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Archive for the ‘France: politics 2016-22’ Category

That’s the title of a commentary on the French election that I was invited to publish on the London Review of Books blog, which may be read here. I was given a 1,200 word limit, which was then cut to 1,000 and edited, so here’s the original version if one wishes to read that:

There was a general sigh of relief, in France and further afield, on Sunday at 8:00 PM CET, when Emmanuel Macron was projected to win the 2nd round of the French presidential election. The polls in the final week of the campaign all showed Macron opening up a 10 to 14-point lead over Marine Le Pen – and particularly after last Wednesday’s debate, which Macron was widely seen to have gotten the better of – but genuine worry had settled in during the latter half of March, and among hard-headed analysts as well as the inveterate hand-wringers, that Le Pen could very possibly win. With the shock over the Ukraine invasion, and consequent boost in Macron’s popularity, wearing off, Macron’s many deficiencies – programmatically and as a politician – came into sharper focus. These, plus Le Pen’s effective, under-the-radar campaigning in la France profonde and successful years-long strategy of ‘de-demonizing’ her image and that of her renamed extreme-rightwing party, the Rassemblement National (RN), caused the polls to suddenly tighten, to the point where Le Pen looked to be in striking distance of 50 percent. In this, it should be said, she was backhandedly aided by the candidacy of the even more extreme-rightwing Éric Zemmour, who made her look almost moderate by comparison.

The catastrophe of a Le Pen victory – for the future of liberal democracy in France, and for Europe and the world – need not be expounded upon here. Suffice to say that the mere possibility that it could come to pass was enough to strike terror into the hearts of millions of Frenchmen and women. So regardless of how one feels about Macron, his landslide 17-point victory – wider than what any poll had projected – was cause for satisfaction, as it signified that the RN is nowhere near striking distance of 50 percent in a national election, but also that more than enough voters of the left, whose antipathy toward Macron is strong to virulent, know to hold their noses in the voting booth and do the right thing to block the extreme-right.

In this, it was readily apparent on the evening of the April 10th first round that the election would hinge on the voters of the radical leftwing Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who reached 22 percent in a late surge of mostly moderate, strategically-minded left voters defecting from other leftwing candidates (all of whom finished under 5 percent) – with Mélenchon thereby coming close to overtaking Le Pen for the second place slot in the runoff. The vote utile almost paid off. In the 2017 election, 50 to 60 percent of Mélenchon’s voters transferred to Macron in the 2nd round, with all but a handful of the rest abstaining or nullifying their ballots. But after five years of the despised, right-lurching, neoliberal Macron, and who has given the left the middle finger on so many occasions, it was clear that the Mélenchon vote transfers would be less favorable to Macron this time, and particularly as the anti-system, protest voting portion of the Mélenchon electorate was ready to cast ballots for Le Pen (as for Mélenchon himself, he made no recommendation apart from exhorting his supporters not to give a single vote to Le Pen).

The transfers were finally more than sufficient for Macron, who received 42 percent of the Mélenchon vote according to the IPSOS polling institute, with 41 percent invalidating their ballots and 17 percent voting for Le Pen. And then there were the even stronger transfers from other candidates, notably the ecologist Yannick Jadot and Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains.  Macron’s landslide victory thus needs to be relativized, as fully 48 percent of those who voted for him, so reveals the Harris Interactive poll, did so to prevent Le Pen from acceding to the presidency, not out of any support for Macron – and which he acknowledged in his Sunday night victory speech at the Eiffel tower. Taking into account the 28 percent abstention rate – the second highest in the history of the Fifth Republic for a second round of a presidential election – Macron won but 38.5 percent of registered voters; only Georges Pompidou in 1969 was elected with less.

In fairness to Macron, it should be noted that while up to a third of the electorate – and across the political spectrum – strongly disapproves of his performance in office – or just of him as a person; which is to say, they loathe him – his overall poll numbers have not been bad compared to his recent predecessors. Except for a several month stretch in 2018-19, during the Gilets Jaunes movement, when his approval rating dropped below 30 percent, Macron’s positive poll numbers have been in the mid-30s to the mid-40s, making him a more popular president than François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy were during their mandates, or Jacques Chirac during his interminable second term. Macron does have a base of those who appreciate him, principally among older, middle-class, centrist and centre-right voters. And if up to half of those who voted for him did so to block Le Pen, 43 percent of Le Pen voters, according to the Harris Interactive poll, sought above all to prevent a second Macron term. The notion that 40 percent of the French electorate is now given over to radical rightwing populism is simply not true. Le Pen’s voters are not a French equivalent of the fanaticized Trumpist base of the US Republican Party.

France’s election season is not over, as legislative elections are scheduled for June 12th and 19th. Since the advent of the presidential five-year term (quinquennat) in 2002 and with legislative elections, in a coincidence of the electoral calendar, following in the wake of the presidential election, the legislatives have almost been an afterthought, with the voters reflexively granting a majority to the party of the newly elected president. Among the consequences of the quinquennat and electoral calendar have been a significant increase in the power of the president and the effective transformation of the National Assembly into a rubber stamp for the president and his hand-picked prime minister, the latter dutifully following instructions from the former.

This scenario, which has played out according to script in the last four presidential elections, may not be repeated this time. First, Macron is the first president to be elected to a second term since the two-term limit entered into the constitution in 2008. Macron will thus be a lame duck – a novelty for a French president – which will axiomatically lessen his authority over his prime minister. Second, it is not a foregone conclusion that Macron’s empty shell of a party, La République en Marche, and its centrist allies will gain a majority of legislative seats. There is a collective desire by the disparate parties of the left, who are in survival mode, to field single candidacies in each constituency. If the imperious Mélenchon can contain his hegemonic impulses, it just may happen. Likewise on the extreme right: if Le Pen can overcome her personal ire toward Zemmour, the RN and Zemmour’s new party, Reconquête!, may field single candidacies as well. If all this comes to pass, Macron may well be deprived of a majority in the National Assembly come June 19th. The legislative elections are going to be interesting.

Arthur Goldhammer has a post-election commentary in Tocqueville 21, “L’Alternance Impossible,” as does Philippe Marlière in the NYT, “France Is Still in Trouble.”

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I’ve been dreading this weekend for the past month—with the apocalyptic scenario of a Marine Le Pen victory looming large—but am now dreading tomorrow’s 8 PM projected winner a little less (which is not to say that I won’t be wringing my hands during the countdown). Emmanuel Macron has maintained a solid lead in the post debate polls, averaging out to 12 points (56-44), which, if confirmed, means landslide. Now polls do misfire, as we’ve seen on several recent occasions, e.g. in the 2020 US presidential election, when the average of the final polls had Biden leading Trump by a comfortable 8% at 538.com and 6.8% at RCP, but with Biden winning the popular vote by a narrower 4.4% (and with Trump thus coming perilously close to winning the electoral college). But while it ain’t over till it’s over, it would be truly unprecedented for the polls to be collectively off by 12 points. C’est du jamais vu. And French polls are pretty good on the whole, e.g. the polls in the final week of the 2007 run-off between Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal got the result almost exactly right, and likewise in 2012 with Sarkozy and François Hollande (the mean of the final polls showing a 52.75% Hollande victory and with him winning with 51.65%); as for 2017, the result was such a blowout that the polls were almost beside the point..

But Macron sure doesn’t deserve it, as I have underscored on numerous occasions, and the sentiment of which is shared by so many, as the NYT’s excellent Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut reported this week on “[The] Problem for Macron in France’s Election: ‘The Hatred He Arouses’.” The hatred of Macron is real—akin to the Sarkozy hate on the left in the 2007-12 period (and the hatred—entirely comprehensible and justified—that we all felt for Trump)—which Arthur Goldhammer, in a typically first-rate election eve commentary on the Tocqueville 21 site, acknowledges but considers a little over the top. Peut-être. A lot of us, comme moi, will be holding our noses in the isoloir tomorrow.

My crap shoot prediction FWIW:

Macron: 54%
Le Pen: 46%
Blank/nullified ballots: 10%
Participation rate: 72%

N.B. I will likely be publishing my post-election analysis on another platform, which may not appear until Tuesday.

