, and the old supported Macron’s En Marche. As we know, it’s The Old Wot Vote. In the past, Oldies voted for the Right, the Républicains. No more. Among the over-70’s, one-third voted En Marche … with only one in six voting for the Républicains Right. For those in their 60’s, three times as many voted for Macron’s party as the Right. And the figure grew still further among 50-year-olds (21% v 6%). Regarding abstention, the older you got the more certain you were to vote: some 60% of 18-34 year-olds abstained, but ‘only’ 39% of over-65’s stayed away.
  • 10% of the lowest income groups voted for President Macron’s party, while 40% of higher income groups did so. Le Pen’s party was supported by 17% of the better-off and 32% of the less-well-off. And in further disquieting news for the traditional, conservative Right, in the 134 Parliamentary constituencies currently held by the Républicains not one of those seats had a Républicains majority in the Euro-Elections In 24 seats the President’s party had a majority, in the remainder, there was a majority for Le Pen’s ultra-right National Rally. It’s the traditional problem for the Républicains Right, why vote for an imitation of the ultra-right Le Pen party, when you can vote for the Real Ultra-Right Thing?
  • Le Monde this weekend produced lots of clever infographics demonstrating the ever-increasing trend for Macron’s voters to be Urban (the bigger the town the more Macronian it is) with Le Pen’s being Peri-Urban and rural. Now here’s a frightening statistic. Over France as a whole, Le Pen’s party finished first in 24,869 communes (ie the smallest administrative area run by a mayor) of a total of 34,921 communes. That’s 71%! Pause for worried reflection.

WHO’S TOTALLY HAPPY (EVEN IF THEY’RE PROBABLY DELUDING THEMSELVES)?

The Green’s Euro-vote was considerably higher than forecast. 

No-one can claim to have emerged from these Euro-Elections in a state of total contentment. There was, probably, a near-last-minute shift by hundreds of thousands of voters to vote Green. Perhaps increasingly alarmed voters were signalling to President Macron their rejection of his continued disinclination to walk his constantly upbeat environmental talk.

Even so, the Greens cannot feel unalloyed joy at becoming, almost overnight, France’s third largest political party … and the only party still with respectable standing on the broad left. Perhaps they look enviously across the Rhine at Events Germanic. The Greens became Germany’s 2nd largest party, with 20.7% of the vote [48% of German voters, says pollster Infratest, rate climate change and the environment as the biggest issue, migration only being identified by 25% of the voters.]

But France’s Greens will remember they’ve been here before. The Euro-Elections are seen after all, to a considerable extent, as a ‘free vote’ every 5 years. There are few real-world consequences. Further, the single round, proportional voting system boosts their performance. In 2009’s Euro-Elections, the Greens were 2nd equal with the Socialists: each got 2.8 million votes (16% of the vote). But it then went so wrong that the Greens were persuaded not to launch their own candidate in the last Presidential Election. Instead, they disappeared from view as part of the ill-fated Socialist candidacy.

Will it be different this time? In the Euro-Elections, the Greens were France’s party of choice for those aged 18-34: pollster Ipsos found that more than a quarter of those rather rare individuals (ie the not-yet-seriously-old who actually do their democratic duty) voted Green. The Greens turned out to be the leading party on (what used to be called) the left of the political spectrum.

Following that success, Green leader Yannick Jadot will have been pleased to read the post-Euro-Election Odoxa poll in terms of which politicians people ‘support or like’. Jadot has the kudos of becoming, overnight, France’s ‘favourite political personality’. Last month, Jadot languished (among scores of never-rans) as France’s 15th most popular politician. In an unheard-of-leap, boosted by his Euro-Success, ‘support’ for Jadot bounded 20 points from 12% to 32% ‘support’. He’s now identified by those on the left as their N° 1 personality (up 25 points to 53% support), dislodging former lefty ‘favourite’, hard-left Mélenchon. Those on the right have gone for him too. Is Jadot the person around whom a New Left (or a New Something) can be born? Not sure.

