French pol­i­tics

Your guide to the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in France from the ma­jor par­ties to elec­tions

Living France - - Contents -

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.

LES RÉPUBLICAINS

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.

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