By Maria Katasonova

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I’ve been worried about the 2nd round outcome for the past month, as anyone who follows AWAV knows, but am a little less so at the moment, as all but one of the polls taken over the past week show Emmanuel Macron widening his lead over Marine Le Pen. E.g. the Ipsos poll released today shows Macron leading by 15 points, with decisive numbers of 1st round Mélenchon and Pécresse voters moving to Macron to block MLP (see below). Mme Le Pen could still win, of course—and the latest Odoxa poll shows a close race—but barring a dramatic shift over the next two days, it would be a shocker at this point.

Last night’s debate won’t change matters. For all the build-up and anticipation of high drama, the 2 hour and 50 minute debate was sort of anti-climactic. The pundit consensus beforehand had it that as MLP could hardly outdo her calamitous performance in the 2017 debate—the worst ever in French history—and which cost her many votes in the 2nd round, that it was unlikely that she would outright “lose” this one, as she would necessarily be better prepared and on her best behavior. Greater risk was seen for Macron, that his preternatural arrogance would inevitably get the better of him, reminding fence-sitting voters of why they can’t stand the man and maybe decide that they just don’t want him in the Elysée for another five years. As predicted, MLP was indeed better prepared this time, having done her homework—under the supervision of a secretive group of hard right-leaning énarques and other high-level types—and memorized statistics. And, as expected, she remained generally calm and collected throughout. No trash-talking or vituperative attacks as in 2017. But while she tried her best to sound wonkish—which is taken seriously in France; even ordinary folk given over to populism want the leader of the nation to at least give the impression of being smart—no one can out-argue the Inspecteur de finance Emmanuel Macron when it comes to policy wonkishness—even if he sometimes has to fake it himself (and which does happen). So in the exchanges on the cost of living (the nº 1 issue for the French public), pension reform, the health care system (which is in a bad state), the competitiveness of the French economy, the environment, and other issues involving spending money, Macron inevitably got the better of Le Pen, and particularly in highlighting the contradictions, incoherency, inanity, and/or pie-in-the-sky character of so many of her proposals. She was, in short, out of her depth.

Despite the length of the debate, most of the issues were treated only superficially, particularly those that make Le Pen and her party so dangerous, e.g. in the exchange on Russia, in which MLP reiterated her condemnation of the Russian invasion and support for the Ukrainian people, though also her opposition to sanctions on Russian hydrocarbons and saying nothing about supplying Ukraine with the military means to fight the invaders. Macron riposted with reminders of her party’s delegation to the European Parliament having voted against the EU’s resolutions on Ukraine and, more specifically, of her erstwhile, across-the-board support of Vladimir Putin and the loan her party had contracted with a bank controlled by the Kremlin. Macron was good on this—as he was on insisting that MLP’s positions on Europe would necessarily lead to France leaving the EU—but missed an opportunity to brandish the specter of a Le Pen presidency reorienting French foreign policy away from the Atlantic alliance and toward one with Putin’s Russia (once the war in Ukraine is over and a “peace treaty” is signed, so MLP assures, as if that’s at all in the realm of the possible in the foreseeable future and with bygones being bygones).

The immigration issue—or, rather, non-issue, as there is no objective reason why it should be one—also got short shrift, which is too bad, as it is this that crystallizes the extreme-right’s demagoguery and racism, not to mention abject ignorance and outright stupidity. Macron was at his best in the exchange on the voile—the hijab, including the simple headscarf worn by pious Muslim women—which Le Pen wants to entirely ban from public space, informing her that France would be the only country in the entire world to enact such a measure, that it is so manifestly unconstitutional, a flagrant violation of religious freedom, thoroughly unenforceable, and would lead to “civil war” (on this Macron misspoke, as what he surely had in mind was mass civil disobedience). Macron could have added, for good measure, that such a ban would majorly complicate France’s relations with states that have Muslim citizens, beginning with the Islamic world itself (one imagines the specter of Saudi or Emirati women on the Champs-Elysées being fined by the police and asked to remove their headscarves).

As for Macron’s demeanor, the prevailing view, at least so far as I could see in scrolling through Twitter during the debate, was that he was indeed arrogant and disdainful toward Le Pen. Even veteran journalist John Lichfield aligned with this sentiment, writing in The Post that “[t]he great surprise — to me at any rate — was that Macron was so aggressive, even angry…constantly interrupt[ing] the far-Right leader, to the point of being irritating…attack[ing] Le Pen from the first minute [and coming] over as petulant.” How perceptions differ, as I didn’t see it this way at all. Sure, Macron often had a mocking look when listening to Mme Le Pen’s elucubrations—how can one not?—but I don’t think he overdid it. And I would say that his comportment was spirited and pugnacious rather than angry. Whatever the case, he clearly got the job done, with an instant post-debate poll showing 59% finding his performance convincing to 39% for MLP.

For a more detailed run-down on the debate, see Art Goldhammer’s piece in The New Republic. See as well Jon Henley’s analysis in The Guardian, “Election debate marks normalisation of far-right politics in France,” and the post-debate take on Twitter by the Eurasia Group’s smart Europe Managing Director, Mujtaba Rahman.

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Note this year’s poster. No name. Either she assumes that we all know who she is (which we indeed do) or deems it prudent not to remind people that she is named Le Pen.

There are nine days to go to the 2nd round and with the polls taken over the past four days (ten of them) showing Emmanuel Macron with a 6 to 12 point lead over Marine Le Pen. I am not reassured, though, and continue to fear the worst for April 24th. Mme Le Pen could absolutely win. And just about everyone with whom I’ve communicated on the matter this week thinks likewise. E.g. an American student of mine from a dozen years ago, who lives in Paris and works in the private sector, wrote this to me yesterday:

Honestly, after having lived in the US (specifically Washington DC) through Trump’s election and presidency, I’m terrified of [Marine Le Pen’s] election. I’m grasping at straws trying to imagine ways her coming to power in the French presidential system won’t be as bad as I fear. As the 2nd round gets into full swing I find myself incredibly frustrated watching Macron. I have been disappointed with his move to the right over the past 3 years but am outright angry at his campaigning. The man is a terrible politician. Proposing a raise to the retirement age mere weeks before the election and literally stating his desire to emmerder les non-vaccinés right before the re-election campaign began was the epitome of arrogance and outright stupidity. He is a terrible salesman only making Madame Le Pen look like a woman with the common touch. Granted, she has come a long way moderating her form (not her substance) and benefitted from Zemmour to look moderate and centrist in comparison. I’m terrified speaking to my French colleagues and neighbors that she’ll be elected. I’m praying Mélenchon outright endorses Macron but know better than to hold my breath.

I entirely share his sentiments. As for Mélenchon, he will make his announcement for the 2nd round tomorrow, following the consultation with his base. If his base surprises France and Navarre and recommends a vote for Macron, I will eat my hat. Whatever the outcome of the consultation, Macron will need votes from a sizable number of those who voted JLM, otherwise he’s toast—as is France. À propos, Cole Stangler has an anxiety-inducing report in The Nation today on the present state of mind of the Mélenchon electorate, “‘He Just Shat All over Us’: Why Macron’s ‘Republican Front’ Is Fraying.” The lede: “Macron aims to rally voters against far-right Marine Le Pen, but alienated parts of the coalition he needs to win may sit on the sidelines.” This passage merits quoting:

Another important source of anti-Macron sentiment is the public sector workforce. From health care and transportation to education and welfare, French public services play a fundamental role in many residents’ lives. While the country has largely avoided the type of direct privatizations that transformed the UK from the 1980s onward, French governments of various political stripes have progressively sought to keep funding in check in addition to introducing management techniques that come from the private sector. These pressures have intensified over the last several years, and it’s left many employed by the state feeling resentful toward the cabinet members and executive decision-makers who manage their work lives.

That includes people like Gabriel Lattanzio, a 37-year-old English teacher at a public high school in Les Lilas [a Paris banlieue]. He said he would never vote Le Pen—his first political experience was organizing high school classmates to protest Marine Le Pen’s father after he made it to the second round of the 2002 election, and he voted for Mélenchon in the first round this year. He also backed Macron in the 2017 runoff, but he’s not sure what he’ll do next Sunday.