And the press reaction to the arrival (at last) of a Personality? Jadot can only benefit from his appearance in the virtuous circle he now finds himself. Last week, his name was mentioned in newspaper articles almost as often as Macron’s, and 20% more than Le Pen’s. If it looks like a bandwagon and sounds like a bandwagon, then it just indeed may be that merry bandwagon everyone’s been awaiting.

WHO’S BOTH HAPPY AND LESS-THAN-HAPPY? 

President Macron’s name was virtually on the Euro-Ballot-Paper

The President (largely successfully) tried to establish the Euro-Elections as the fight between those who believed in progress against inward-looking nationalists. Throughout the campaign, the President did as much as practicable to make his En Marche party’s list of candidates in his own image. From his open letter to the entirety of European voters, calling for a European Renaissance, to the endorsement of his party’s ‘Renaissance’ list of candidates, complete with his own photo and signed message, it was clear that this Euro-Election was Presidential Personal. 

In the end, his party’s vote was certainly more than respectable. In the first round of the last Presidential Election, Macron won 24% of the vote, beating Le Pen into 2nd place with 21%. Roles were sort-of-reversed this time. Le Pen’s ultra-right National Rally won 23.3%, while Macron’s Renaissance party got 22.4% … barely 200,000 fewer votes.

But remember. These Euro-Elections came in the wake of 6 non-stop months of virulent (often violent) gilets jaunes protests, after the scandal of Benalla (the President’s over-energetic bodyguard who still awaits His Day In Court, almost as much as we await seeing him there), after near-countless examples of Presidential misspeaking when his language apparently betrayed disdain for many of his fellow-citizens. After all these challenges, and more, President Macron is still (by far) seen as the least worst option. Indeed, still more worryingly (?), maybe he’s the only option.

President Macron has successfully wiped out all (democratic) opposition. At the last Presidential Election, he won the first round by syphoning off the democratic left(ish) vote. He has now performed the self-same trick with the right. As his own policies have lurched rightwards, the centre-right and (democratic) conservative vote have turned to him in droves. Ipsos said a quarter of those who supported Fillon (the Right’s Presidential candidate in 2017) now voted for President Macron’s Renaissance party in these Euro-Elections. He is the sole rampart against Le Pen’s barbarians, many of whom are frighteningly close to the gates.

But. Whatever the level of respectability of his party’s Euro-Elections performance, it remains hard times for the President in the personal popularity stakes. Odoxa‘s monthly poll shows Macron still has way to go before regaining any of his lost ‘popularity’. Responding to the question ‘Would you say President Macron is a good President of the Republic?’ no less than 70% (up 3 points in a month) thunderously reply: ‘No’.

To make matters worse, various price rises will do little for Presidential popularity:

  • electricity up 5.9% from 1 June, having been delayed by Government edict (3 months ago) at the height of the gilets jaunes crisis;
  • petrol at its costliest since 2013, with the price of diesel up too
  • the increased cost of the obligatory vehicle roadworthiness test (an original gilets jaunes gripes) has now come into effect, following rule-changes introduced to ensure France conforms to its Brussels-imposed obligations

Ultra-right Le Pen was the nominal ‘winner’

The other person who’s both happy and less-than-happy has to be ultra-right Marine Le Pen. She won first place. That has to be worth bragging rights. Yes, maybe. She ended with 500,000 more voters than in the previous Euro-Elections: perhaps just the consequence of increased turnout? Yet the ultra-right’s percentage share of the vote was down from the previous Euro-Elections: 23.3% as against 24.8%. Quite some way from that symbolic 25%.

On the other hand,  Le Pen’s National Rally party broke through in many parts of the country (eg Catholic Brittany, where they had always been weak, and winning in Corsica where they had no political infrastructure whatsoever). But the ultra-right is still persona non grata in major towns (5th in Paris – 7%; 3rd in Lille – 14%; 4th in Lyon – 10%). This was balanced by the ultra-right strengthening its hold over both the battered northern Hauts-de-France region (34% to the President’s Renaissance party 17%) and south-west Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (31% to Renaissance’s 20%).

