Municipal elections in France: Le Président a perdu, vive le Président !

The second round of the municipal elections in France took place today. As I am writing this, France 3 is the only TV channel still broadcasting live results and discussion. French blogger Versac has been live-blogging about it. It looks like voters gave the party of president Sarkozy a severe beating.

Although we are “only” talking about municipal elections here, make no mistake about their importance: be it for French voters (turn-out figures in the first round were around 66%), for the French government (a number of senior politicians including ministers were candidates in the elections), or even for Europe. The results are widely seen as indicative for the seriousness of President Sarkozy’s slide in popularity, and will, as a result, have a strong influence on the President’s behaviour and stance on national and European issues.

So far, it is clear that the right (mainly consisting of Sarkozy’s UMP party) lost, and that the left (mainly the socialist PS of Ségolène Royal and François Hollande, but there are greens and communists in the game as well) won. An interesting role was played by the centrist MoDem party of François Bayrou, who was also the third candidate in the presidential elections. As a majoritarian election system is used, the expectation after the first round was that MoDem in many cities would end up in a position of “king-maker” (the rather complicated voting system is explained here). However, although it is still a little early to interpret the results, it looks like MoDem’s results are rather disappointing so their king-maker role will probably be limited. Even MoDem front-man Bayrou lost in his home city Pau with a 1% difference to the socialist contender.

In Strasbourg, UMP mayor Fabienne Keller, fierce defender of the European Parliament’s travelling circus, will have to hand her seat to the socialists. Unexpectedly, one must assume, two government ministers lose the local elections: Outspoken Human Rights Minister Rama Yade, third on the list in Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine), is not elected as councillor, whereas Education Minister Xavier Darcos loses his seat as mayor of Périgueux. Their colleague Rachida Dati, the law and order oriented Minister of Justice, however, is elected in Paris’ safe 6th arrondissement. Jean Tibéri, who succeeded Jacques Chirac as mayor of Paris and equally dodgy financially, is also elected in Paris’ 5th arrondissement. The current socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, looks certain to remain in office with a comfortable majority in the city council.

All in all, the French left looks set to claim victory and demand a change of government policy, whereas the government’s stance will be to pretend that nothing really has happened because the elections were only local. Still, analysts expect a substantial “presidentialisation” of the President’s image, as his current bling-bling style clearly irritated voters. Gone therefore will be the Ray-Bans and the large watches, and Carla Sarkozy née Bruni will be pressurised to behave as first-ladylike as she can. The operation is likely to have an effect on Sarkozy’s European performance as well, as meetings with European leaders and foreign policy successes are seen as Très Présidentiel and therefore good for his image.

But whether this means France will take a more cooperative position than usual in European negotations remains to be seen. It is true that Sarkozy compromised on nearly everything last weekend in order to get the European Council to agree with his plan for a Mediterranean Union. But when it comes to issues that really matter to his voters, the President seems more, rather than less, likely to fight for his popularity ratings at home. My predictions: expect more protectionism and less willingness to reform the CAP, but also more environmentalism from France in the near future.

One Response to “Municipal elections in France: Le Président a perdu, vive le Président !”

  1. Reflections on European Democracy » Link of the day: The sputtering Franco-German engine Says:

    [...] After the European Council the authors seem optimistic that Europe Minister Jouyet and other French officials have succeeded in bringing the President back on more traditional track. After the municipal elections of last Sunday I am less sure about that, as I wrote yesterday. [...]

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