Over the last few years, he said his job has gotten harder and harder. Covid has been an unforeseen challenge; his school has grappled with gang violence; and he’s been forced to take on new responsibilities—all without significant pay hikes and under an education minister who he said fails to recognize teachers’ hard work: “Our hierarchy’s authoritarianism and the repeated declarations describing teachers as incapable or lazy carry a lot of weight, as does [the fact that] high schools have been transformed by a lack of funding.”

Lattanzio speaks English fluently, has studied in the United States, and keeps an eye on American politics. He told me comparisons to Bernie Sanders supporters sucking it up and voting against Donald Trump fail to appreciate the nature of Macron—both in terms of his economic program and conservative social policies. “He’s no Biden,” Lattanzio said. “He’s like Thatcher. And it’s hard to vote for Thatcher.”

Anglo-American editorialists and commentators (The Economist, WSJ et al) have been imperiously lecturing the French for over thirty years that what they need is a “Margaret Thatcher.” Well, France finally got its “Margaret Thatcher” and here we are, with a Le Pen in striking distance of 50%—and the presidency of the French Republic.

Mélenchon voters would be well-advised to heed the words of the très gauchiste, anti-Macron amateur journalist and social media influencer Taha Bouhafs:

In the unthinkable event that Mme Le Pen crosses the 50% threshold on the 24th, 1st round JLM voters who did not heed Taha Bouhafs’s plea will forever suffer opprobrium (from me at least), but the primary responsible party will be the millions of Frenchmen and women who cast their ballots for MLP. On these voters, who numbered 8 million last Sunday, I revisited a post I wrote ten years ago, between the two rounds of the 2012 presidential election, titled “Marine’s voters,” which was prompted at the time by an exceptional half-hour reportage on France 2 I had seen the day before, on the increasing support for the Front National in exurban/rural France. Everything I wrote in the post—plus the reportage, to which I linked—is relevant today, so please do check it out.

On precisely this subject, of the FN/RN vote in exurban/rural France, John Lichfield has a must-read article (April 9) in UnHerd on the Calvados village where he has lived for the past 24 years, “How Marine Le Pen conquered Normandy: Rural France faces an existential crisis.” Lichfield’s account is similar to my 2012 post and the France 2 reportage. (FYI, the 1st round tally in Lichfield’s village was Macron 30%, Le Pen 24, Mélenchon 16).

I had my own interaction with a Le Pen voter recently, which is worth recounting, as I think her story is not atypical. Before I tell it, I need to preface it with a mention of Cluster 17, an opinion research laboratory and polling operation founded and directed by a political scientist at the University of Montpellier, which divides the French electorate into 16 opinion “clusters,” not all of which can be easily situated on a left-right axis. To find out what cluster one belongs to, one answers a questionnaire (of 33 questions), which then yields the result, and with a detailed description of the sociology of the cluster, its opinion system, where it’s situated in the left-right spectrum, attitudes of those in the cluster towards the Gilets Jaunes, its electoral orientation, and its stakes in the 2022 presidential election. The algorithm is sophisticated and with everyone I know who’s taken the test, as it were, saying that the cluster in which they are situated is entirely accurate (not surprisingly, I’m in cluster 2: Les sociaux-démocrates). The satisfaction rate is 100%.

So the Sunday before last, an in-law, whom I’ve known for thirty years but hadn’t seen since last summer, came for lunch. She’s in her mid 70s, was an office secretary during her working years, and lives in a middle-class banlieue (near her grown children, who are doing well for themselves). She is what I would call a low information but highly opinionated voter, who doesn’t read newspapers or follow the news closely (her preferred radio station is Radio Classique) but will pipe off on any issue of the day if asked. I’ve never really discussed partisan politics with her, though do remember that she voted for Trotskyist pasionaria Arlette Laguiller in 1995 and 2002, as she liked her spirit and verve. N.B. I’ve always seen my in-law as leaning somewhat to the right; she’s absolutely not on the left and certainly has no idea what Trotskyism is. So I invited her into my study and asked if I could administer the Cluster 17, with me reading out the questions and entering her responses, to which she agreed. Her cluster: Les Éclectiques. In other words, she’s all over the place, with some positions on the left, others (more in fact) on the right. In the final question, which asks where one situates oneself on the left-right axis, her response: centrist. When I read to her the detailed description of the Éclectique cluster, she said it accurately described her.

I then asked whom she was voting for. The 1st round: Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière (Arlette’s successor). Bon, d’accord. And the 2nd round? As she doesn’t like Macron, she would be voting for Marine Le Pen, no problem, as in past elections. I was a little surprised, needless to say, as I had no idea. Her reason: there are too many Arabs in France—even though she’s half Arab (Algerian) herself, lived in Algeria for 15-20 years, and whose ex-husband is Algerian (Kabyle). But while she’s opposed to Arabs “invading” France and wants tough border controls, she’s all for France welcoming refugees (and not just Ukrainians). Eclectic. When I told her that Marine Le Pen hadn’t changed an iota and was still on the extreme right, her response: “Really?! You think so?!” (Ah bon?! Tu crois?!). Low information. I mentioned Eric Zemmour, to which she reacted: “He’s an extremist!” On that, she’s well-informed.

There are many Le Pen voters like my in-law, who hold contradictory views, are not well-informed, don’t process information in the same way as we (or at least I) do, but while they have their prejudices, cannot be labeled as political extremists. Many are open to changing their minds—I think I’ll be able to persuade my in-law to flip from MLP to voting blanc—but those who work on them generally have to be people they trust. And the people they trust tend to think the way they do. There’s a big reservoir of votes out there for Marine Le Pen.

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[update below]

A lot of people, myself included, were breathing a sigh of relief with the first projections at 8 PM yesterday, showing Emmanuel Macron finishing in first place by up to five points. I, for one, was fearing a tight finish, with Marine Le Pen a point or two behind Macron, or possibly even overtaking him, the psychological shock of which would have been huge and augured ill for the 2nd round. The sense of relief was brief, though (more on which below). The final polls did accurately project the order of finish of the top three candidates and were largely on the mark with Macron’s score, but otherwise the outcome was full of surprises, which were not at all hinted at in the late polls, not to mention those taken one or two months ago. Jean-Luc Mélenchon finishing a hair below 22% was anticipated by no one, probably not even JLM himself. In a post last December 4th, I confidently asserted that “JLM will not repeat his feat of 2017 (19% in the 1st round), not a chance…” Silly me—and to be making such predictions months ahead of an election (which I will never ever do again). Eric Zemmour majorly underperforming at 7% was another surprise, as was, above all, the stunning collapse of Valérie Pécresse, who finished below 5%—which absolutely no one saw coming—meaning that her campaign expenses will not be reimbursed by the state. What a humiliation for the dominant political party of the French right of the past sixty years.

These three, plus Le Pen, were beneficiaries, or victims, of the vote utile, of a sizeable number of voters deciding in the final days to vote strategically. So many voters of the left who were undecided or leaning toward Yannick Jadot, Fabien Roussel, and even Anne Hidalgo (there were surely a few), but wanting above all for a candidate of the left to qualify for the 2nd round—and knock out MLP while they were at it—shifted to JLM. I was well aware of the movement to Mélenchon last week in talking to friends and family (and the movement was particularly pronounced among those under age 35). Whatever qualms one may have had about JLM—and many of his late-deciding voters indeed have some—were secondary to the imperative of the left making it to the 2nd round for a face-off with Macron. And he nearly pulled it off. If JLM hadn’t dissed his erstwhile Communist Party allies over the past several years, thereby leading them to run their own candidate, he would have most certainly pulled it off.

The disappointing scores of Jadot and Roussel were due to the vote utile for Mélenchon. As for Zemmour’s underperformance, he was a victim of the vote utile for MLP. Likewise with Pécresse, some of whose supporters likely defected to MLP, with others to Macron.

One surprise of yesterday’s vote, which I have read or heard no mention of by commentators or analysts, is the total tally of left-wing votes. In the 1st round of the 2012 presidential election, the total vote of the left (led by François Hollande) was 44%, but which dropped to 27.5% in 2017 (for the four candidates of the left), with over half of Hollande’s 2012 voters going to Macron. In the course of this campaign, the polls consistently had the cumulative scores of left candidates at 25% max. But the tally for the left in yesterday’s vote is a pleasantly unexpected 32%. I will await the analyses of where these votes came from.

