France and the next presidential election: will the 2017 be the year of right wing’s success?

The French elections held in December left the European political environment with a big question mark about the future of the presidential appointment, scheduled in April and May 2017.

While trying to come up with a balanced argument, let us briefly consider the results of the latest French elections and explaining their political meanings. First of all, French political outcome has been different between the two turns of voting: while the first round has shown the Front National’s upward shift in votes, the second turn has lowered the ‘extreme-right’ effect, giving hope and strength to Socialists and Republicans, respectively represented by Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy. The results of the second turn, in fact, have been a jointed victory of the latter, with a little more satisfaction for the Union of Right of Nikolas Sarkozy, which has gained 40% of votes, compared to Hollande’s coalition, who reached only a threshold of 28.8%.

Taking into consideration the electoral data, the second turn has showed clearly that the French were not ready for the Front National’s victory, which pool of votes has remained around 27% in both turns, still this result has been far from considered low and meaningless, politically speaking. On the contrary, the FN has gained 365 seats in counsellors and in the first turn it was the most voted party, a particular that must not be ignored in the French political scenario.

The extent of the Front National’s phenomenon has been underlined also by political actors such as Manuel Valls, the Socialist Prime Minister, who, despite of the FN political defeat, declared:  “The danger of the far right has not been removed and I won’t forget the results of the first round and of past elections (…) We have to give people back the desire to vote for and not just against.” In the end, the rise of Marine Le Pen’s party should not be underestimated; on the contrary, other political parties should try to find an effective way to tackle this political challenge and turn it into an opportunity, that is to say to understand what is lacking in the French scenario that has led so many voters to push the FN percentage so high, while trying to fill the dramatic gap between the French society and the ruling socialist party, facing a poor performance in the regional elections. In order to reinvent themselves, a simple question that needs to be answered by the parties would be: which could be the strategy to fill the gap between the society and the socialist-republican party?

To summarise, the coup de theatre, which has erased the FN political victory, has been caused by the switch of the left-wingers (and also right-wingers) from Le Pen’s party to Sarkozy’s coalition, Les Republicans. This conclusion leads us to define this portion of tactical voters as those  able to swing the balance of political powers: would their votes for the presidential elections be crucial or not?

This elections has shown that, one hand, it seems that Hollande (at the second turn) has regained votes in strategic regions when at the right time, that is when le FN was becoming a real threat. On the other hand, the French vote leaves us with at least two questions: do the right voters made the final decision choosing Sarkozy instead of Marine Le Pen? And what will be their position in 2017? From Marine Le Pen’s point of view, her party has been a victim during the regional turn and she predicted that her voters would take their revenge by becoming more and more convinced during the presidential campaign.

Despite the decreasing amount of votes registered in the second round, the FN has gained voters at any level taking into account also the results of the European elections, which shown a decisive upward trend of this party. “Yesterday Calais, today France” says the slogan of the FN website, anti -immigration policies, Euro-exit and promotion of French nationality seem to be the hard line positions of this extreme party, which, however, succeeds into colleting voters from French people coming from different political views.

 It comes without saying that the terroristic attacks and the Islam issue have played a pivotal role in convincing many people to react in an extreme way to this kind of threats. Since the Paris terrorist attacks last month, the FN’s key concerns – the refugee crisis, security, the place of Islam and national identity – have become the main talking points in France, and this all goes only to Le Pen’s personal benefit.

In this liquid political framework, expectations are difficult to be defined. President Hollande is likely to run for the coming election, although French press is spreading out that maybe the Socialist party would put on the table another name after his low rating in terms of votes. One thing is certainly going to push up his popularity, his declaration that “if after five years, a President cannot meet the objective that he had when he got elected, he cannot be once more a candidate for the highest office in the country”, therefore he seems very committed to fulfil his own promises before being elected again. Regarding other parties’ potential candidates, they are still uncertain. Probably, the presidential race will push the candidates to pursue new strategies to contain the Front National policies, still considered extreme and far from the European framework.

Federica Mastroforti

Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS Guido Carli)

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