French electorate in doubt and abundance of candidates: What could go wrong?

33 French electoral lists will be competing in the European elections in May, a record.

Although they elected an ardent defender of Europe as their president, French people are poorly mobilised on the European elections, where 33 French election lists are set to challenge each other on 26 May. EURACTIV France reports.

For the first time since France elects MEPs, 33 lists have officially been published according to the French Interior Minister. In theory, this means that the French electorate will be facing 33 ballot sheets- supposing all lists can manage to print enough ballots. Yet, like in many EU counties, the French continue to have a high abstention rate in European elections.

This quick surge of political surplus can be translated into the current representative unease in France: a divide between political parties and citizens is growing wider and is motivating new extreme-leaning candidates. Only half of the lists reveal moderate political parties.

In 1999, the last European ballot that took place in a single constituency saw twenty lists go up against each other. In 2014, during previous elections, the ballot organised itself around eight European parliament constituencies, which makes things difficult to compare.

The leading duo

Marine le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National and Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) gather the most voting intentions and are far ahead of all other political parties in opinion polls.

Macron’s LREM wants to turn EU elections into duel with Rassemblement National

Unlike other groups, LREM is allowing itself until the start of March to reveal who will lead its list for the European elections, hoping it will therefore have the time to mobilise its political partners at the European Parliament. EURACTIV France reports.

For several months, LREM has been coming out ahead of this duel. But this week, the RN had more voting intentions for the first time, according to a study by Ifop for Paris Match, CNews and Sud Radio. Another opinion poll conducted by the OpinionWay Institute found that 24% of the voting intentions were in favour of Le Pen’s far-right and anti-European party, compared to 21% in favour of the pro-EU LREM.

The duel between RN and LREM on European issues should take a huge turn on the ballot. As a fervent defender of European integration, Macron made sure that him and Le Pen do not see eye to eye on the issue.

The election results should therefore either sanction or commend Macron’s pro-European policies, with the risk of seeing the ballot morph into a sanction vote on the government’s policies. The election results will also give LREM legitimacy or not, to impose itself as a new force within the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the European Parliament’s centrist group, which is currently being recomposed.

For its part, the RN intends to reiterate its success at the previous EU election in 2014. At a European level, cooperation between the RN and its political group, the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), is not the party’s top priority as it always favours a vote in opposition to Europe, without looking to coordinate with allies from other countries.

Battle of opinions

Behind the leading duo, the traditional parties are presenting themselves in different shapes following the 2017 presidential election fiasco.

The list of the right-wing party Les Républicains, led by François-Xavier Bellamy, is currently polling at 15% of voting intentions.

Other lists, meanwhile, record voting intentions below 10%, such as green party Europe Écologie Les Verts (9%), and left-wing parties, including La France insoumise (8.5 %)  and PS/Place publique (5%).

Nicolas-Dupont Aignan from right-wing party Debout le France, announced his wish to join the European parliament group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

The left-wing party of Benoît Hamon  (Génération.s) and the French communist party (PCF) all average voting intentions that are lower than 5%, meaning they will not meet the minimum threshold defined by the French electoral law.

Surprise invitees of the European vote, the ‘gilets jaunes’ will finally be represented within three different lists, following various weeks of uncertainty on the movement’s adaptation to politics.

Although this weekend marked the weakest ‘gilets jaunes’ mobilisation since the start of the movement, the Interior Minister unveiled the totality of the lists that will participate in the ballot on 4 May. These include “Evolution citoyenne” (citizen evolution) of Chrisophe Chalençon, “Alliance jaune” (yellow alliance) by singer Francis Lalanne and «”Mouvement pour l’initiative citoyenne “.

French ‘yellow’ list for the EU elections strikes alliance with far-right MEP Philippot

Jean-François Barnaba, who leads the ‘Jaunes et citoyens’ list is striking an alliance with ‘Les Patriotes’, the far-right party of former Le Pen ally Florian Phillipot. Both want France to leave the European Union and drop the euro. EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.

The “Citizen Evolution” list has already shown the movement’s political proximity to the Italian 5-star Movement. Indeed, Christophe Chalençon had met the Italian government’s number two, as well as the leader of the 5-star movement Luigi di Maio, causing a serious diplomatic crisis between Paris and Rome.

The potential of these lists remains very uncertain. They received close to 12% of voting intentions when the movement was at its peak, but in recent polls published before the lists were made public, the figure went down to a mere 2%.

Poor participation

The mushrooming of lists comes with the risk of losing a few more voters, who are already poorly motivated. The expected turnout at the election has been stagnating at around 40% in various opinion polls, lower than 42.4% recorded in 2014.

High levels of abstention for the European elections are nothing new. But since the first elections to the European Parliament by universal suffrage took place in 1979, participation has fallen by 18 points, from 61% to 42.4%.

Similarly, political parties have done very little campaigning for the European elections, as political events have chiefly centred on the ‘yellow vest’ crisis and the national debate that ensued. Moreover, LREM and the PS/Espace Publique list have not yet published their official programmes, with only one month left before election day.

According to the first poll published after the lists were announced, traditional political parties appear to be losing points. The joint list of the Socialist Party and Espace Publique are currently below the 5% mark, meaning they would be unable to send MEPs to the European Parliament.

Only four out of ten French people can name top EU Parliament candidates

With one month to go before the European elections, French voters are showing little interest in them and appear to have limited knowledge of top candidates. EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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