The relief at 8 PM yesterday over Macron’s good score dissipated with IFOP’s instant 2nd round poll, showing Macron winning in a 51-49 cliffhanger. Other polls have the margin a little wider but the fact is, the race over the next two weeks is going to be hard-fought, and while Macron remains the favorite, Le Pen could still win. Macron is not out of the woods. Unlike in 2017, MLP enjoys a “reserve” of votes that will go to her: from Zemmour (7%) and hard-rightist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (2.1%), both of whom have endorsed her, to which one may add the surprising 3.2% of oddball candidate Jean Lassalle, who has announced that he will vote blanc but whose voters were mainly Gilets Jaunes types or other rural folk who are certainly more inclined to go for Le Pen than Macron. Le Pen will also get at least some of Pécresse’s voters.

As for Macron’s “reserves” of votes, they are considerably less significant than in 2017. The great majority of those who voted for Jadot, Roussel, and Hidalgo (8.5%)—who have all called on voters to block Le Pen—will cast 2nd round ballots for Macron. Some of Pécresse’s voters, maybe a majority, will do likewise (she has announced that she’s voting Macron, as have other top LR personalities, though with a few saying they’ll abstain).

That leaves Mélenchon and his voters as the kingmakers who will decide the election. He thundered four times last night that “not a single vote must go to Le Pen,” but that, like in 2017, he will consult his base, via a procedure on his website, on whether or not to vote Macron, vote blanc, or abstain. In view of the hatred for Macron on the radical left, it will most certainly not be the first option. Polls on what JLM voters will do on April 24th yield varying results, but with all showing a plurality abstaining or voting blanc, followed by a vote for Macron, and then a vote for Le Pen (well behind in all but one poll so far).

Macron will have his work cut out for him in trying to make nice with JLM’s voters. As I was quoted in an article in The Independent today:

“I don’t know what Macron can offer the left at this point because he has spent five years alienating them,” said Arun Kapil, who teaches politics and history at the Catholic University of Paris. “He’s made it very clear he doesn’t care about them and he doesn’t need them and doesn’t know how to talk to them.”

And:

“It’s all going to come down to Melenchon’s voters,” said Mr Kapil, who runs a blog on French politics. “That’s how the election is going to be decided. Melenchon voters are faced with a choice of Macron, whom they can’t stand, and Le Pen, whom they hate even more.”

Next week’s debate will be decisive. It’s going to be a stressful two weeks.

Arthur Goldhammer weighs in on the subject in The New Republic today, “In French Election, It’s Macron vs. Le Pen in a Showdown for Mélenchon’s Voters.” The lede: “The candidate of the left said vote against Le Pen. But he didn’t say vote for Macron. And his voters will probably decide this.”

Also see “A Panel Response: What to Take Away from the First Round of the French Elections?,” on the Tocqueville 21 blog.

UPDATE: Ipsos research director Mathieu Gallard has posted this great visual on Twitter.

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[update below]

I traditionally have an election eve post—for French and American presidential elections—in which I offer my prediction (and my track record over the past thirty years has been pretty good overall). But no prediction this time, as I have no idea what the final numbers will be—up to a third of likely voters are still undecided, so the pollsters say, or could change their mind at the last minute—or the abstention rate, which could equal the 2002 historic high of 29%. The numbers in the IPSOS poll above are probably more or less what we’ll see tomorrow night. Barring a truly unexpected coup de théâtre, it is nigh certain that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will go through to square off in the April 24th 2nd round, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s late climb in the polls falling short of Le Pen’s even bigger climb. Every election 1st round has a surprise, of a candidate over or underperforming her/his final poll numbers. If there’s a surprise this time, it may be Le Pen finishing ahead of Macron. That would really not be good, so let’s hope not.

I wrote at the end of yesterday’s post that I would link to several good articles in English that have appeared over the past week or so. Voilà:

Arthur Goldhammer has a typically first-rate piece in The New Republic, with which I entirely agree, “Yes, Be Worried: Marine Le Pen Could Finally Come to Power in France.”

John Lichfield, the best Anglophone journalist reporting on France, in The Guardian: “Get ready for a scary fortnight in French politics: a Le Pen presidency really is possible.”

Elisabeth Zerofsky, who has reported extensively on illiberal right-wing populism in Europe (particularly France) and the US, has a very good article in The New York Times Magazine, “France’s Far Right Turn: A rising nationalist faction has grown its coalition by appealing to Catholic identity and anti-immigrant sentiment — and reshaped the country’s race for president.”

In a similar vein is Harrison Stetler’s ‘Letter from France’ in Commonweal, “Catholics for Zemmour.”

Also by Harrison Stetler is a guest essay in The New York Times, “The Man at the Center of the French Election Isn’t Even on the Ballot.”

That man is, of course, Vincent Bolloré, whom Harrison Stetler discusses with the brilliant economist Julia Cagé in an interview in Jacobin, “Far-Right Media Tycoons Are Poisoning French Democracy.”

Claire Berlinski, qui n’y va pas de main morte, expresses her dim view in Politico of French Russophilia, “Macron Just Can’t Quit Putin, But His Opponents Are Worse.”

Writing in UnHerd, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet makes pertinent observations on “The resurrection of Marine Le Pen,” justly asserting that “Macron has enabled her remarkable comeback.”

À demain.

UPDATE: These visuals impeccably situate the candidates according to their economic/social and cultural views. From a tribune in Le Monde dated April 7th, by political scientists Bruno Cautrès, Vincent Martigny, Sylvie Strudel, and Thomas Vitiello:

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A week ago I expressed anxiousness over the state of the race and the very real possibility that Marine Le Pen could win on April 24th. Today I rate the chances of that at 50-50. Almost all the polls now have a maximum six-point spread between Emmanuel Macron and MLP, with one earlier this week showing a bone-chilling three-point squeaker for Macron. And the momentum—the Big Mo’—is clearly with Mme Le Pen, as given the way election campaigns work in France, there is little that can stop it at this stage. If this campaign were happening à l’américaine—with American-style practices—the Macron camp would be flooding the airwaves with negative ads attacking Le Pen for her manifold weaknesses, extremist positions, and the dangers of her acceding to the presidency of the French Republic, particularly at this grave moment for Europe and the world (e.g. informing voters that if the Putin-friendly Le Pen is elected on April 24th, she will immediately assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union to the end of June, and for voters to meditate on this). And Macron surrogates and other politicos and commentators would be sounding the alarm in the media. But this is not possible in France, as campaign advertising on television is heavily regulated (a good thing) and with no tradition of negative attack ads (not a good thing), and now that we are in the official campaign period, the law mandating strict equality of coverage on television and radio for all presidential candidates—there are twelve—has kicked in, meaning that oddball Jean Lassalle and the laid-back post-Trotskyist Philippe Poutou, both polling in the very low single digits and with no manifest wish to actually be elected president of the Republic, are entitled to as much mention on TV, including in prime time, as are Macron and Le Pen. I had a whole AWAV post exactly ten years ago railing on against this ridiculous French law, which, in effect, deprives the electorate of serious debate and examination of issues in the final stretch of the campaign, and at precisely the moment when many voters are beginning to tune in. So Macron’s hands are tied in trying to stem the Le Pen surge, a surge that he and his campaign clearly did not anticipate.

Not that Macron would necessarily know how to effectively respond even if he had all the time in the world. His deficient political skills are continually laid bare, most lately in his refusal to participate in 1st round televised debates, arguing that, in addition to Ukraine and his other presidential responsibilities, the deck would be stacked against him in having to respond to the attacks of the eleven other candidates but in exactly the same allotted time as each of them. His reasoning is not entirely without merit, except that to the median voter in the Meurthe-et-Moselle or Tarn-et-Garonne, it just looks like he’s dodging debate. So instead of appearing on France 2’s two-hour campaign special on Tuesday evening and in the presence of five other candidates—though they didn’t debate one another—the Macron campaign supplied France 2 with footage from his Paris rally last Saturday—his only such campaign event—to use up his allotted temps de parole.

