Your guide to the political system in France from the major parties to elections
The French political scene as we knew it – or at least as the French knew it; it’s always been a bit of an enigma to everyone else – underwent a seismic shake-up earlier this year. It was out with the old and in with the new; both personalities and parties. François Hollande ceded gracefully to the writing on the wall following an unpopular quinquennat (five-year term), opting not to seek a second mandate, while Nicolas Sarkozy discovered that his country didn’t need him after all (not even his party faithful in fact).
This left the way seemingly clear for former prime minister and right-wing stalwart François Fillon to go head-to-head with the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in the second round and subsequently take up residence in the Élysée Palace. (The collective French psyche remains unable to seriously contemplate an extreme nationalist Republic.) But then came ‘Penelopegate’ and the rest is history.
Enter stage right (or should that be left, no one’s too sure yet) the cool young upstart Emmanuel Macron to fill the gaping centre ground and lead his shiny new party La République En Marche! to victory. The new president and his strategically diverse representatives also managed to win a majority of seats in the subsequent legislative elections in June on a wave of hope and optimism. Now the nation waits to see if pro-European Macron and his merry band of rookies can deliver on their promise to bring major change to France’s economic, political and social structures. Or, will it be simply another case of plus ça change…
And there have been a number of changes – as usual in French politics which is much more diverse and colourful than in the UK – although a few things stay the same. Let’s get an overview of the political stage in 2017 and how the system currently works.
MAIN POLITICAL PARTIES LA RÉPUBLIQUE EN MARCHE!
Formed in April 2016 by Emmanuel Macron after he resigned as economy minister in François Hollande’s government, En Marche! found itself in power barely a year later. Wooing the young, promising to shake up and clean up French politics, rejecting all kinds of conservatism in favour of progressive thinking, En Marche! is currently riding the zeitgeist wave to perfection, offering new hope to the disillusioned. Pitching the party as ‘neither left nor right’, Macron is perceived as a proEuropean, left-leaning centrist who champions above all democratic values.
Formerly called the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) and somewhat controversially renamed Les Républicains at the wish of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2015, the party holds the principal conservative ticket in French mainstream politics. Founded in 2002 from a merger of five former right-wing and centrist parties, it had some heavy hitters lined up in the party’s 2017 presidential primaries, including Sarkozy, Alain Juppé, Bruno Le Maire, Jean-François Copé and François Fillon. Although Fillon was defeated in the first round of the presidential elections, the party was second in the legislative elections taking 137 seats, with many of their MPs promising to support Macron in parliament.
LE PARTI SOCIALISTE
France’s mainstream socialist party is once again in chaos, following a poor showing in May for their traditionalist left-wing presidential hopeful Benoît Hamon (who saw off former Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the primaries) and then losing 250 seats in the legislative elections. Left with just 29 MPs, the party has to regroup, rethink and will no doubt come up with a new name.
LA FRANCE INSOUMISE
Led by popular hard-left reactionary Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a loud critic of the Parti Socialiste’s centrist politics under Hollande and who only just lost out in the historically close first round presidential elections in May.
La France insoumise (France Unbowed) was formed in February 2016, in a similar vein to En Marche! as an alternative to traditional party politics, looking to appeal to ecologists and young voters with modern campaign tactics (including hologram appearances) and promises of a more inclusive political structure. In contrast to En Marche!, the party takes a Euro-sceptic, anti-corporate stance.
LE FRONT NATIONAL
The extreme far-right party in France has clearly gained significant ground in recent years, evidenced by the advance of leader Marine Le Pen into the second round of the presidential elections with her anti-EU, anti-immigration, ‘France for the French’ campaign.
Like her father Jean-Marie in 2002, she was strongly defeated in the second round run-off taking just a fifth of the vote after other parties rallied their voters to back Macron in a clear message ‘anything but the FN!’. Subsequently, the party won eight seats in the legislative elections, up six on 2012 but far less than they hoped, and the key players are now questioning their strategy.
MOUVEMENT DÉMOCRATE (MODEM)
Created in 2007 by François Bayrou who split from the conservative party to move further to the centre ground. Expected to run for president in 2017, Bayrou recognised the growing momentum behind En Marche! and made the decision not to risk splitting the centrist vote by standing. He lent his support to Macron, and the party has an alliance with En Marche! in parliament. Rewarded by Macron with the post of justice minister, Bayrou stood down just days later in the wake of allegations against MoDem of misusing EU funds.