While Le Pen is not yet able to claim her party as The People’s Party, it’s certainly the party of a niche section of The People. According to Ipsos‘ exit poll, 44% of those who self-describe as ‘very close’ to the gilets jaunes voted for Le Pen’s ultra-right party. [Evidently, the 3 party lists which presented themselves to the electorate as being ‘representative’ of the gilets jaunes, found little favour with any voters. One list, led by an alleged singer, got 0.5% of the vote … the others did still less well, winning 0.03% and 0.01% of the vote.]

Le Pen said she ‘welcome[d] the result with joy because the National Rally has never so well deserved its name’. Putting her first place win to instant use, she issued the ritual call for the President to dissolve Parliament in the wake of his ‘democratic repudiation’. Call ignored.

But some felt that Le Pen’s next-day ‘Exclusive’ interview with Breitbart News – surely they’re FOREIGN! – was excessively internationalist. The headline screamed Le Pen’s demand that Macron should ‘Definitely’ resign, but that he ‘Has neither the honesty to do it, nor the panache’. Using a French word doesn’t quite suffice to calm the nationalists. Still, that Breitbart headline is boringly lame alongside the peppier: ‘Marxists, Global Warming Extremists Control Vatican’.

FOR MOST IT WAS ‘BEREZINA’

Retreating from Moscow, Napoleon’s army suffered heavy losses crossing the River Bérézina. For the French, the word is used to represent a catastrophic disaster.

National_Museum_in_Poznan_-_Przejście_przez_Berezynę
‘Napoleon crossing the Bérézina’ by Suchodolski (Poznan National Museum)

The major loser of Euro-Election night was The Traditional Right

The Républicains party – and its utterly-crushed former standard-bearer Fillon – persuaded 20% of the nation to vote Fillon at the last Presidential Election. Desperately damaged as Fillon was by endless accusations of criminal activity on his part relating to the illegal employment of various members of his family (let alone his ultra-conservative politics) one in five still voted for him. Fillon was totally discredited politically and personally. Fillon’s politics were those of the very conservative Catholic right. But The Right did their duty. Fillon finished 3rd overall. His Party saved more than its face.

Once Fillon departed, utterly discredited, the Républicains brought in a still-more social and political conservative as their leader. Their support steadily plunged until it hovered around 10%. But, from the start of 2019, it looked as though Wauquiez’s ‘inspired’ (?) choice of a socially conservative Catholic philosopher, campaigner against same-sex marriage, to be his party’s leader in the Euro-Elections had brought something new. Polls showed the Républicains pulling away from their 9-10% level until they even flirted with 15%. Perhaps, one day, the Right could dream of ruling the country again.

Then the reality. They are now the 4th party in France. 8.5% was by far the lowest score for the Right in any European or Parliamentary Election. Never had the ‘democratic’ Right polled single figures in a national election. Another dying party. An Ipsos exit poll showed more than a quarter of those voting Fillon 2 years earlier, now voting for Macron’s party, and nearly one in five for Le Pen’s National Rally.

In the past, the Right accused Mitterand (first Socialist President of the 5th Republic) of ‘nurturing’ the ultra-right Front National [under the even more baleful leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine] to keep people voting Socialist. This time, Wauquiez accused President Macron of being ‘the architect of the progress of the ultra-right’. Wauquiez justifiably claimed that ‘[Macron] reduced the European debate to a crusade against Marine Le Pen … Our voice couldn’t be heard.’

Wauquiez is right of course. But then the Right wasn’t saying much that anyone was interested in hearing – only the usual neo-ultra-right claptrap about Them … threatening Us. National identity and immigration were the only issues which were of interest to the Républicains. And if those issues matter most to a party, why vote for the imitators? It’s just voting fodder for Le Pen and her National Rally.

Anyone still in the Républicains party – who doesn’t inhabit the furthest Rightward reaches – must surely question whether there’s a place for them. Today’s Journal de Dimanche maybe best sums up the predicament of the ‘democratic Right’. JDD‘s headline condemns Wauquiez for having ‘over 2 years, transformed a great party of Government into a small party of protest … Voters on the right have chosen. Those looking for radical, simple solutions vote Le Pen. Those who believe in Europe, the economy, globalisation vote Macron. That doesn’t mean the right now has no place in politics, but it does mean that the right, in its current form, will soon have no voters’.