I attended the rally, which was held at the Paris La Défense Arena in Nanterre (a half kilometer past La Grande Arche), the largest domed stadium in Europe, with some 30,000 Macron fans in attendance. Very much a CSP+ crowd: educated, professional (or soon to be for the younger ones), well-off. La France qui va bien—the France that is doing well for itself—and that is not afflicted with cultural resentments or identity crises. Macron’s base. Les premiers de cordée. All the top macronistes were there on the stage—Edouard Philippe, Jean Castex, François Bayrou, Christophe Castaner, Manuel Valls et al—but none of them took the microphone. There were no warm-up speakers. Just Macron, who spoke for 2 hours and 10 minutes (with six teleprompters), which is long for one who is not only merely okay as an orator but doesn’t have anything really compelling to say. Much of the speech consisted of a laundry list of his presidency’s accomplishments, mostly small bore stuff that no one likely remembered five minutes later, or of promises to tackle problems in his second term but that have loomed or festered for years, such as the many crises in the health care system, to which one wanted to ask where he was on these issues in the three years before the pandemic hit. I spent much of the speech scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, only half paying attention. There was regular applause but little of it thunderous. A contrast with Macron’s 2017 Paris rally. At one point he said “il faut travailler plus…” I was waiting for him to finish the phrase with “pour gagner plus” but he didn’t (had he done so, his poll numbers would have surely tanked several points). Tepid applause. Telling people they’ll have to work more if he’s reelected: a sure-fire way to fire up the base and win votes while he’s at it!! He got better in the latter part of the speech, particularly when talking about Europe. One of the very few positive reasons—if not the only one—to vote for Macron in the 1st round.

But if Macron is finding himself in a fragile position vis-à-vis the extreme right-wing Marine Le Pen, perhaps he should look in the mirror to understand why. He is, as Mediapart’s Ellen Salvi put it, trying to put out the flames that he himself stoked. During the 2017 campaign, Macron ran as a liberal in both senses of the term: economic (more market oriented) and political (in the way Americans understand it), with the latter leading him to adopt a progressive-sounding rhetoric on immigration, laïcité, the legalization of cannabis, and other such societal issues. But there was no positive action on any of these once he was elected and two years into his quinquennat—after the country had been rocked with social contestation over the reform of the Code du Travail and then the Gilets Jaunes, and with the battle over pension reform looming—somehow decided, comme ça, that the French public was less concerned about economic and social issues than “regalian” ones—the “four Is”: immigration, insécurité, Islam, identity—and that these would drive upcoming election campaigns. And so he did a 180°, lurching to the right not only in his rhetoric and legislative action on civil liberties and the “four Is” but also in symbolic gestures and signals, e.g. publicly palling around with dyed-in-the-wool réac Philippe de Villiers, spending 45-minutes on the phone with Eric Zemmour and then soliciting his perspectives on immigration, exchanging textos with the Fox News-like CNews star host Pascal Praud, granting interviews on immigration and identity to the hard-rightist weekly magazine Valeurs Actuelles (a cross between National Review and Breitbart), et on en passe. The French hard right, as with its Trumpian kindred spirits outre-Atlantique, has been waging a full-throttled culture war—against something called “wokeisme” and “islamo-gauchisme“—and with Macron eagerly jumping on the bandwagon.

Macron’s rhetoric and action since 2017 on economic, social, and “regalian” issues have made him, in the words of sociologist-historian Pierre Rosanvallon, “the central figure on the French right.” There is nothing in Macron’s rhetoric today that recalls his roots—albeit shallow—in the Socialist party or youthful support of Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the longtime chef de file of the PS’s left flank before quitting the party in the 1990s. (For the record, Chevènement, now into his 80s and retired from politics, has declared his support for Macron and rejected the notion that he is on the right). Macron has manifestly decided that he does not need to appeal to voters of the left, that he has maintained his hold over 2012 François Hollande voters who defected to him in 2017—who are either content with Macron or feel, not unreasonably, that there is no credible alternative to him—and that a sufficient number of left voters who are hostile to him will nonetheless hold their noses and cast his ballot in the 2nd round to block Marine Le Pen. A risky assumption, if not a dangerous one.

As for the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been climbing in the polls but, at 17%, is six or seven points behind Le Pen, who has been climbing even more. Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler has a good article in Foreign Policy arguing that “A Mélenchon vs. Macron runoff would be good for France,” but it looks most unlikely at this point that JLM will be able to overtake MLP to qualify for the April 24th 2nd round. JLM held his Paris rally on March 20th at the Place de la République, filling the square with some 30,000 supporters, which was almost identical to his march-rally in 2017. I thought he put on a strong show back then but found him unpleasant this time (or more unpleasant than usual). It was a diatribe, with JLM haranguing the crowd for an hour (a short speech for him). He had some good words on Ukraine and Russia at the beginning, but which, for some of us at least, cannot efface his fervent apologizing for Putin over the years. If it weren’t for his international stances, neo-Bonapartism, and insufferable public persona, JLM would have a strong chance of making it to the 2nd round.

He would also have a better chance if he hadn’t alienated the Communist party, which supported his candidacy in 2012 and 2017. So the PCF decided to run its own candidate this time, its new secretary-general Fabien Roussel. The last PCF candidate, in 2007, receiving a mere 1.9% of the vote, Roussel’s prospects of improving on that were objectively not promising but, thanks to his sunny persona and ‘happy days await us’ (Les jours heureux) campaign slogan—plus his reconnecting with the Communists’ working class patriotic tradition (admired by Eric Zemmour himself)—he has thwarted predictions in rising to 4% in the polls (though is now dropping, as strategically-minded left voters shift to Mélenchon). Intrigued, I decided to check out Roussel’s March 10th rally at the Cirque d’Hiver, attended by some 4,000 (half inside, the rest outside watching on the big screen) mostly older longtime PCF voters. Roussel didn’t disappoint. His speech was great, and with some good lines, e.g. on Russia and Ukraine:

And this one:

How can one not like Fabien Roussel? If I had to choose between him and Mélenchon, the choice would be clear.

Likewise with Philippe Poutou of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, whom I’ve taken a liking to of late. I paid no attention to his (irrelevant) candidacy in 2012 or 2017 but decided to give it a look this time. As his afternoon rally at the Cirque d’Hiver last Saturday was at the same time as Macron’s, I missed it, so caught up with it online, watching his entire speech. He’s a worthy successor to Olivier Besancenot, whom I saw for the first time in person at a small NPA event in Ivry-sur-Seine on March 19th; as usual, he was fast as a rocket. Back to Poutou, I like his non-dogmatic, décontracté style, e.g. here:

If I were a 19-year-old college student and with the political convictions I had at that age, I would very possibly join the NPA. The other extreme-left candidate, Nathalie Arthaud of the Uber-Trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière, is another matter. These are the Salafists of Trotskyism, the hardest of hard-liners, whose discourse has not changed an iota in their seven-decade existence. Their perennial presidential candidate, the pasionaria Arlette Laguiller, crossed the 5% threshold in the 1995 and 2002 elections, attracting votes from those who had no idea what Trotskyism was but liked her persona (as the auntie who has some zany ideas but whom we adore). Arthaud, who is on her third run—and will finish with 0.5%, as the previous two times—is not so charismatic but is every bit as dogmatic. I went to her rally last Sunday at the Zénith, with some 3,000 true believers in attendance. I applauded once, when she called for welcoming Ukrainian and all other refugees with open arms. Bien évidemment.

If it hadn’t been for the irruption of Eric Zemmour last fall, who dominated media attention for months, and the race on the far right, one of the big stories of this campaign would be the breathtaking collapse of the Socialist party and its candidate, Anne Hidalgo, who has been stable in the polls at a humiliating 2%. This for the dominant party of the left from 1978 to 2017, and which ten years ago had it all: the presidency, National Assembly, Senate, regional assemblies (21 of 22), mayors of cities. The PS maintains a presence, albeit reduced, at the regional and local levels, but nationally it barely exists. The descente aux enfers was set in motion at the outset of the presidency of François Hollande—who bears responsibility for the disaster—culminating in the failure of Benoît Hamon’s candidacy in 2017, when almost four-fifths of Hollande’s 2012 voters defected to Macron or Mélenchon. The fiasco of Hollande’s presidency merits a lengthier treatment than I can give it here—maybe I’ll take it up when I write the PS’s obituary—but suffice to say that it primarily had to do with Hollande’s governing style, the betrayal felt by the PS’s left flank at the social-liberal turn in economic policy (which Hollande had not announced during the 2012 campaign), and the rightist lurch on regalian issues. The PS was more deeply divided than it had ever been. More generally, the Socialists had no clear idea of what they stood for and with no coherent message to voters or argument as to why one should vote for them.

They also lacked a credible candidate for 2022. Once Bernard Cazeneuve made it clear that he wasn’t interested, that left Hidalgo as the only PS personality with any stature, though as mayor of Paris she wasn’t too well known in the rest of France. Hidalgo knew when she announced her candidacy in September that she had no chance of reaching the 2nd round in ’22. Her calculation was that the ecologists, whose primary was happening that month, would, as is their wont, select a radical left or otherwise flaky candidate who wouldn’t encroach on the PS’s potential electorate; that Mélenchon, whose La France Insoumise bit the dust in the 2019 European, 2020 municipal, and 2021 regional elections, would plunge into the single digits himself; and that she, Hidalgo, could outperform him, thereby emerging as the nº 1 candidate of the left in ’22 and, with Mélenchon retiring from politics, lead the left going forward to 2027. Not a totally crazy scenario, except that Yannick Jadot, the most moderate écolo candidate, unexpectedly won the aforementioned primary—and who would thus occupy the same social democratic space as Hidalgo—and JLM consistently led the left-wing pack in the polls from the outset. The notion that Hidalgo could better Hamon’s 6.3% in 2017 was illusory. And then there was the absurd episode of Christiane Taubira’s ephemeral candidacy and the half-baked Primaire Populaire, which only made the left look more pathetic. (In January I had a contradictory exchange on Facebook with a former colleague over the Primaire Populaire, which may be consulted here).

As for Jadot, he’s the candidate I’m voting for, as his social democratic convictions align with mine, as do his positions on my litmus test issues: immigration (the 2015 Angela Merkel attitude), laïcité (la loi de 1905 et que la loi de 1905), legalization of cannabis (just do it), and Russia/Ukraine (arms for the latter and no compromising with the former). I naturally went to Jadot’s March 27th rally at the Zénith, with some 4,000 in attendance. He delivered an excellent speech, on both form and substance. As for the attendees, who were of all ages, this is the France with which I most identify. If Jadot reaches 6% on Sunday, that will be good. Less than 5% will be a disappointment.

Several very good articles in English on France and the election have appeared in the past few days. I’ll link to them tomorrow.

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Ten days to go and I’m feeling unsettled, indeed anxious. Since this campaign began—whenever one wants to date that—it has been a foregone conclusion that Emmanuel Macron would win a second term on April 24th, easily defeating Marine Le Pen, and certainly Eric Zemmour if he somehow made it to the 2nd round. There was a Valérie Pécresse boomlet after she unexpectedly won the LR primary in December—and with her looking to pose a serious threat to Macron if she overtook Marine LP and Zemmour to qualify for the run-off—but that was short-lived. And with Macron’s poll numbers spiking after Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine, his re-election looked to be a done deal. On March 14th I did an hour-and-fifteen-minute phone interview on the election with the Paris correspondent of the Australian newspaper The Age, and of the ten words of mine that made it into the article that appeared five days later was me asserting that “Macron’s gonna win this thing.” When I saw that line I winced, as I would have said no such thing had I been interviewed at that moment.

The fact is, Macron does not have this thing locked up. He remains the favorite but there is a very real possibility that Marine Le Pen—his very likely April 24th opponent—could win, as one may see in yesterday’s Elabe poll above. We’ve never seen a mere five point spread between Macron and MLP—and the poll is not an outlier, as IFOP is presently showing a 53-47 EM-MLP 2nd round outcome. Smart commentators are sounding the alarm, e.g. Thomas Legrand—one of the two best political analysts in the French broadcast media—who matter-of-factly observed in his France Inter editorial on Tuesday that “Marine Le Pen can win this presidential election,” and with this Tuesday’s segment of France 5’s (excellent) late evening talk show ‘C ce soir’—which will surely be terminated in the nightmarish event that Mme Le Pen comes to power (as France Inter likely will too, BTW)—taking up the theme, “2022: the year of the extreme right’s victory?” And now the other best political analyst, Jean-Michel Aphatie, has titled his LCI commentary this evening, “yes, Le Pen can win.”

There has been a change in the race over the past two weeks, as Ukraine has settled in as a routine daily news story and with the media now focusing primarily on the election campaign. Through most of the winter, Le Pen, Zemmour, and Pécresse were all bunched together in the mid-high teens in the polls, with any of them a plausible second-place finisher on April 10th. But then Zemmour started to drop into the low teens and was followed by Pécresse, who has run a truly bad campaign, adopting the far right, lepeniste rhetoric on the “four I” issues (immigration, identity, insécurité, Islam), which is what the LR base wants to hear, while striving to stave off defections by moderately conservative LR voters—not to mention high-profile LR politicos—to Macron, who is now firmly anchored on the center-right. The impossible triangulation. I attended Pécresse’s February 13th rally at the Zénith (I was in the overflow hall nearby), which was already seen as her make-or-break moment; and she broke it. It was a dud, on both form (amateurish production values) and substance (again, the impossible triangulation, and by one who is not a great orator to begin with). She’ll be lucky to finish in fourth place on April 10th.

As for Zemmour, if I were conspiracy theory-minded I would wonder if his candidacy weren’t a ruse to make Marine Le Pen look moderate, as that is precisely what he has done. His pathological rhetoric on the “four Is” is so virulent and extreme that it makes even Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National of the 1990s—when the FN was at its most demonized—look almost moderate by comparison. In the political history of modern France, Zemmour is simply off the map on these issues for a candidate with his notoriety and ability to pull in the crowds (30 to 40,000 at the Trocadéro last Sunday). And as the most Putinophile of the Russia-supporting/apologizing candidates, his poll numbers took a hit with the Russian invasion and his initial objection to France welcoming Ukrainian refugees. Even hardcore Zemmour fans don’t have a problem with refugees or migrants if they’re white and Christian. Until the third week of February I was opining that with Macron reelected and Le Pen and Pécresse having bitten the dust, Zemmour would be well-placed to reconstitute the extreme and hard right—”la droite nationale“—into a bloc and assume its leadership going forward to 2027. I’m less confident in that prediction now.

Marine Le Pen no longer has to worry about being overtaken by Zemmour or Pécresse. There is a consensus across the board that she has led a smart, effective campaign and largely succeeded in “dedemonizing” herself and her renamed Rassemblement National. With Zemmour the lightening rod on the issue, Marine has downplayed immigration, even taking pains to repeat that while she is opposed to “Islamism,” she has nothing against Islam as a religion, whereas Zemmour incessantly equates the two. And in appropriating the RN’s more middle class/bourgeois voters—and adopting an economically libéral (smaller state, lower taxes) rhetoric as a consequence—Zemmour has done MLP a favor of sorts in enabling her to focus her message on the couches populaires, i.e. the middling and working classes (and former Gilets Jaunes among them), notably on the cost of living issue—by far the nº 1 for French voters at the moment—and promise active state intervention to protect her voters’—actual and potential—standard of living at a time of rising inflation and now war in Europe. She has been accused by more than one of sounding like a leftist, and with Zemmour calling her an “economic socialist,” though which will hardly discourage his bourgeois libéral supporters from voting for her against Macron in the 2nd round—but which may well encourage a sizable number of Macron-hating Jean-Luc Mélenchon voters to also go for her on April 24th. As for MLP’s longtime Putinophilia, she’s been avoiding the subject, hoping that it will go down the memory hole, and her supporters don’t care in any case.

Marine LP has also succeeded in softening her personal image, posting photos on Instagram of her with her cats, showing her emotional side, and even tearing up on live television when speaking of her father. De quoi faire pleurer dans les chaumières. And, as it happens, she attracts the second highest level of “sympathie” among the twelve presidential candidates in the latest Ipsos presidential baromètre (Macron is first; poor Anne Hidalgo is dead last).