Equally unhappy and discredited is hard-left People’s Tribune, Mélenchon, and his deeply-muddled hard-left party, France Unbound.

Not so long ago, Mélenchon might have been Tomorrow’s Man. His oratory soared as he laid into all about him. He bludgeoned everyone – particularly rivals on the left – with elegantly witty sallies. Mélenchon saw himself as the man who would cause every other party on the left to fail and their voters to come rushing to him.

Mélenchon finished 4th in the Presidential Election: he was only 150,000 votes behind Fillon in the 1st round, with nearly 20% of the vote. Mélenchon then persuaded himself he was the man with the answers for the problems faced by the left. He would lead the struggle against Macron’s liberalism. Over two years since 2017’s Presidential Election, Mélenchon’s largely Eurosceptic, often ‘neo-nationalist’, even anti-internationalist, regularly populist, often autocratic, rule over his party has left the feeling that his party may be little more than a leftish sect. The way in which, as sect leader, he over-reacted to his party’s HQ being searched by the police seriously discredited a man who could never be accused of not taking himself too seriously.  He became pomposity incarnate.

Mélenchon had attempted to instal himself as in some way ‘leading’ the gilets jaunes movement. Then Mélenchon installed himself at the heart of his party’s Euro-campaign. It was his crusade. So the near-rejection of his party, with less than a third of his vote in the Presidential Election – coupled with the humiliation of getting as few votes as his sworn enemies in the Socialist party – is a dramatic rejection.

We may soon see an internal struggle within his party, France Unbound, as others try taking a different line to Mélenchon, and attempt to reunite the disparate, schismatic, left. If so, France Unbound might implode. It’s a party where Mélenchon’s personal position may resemble that of Corbyn in the UK’s Labour Party: losing a ‘charismatic’ leader can lead to ‘temporary’ (?) collapse.

Socialists of every hue are also disappearing

The left continues to be split several ways between a variety of brands of socialists and environmentalists. Overall, they total nearly 32% but they look increasingly unlikely ever to want to agree on any common platform or common candidate. The Socialists saved their reputation from the ignominy of being unrepresented in the European Parliament by scraping 6.2% of the vote. But to what end? Calls from the Socialists’ general secretary for The Left to re-group seem unlikely to be heeded by anyone, maybe not even the Socialist Party. They’re down and out. Permanently.

Those with long memories will remember once-and-future-non-king Hamon. Over his ill-fated campaign as Socialist Presidential candidate in 2017, Hamon garnered 6.4% of the vote. Over the five years of President Hollande’s term of office (the years preceding President Macron) everything had fallen apart for the Socialists: a party that 5 years before had held every political lever of power in France. In the Euro-Elections, Hamon’s new party, Génération.s, just succeeded in getting its expenses repaid by winning 3.3% of the vote. Hamon is actually an honourable man. He will ‘reflect’ on the result … and perhaps accept that his quixotic attempt to form a new party was a dismal failure. 

Who disobeyed the Central Praesidium?

The Revolutionary Communist Party of France is doubtless furious that 1,414 people disobeyed orders and voted for the PCRF. The party duly finished 34th out of the 34 lists, but there’s sure to be an internal enquiry to find out who disobeyed orders. People were not supposed to vote. They had to show their contempt for the system by voting blanc. So PCRF members are doubtless preening themselves on the fact that, throughout France, 551,000 people voted blanc by dropping an empty ballot envelope in the ballot box; a further 526,000 ‘spoiled’ their ballot, thus voting nul. [A mini-treatise on the recondite matter of non-voting can be found here.]

Satire is serious in Germany: no Berezina here

Anyone amused by the antics of Die Partei (a German satirical anti-party list with several candidates’ names evocative of the Nazi era – see my last post) may be interested to know that Die Partei ended with 2.4% of the national vote (898K votes), thus doubling their Euro-MPs to 2. They nearly got a 3rd: she would have been Ms Bomb. They got 4.8% of the vote in Berlin, and 5.7% in Leipzig – now the latter may well have been confused neo-Nazis.]

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s