If Marine Le Pen is closing the gap with Emmanuel Macron, it is also due to the latter’s campaign, or absence of one. With Ukraine and France’s presidency of the Council of the European Union as an alibi, Macron has kept his campaigning to a minimum, adopting much the same posture as President de Gaulle did in the 1965 presidential election. Jupiter above the fray. But Macron is no de Gaulle, loin s’en faut, and rather lacks the charismatic hold that the latter had over a large number of Frenchmen and women. He also lacks a political party worthy of the name—to call La République en Marche an empty shell would be an understatement—or surrogates who are not second-rate hacks (e.g. Christophe Castaner, Richard Ferrand). And then there’s Macron’s congenital arrogance and seeming inability to connect with “ordinary people,” or lording it over them when he tries to, which one sees time and again when he goes out to meet les vrais gens. One of the questions asked in the Ipsos presidential poll is if the candidate “understands the problems of people like yourself.” Macron is at 27%, with Marine LP topping it at 46%.

As for a rationale for his reelection, Macron has yet to provide one, though profiting from his post-Ukraine spike in the polls—and assuming that reelection was in the bag—he suddenly pulled socially regressive measures out of a hat, notably raising the retirement age to 65 and suggesting that a work requirement might be introduced for beneficiaries of the RSA. His overall economic record hasn’t been too bad, it should be said—though my friend Guillaume Duval would beg to differ—and unemployment has indeed fallen. Fortunately for Macron, most people have forgotten the inept management of the Coronavirus pandemic during its first year.

A new, potentially crippling scandal for Macron has erupted over the past week, involving the McKinsey consulting firm. Not a good moment for an affaire d’État.

The one thing that could save us from a potentially calamitous Macron-Le Pen face-off is an admittedly unlikely, though not impossible, late surge into second place by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose polling numbers have been inching upwards into the mid teens. My detestation of JLM is well known, though I have been hoping for him to overtake MLP, to both spare us the dreaded rematch—and the dangers that that involves—and offer the electorate a real left-right debate, which Macron does not at all want to have, as not only is JLM a redoubtable debater but Macron would be forced to clearly situate himself on the right. No more en même temps. Macron would win reelection handily—personally speaking, I would certainly vote blanc or nul in such a contest—but at least the left would go into the June legislative elections in a stronger position.

The moderate left candidates Yannick Jadot (ecologist) and Anne Hidalgo (PS) absolutely do not want Mélenchon to make it to the 2nd round, though, as not only do they despise him but argue that such an outcome, regardless of the inevitable Mélenchon defeat, would accord him and his party, La France Insoumise, the leading role in the post-election rebuilding of the left. Guillaume Duval, who, comme moi, will be voting for Jadot on April 10th, concurs with this view, further contending that a landslide Macron victory would comfort the latter in his neoliberal agenda. Perhaps. I’ll have more to say about the candidates of the left next week.

Back to Marine Le Pen. It cannot be emphasized enough that despite her largely successful public “dedemonization” and softer, friendlier image, she has fundamentally not changed. On the “four I” issues, Europe, Russia/Putin, and just about everything else, she and her party are fundamentally no different from what they were five or ten years ago. Marine Le Pen and the RN remain on the extreme right. A Le Pen victory on April 24th would be an unmitigated disaster for France and Europe. I will spell out why after April 10th.

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That’s the title of my article (here) in the 24 February 2022 issue of the London Review of Books, which was posted on the LRB website on Wednesday—and has been making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook. I was invited in late October by LRB editors Adam Shatz and Jeremy Harding to write an article on Zemmour, of some 4,000 words. So after reading some seven of Zemmour’s books plus lots of other stuff, attending his December 5th Villepinte rally, and generally following the SOB daily, I submitted, the day after Christmas, a text of a little over 8,000 words, which was significantly edited over the subsequent weeks by the LRB editors and cut to 4,790 words. Some of my style was lost in the process, which is always inevitable. Thanks to Adam and Jeremy for the opportunity to publish in such an august review! I will have much more to say about Zemmour, and the French presidential campaign more generally, in the coming weeks.

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Éric Zemmour held his first rally as a formal presidential candidate on Sunday. It was originally supposed to happen at the Zénith, an arena on the northeast corner of Paris (at Porte de la Villette) that seats 6,300. But during the week the Zemmour campaign announced that due to the larger-than-anticipated audience—one had to register for the event online—that the venue would be shifted to the Parc des Expositions in Villepinte, near CDG airport (N.B. Marine Le Pen had her Paris campaign rallies at the Zénith in 2012 and 2017, barely filling the arena). While a larger venue was indeed needed, Zemmour was also, as it happens, asked by the Paris police prefecture to move the event out of the city for security reasons, as an anti-Zemmour demo—with far left groups and Antifas—was announced for Sunday afternoon and in the same part of the city. Clashes and disorder were a foregone conclusion.

I went, of course—my first time at the Parc des Expositions, which is a good place to have rallies of this sort—arriving at the hall at 2:30 pm.

The event was supposed to begin at 2:30 and with Zemmour speaking at 4:00, but everything was delayed by an hour-and-a-half, so I was able to move around and get a measure of the crowd as the hall filled up.

A few brief comments. First, there were around 13,000 in attendance, which is, objectively speaking, very good for a rally four months before the election. By contrast, Jean-Luc Mélenchon held a rally on Sunday at a hall at La Défense (of all places), at the same time as Zemmour’s, attracting a crowd of 4,500 (a third overflow), which is already not bad. None of the other candidates—and certainly not the hapless candidate of the PS—could attain that number at this stage of the campaign. As the production values of the event were also good, it was indisputably a success for Zemmour.

As for the composition of the crowd, I was struck by the number of young people, which one does not see nearly to this extent at rallies of the RN/FN, LR/UMP, or PS (as for Emmanuel Macron’s REM, which apparently exists, it doesn’t hold rallies). Young people—majority  male—indeed looked to predominate (many were not wearing masks BTW). They must not, however, be taken as representative of the 18-30 age cohort or constituting a disproportionate share of Zemmour’s potential electorate. They were, needless to say, almost all “white”—there was a smattering of POCs, though none of manifest Maghrebi origin so far as I could tell—likely hail from Paris’ beaux quartiers and western banlieues—they are not the progeny of Gilets Jaunes or working class RN voters in the Pas-de-Calais, that’s for sure—and most certainly belong to Catholic traditionalist associations and/or organizations of the extreme and ultra-right (members of the ex-Génération Identitaire were likely present in force). Zemmour is the candidate of the ultra-conservative Catholic traditionalists of the Sens Commun movement, renamed Mouvement Conservateur last year, which was founded in 2013 to lead the mass social movement—taking the political class, left and right alike, utterly by surprise—against the gay marriage law, and which was a baptismal moment in the politicization of the younger generation of conservative Catholics, who were an important component of the manif pour tous (I wrote about it at the time here). Sens Commun/Mouvement Conservateur was a key constituent of François Fillon’s base in 2017 but, with the insufficiently right-wing Valérie Pécresse having been designated the candidate of LR, has endorsed Zemmour.

I have to say that I found jarring the thunderous applause and cheering of these young people at the diatribes against immigrants, Muslims, foreigners, Europe, the United States (more on that below), and the many other targets of extreme right-wing hate from the warm-up speakers and, of course, Zemmour himself. The animosities and hatreds of these young people are disturbing to my sensibilities. They, like their elders in the hall, are not kind or generous; some surely are on a personal, one-on-one level but they are not in the larger sense; in this, they are the polar opposite of my late-Millennial daughter and her friends, as well as so many students I’ve had over the years.

More representative of French Millennials and Gen-Zers is this YouTube—sent to me by my daughter—of two jeunes Françaises named Camille and Justine reacting to Zemmour’s November 30th video announcement (comment dit-on ‘foutage de gueule’ en langue de Shakespeare?).

“Ben! Voyons,” which Zemmour says often in televised polemics—it may be translated as “yeah, sure” (pronounced in a mocking tone, when, e.g., he’s accused of being a racist)—has become a slogan of his fans.

As for the incidents in the hall and which led the TV news coverage—of the thuggish reaction of Zemmour’s bully boys to the handful of SOS-Racisme militants who unfurled a banner, the verbal assaults against journalists, and the actual physical assault against Zemmour as he headed to the stage—I only learned about them afterward. It was clear at a couple of points that something was happening in the rear but I couldn’t see it, and no one I asked knew what was going on. It was typical behavior one gets at extreme-right events (journalists from Libération and other left-leaning press organs who attended FN rallies in the ‘80s and ‘90s can tell you stories). Zemmour himself should be held legally responsible for the actions of his supporters at his rallies. That said, I’m not sure about the stunt of the SOS-Racisme militants; while I admire their intrepidness, they knew they were taking a risk in infiltrating a rally of people hostile to them and that, at best, their action would last less than a minute and with them being quickly escorted out of the hall. So what’s the point?

There were nine warm-up speakers, only three of whom I had heard of. Not exactly an A-list line-up. The first one up was a conseiller départemental from Le Blanc-Mesnil, in the Seine-Saint-Denis, named Vijay Monany, who told the crowd that his parents immigrated to France in the 1970s (presumably from India), that he grew up in a “cité HLM” in the SSD, “loves France more than anything and believes in its ideal of assimilation.” C’est bien. He was followed by Laurence Trochu, president of the Mouvement Conservateur; the early-twentysomething president of Génération Zemmour, Stanislas Rigault, who’s on TV a lot these days; and the souverainiste warhorse and elder sage Paul-Marie Coûteaux, who’s been around for some time and made the rounds of all the souverainiste formations, left and right (from Chevènement to de Villiers and the FN—and now his old friend Zemmour, the two having never conversed about anything other “than books, books of history…of the history of France,” so he informs us). He’s a true believer and with memorable lines (I’ve seen him speak a couple of times before, including at a Marine Le Pen rally); e.g. in ridiculing the US embassy communiqué advising Americans to avoid Villepinte on Sunday, he got in a dig at America more generally, which has, as he put it, “colonized” France for over a century with its “trash culture” (culture de pacotille). Thunderous cheering and applause—from a crowd that has no doubt consumed its share of Hollywood blockbusters, TV series, popular music, and you name it. Toward the end of his intervention, Coûteaux declared that it won’t be enough for Zemmour to be president of the Republic; he must be “King of France” (Roi de France)! Thunderous cheering and applause.

Following Mr. Coûteaux was Antoine Diers, spokesman for the association Amis d’Éric Zemmour; Jacline Mouraud, a relatively high profile Gilet Jaune in 2018-19, whom I characterized at the time as “[o]ne of the more moderate public faces of the GJs” (either she changed or I was off base); Franck Keller, an LR city council member in upscale Neuilly-sur-Seine; Agnès Marion, a second-tier RN dissident from Lyon; and, finally, the most well-known politico of the lot—it’s all relative, as he’s not exactly a household name—Jean-Frédéric Poisson, president of the diminutive, très conservateur political party VIA: La Voix du Peuple (ex-Parti Chrétien-Démocrate, founded by Christine Boutin), who withdrew his own presidential candidacy to support Zemmour. His 15-minute address was noteworthy for the concluding “Vive la France!,” Mr. Poisson forgetting to preface it with the habitual “Vive la République!”

Zemmour made his grande entrée at 5:30, taking ten minutes to ply his way through the delirious crowd with his security detail (which did not prevent him from being accosted). It was a very risky way to make his entry, as if one person had fallen, there would have a stampede and disaster. But as Zemmour clearly relishes the adulation, which has definitely gone to his head, what the hell.

Zemmour’s speech, which went for an hour-and-twenty-minutes, was broadcast live on three of the all-news TV stations, so my presence didn’t offer a particular vantage point as to the substance. A few comments. First, on form, it was an effective speech and forcefully delivered, with thunderous cheering and applause throughout. For this, Zemmour can thank the teleprompter, so he wasn’t hunched over ploddingly reading from paper as in the past—and along with so many other French politicians (Nicolas Sarkozy, to name one, is a dud when it comes to giving a speech). I’ve attended many political rallies here over the past three decades but only began to notice teleprompters in 2017 (Benoît Hamon and Macron). The only politicians I’ve seen who can deliver a stem-winder of a speech without a text—walking the stage from 1½ to over 3 hours and holding the audience in thrall—are Jean-Marie Le Pen, Philippe de Villiers, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (François Bayrou can speak without a text but he rambles).

On substance, it was pure Zemmour. Anyone who is familiar with his discourse won’t have heard a thing that s/he hasn’t heard or read countless times. No French journalist-pundit-intellectual-amateur historian has had as much media exposure over the past fifteen years as Zemmour. As I did not watch the TV programs on which he appeared or listen to the radio stations (RTL) on which he editorialized daily, I didn’t see or hear him a tremendous amount. But as I’ve read six of his books and many articles about him, I know his rhetoric and world-view like the back of my hand. One of the things Zemmour fans say they like about him is that he’s consistent; he knows what he thinks, says it out loud, and doesn’t change his positions for the circumstance. In other words, he’s not a politician. This is all true (except sometimes when it’s not).

Zemmour may not be a politician but like many, he’s narcissistic, extremely so, and basks in the love of his fans. This comes across in his books, particularly the latest one, and did in his speech, in which there is a lot of ‘je’ and ‘moi’. And there were copious amounts of red meat thrown to the crowd, with vituperative, ad hominem attacks on politicians he doesn’t like, notably Emmanuel Macron, and the media—of which Zemmour is a pure product and without which he would not exist—not to mention immigrants, Islam, the EU, Germany, England, NATO, etc, etc. An extreme-right classic, and whose enemies list is long.

But toward the one-hour mark , he struck a consensual note, “extending [his] hand to Muslims who want to become our brothers, of whom many are already”—thunderous cheering and applause—and offering “assimilation”—Zemmour’s fetish word—as the route, and affirming that there is no reason why “Algerians, Malians, and Turks” should not assimilate as did Spanish, Polish, and Italian immigrants in the past; and rhetorically asking why Muslims should not also be able to separate the spiritual and temporal as have Jews and Christians.

This is nice except that, for Zemmour, “assimilation” means, in effect, that Muslims would have to renounce Islam, as he has made it clear in his voluminous writings that Islam is incompatible with being French—that Islam is the enemy of France—and that he does not differentiate between the November 13th 2015 ISIS terrorists and the Muslim population of France in its near totality. Éric Zemmour has a long paper trail.

In the latter part of the speech, he got off identity issues to focus on the economy and foreign policy. In effect, he will Make France Great Again: reindustrialize the economy, provide good jobs for the unemployed, support agriculture and farmers, restore France’s rank in the world and its freedom of manœuvre, and you name it. Comme ça. He will wave the magic wand and turn the clock back to the mythic trente glorieuses of his childhood, and with him in the role of his hero, Charles de Gaulle.

More down to earth, Zemmour concluded the speech with an appeal to Éric Ciotti and other LR hard rightists to join him. Likewise with disaffected RN members. He wants to federate the French right around his person. On verra bien.

Zemmour announced the name of his new party: Reconquête! As in the Spanish Reconquista. Get it?

Singing La Marseillaise
Singing La Marseillaise again

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So she’s the candidate of the French Republican party—the erstwhile UMP/RPR, renamed Les Républicains six years back—who will compete with Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour et al in next April’s presidential election. Her victory over the hard rightist Éric Ciotti—whose views on immigration and Islam hardly differ from those of Le Pen and Zemmour—in the 2nd round of LR’s closed primary was pretty much a foregone conclusion after her somewhat unexpected qualification in Wednesday & Thursday’s 1st round (and Ciotti’s even more unexpected first place finish). LR, like its Republican counterpart across the pond, has been lurching right over the past decade and some but was not about to designate a candidate as reactionary as Ciotti, not this year at least.

Valérie Pécresse’s victory is a game-changer in the presidential race, as if she makes it to the 2nd round next April—which is entirely possible—she will stand a good chance of defeating Macron, thus becoming France’s first-ever Présidente de la République (and if, in some unlikely scenario, she faces off against Le Pen or Zemmour—or, in an even more unlikely scenario, against a candidate of the left—she will definitely be elected France’s first female president). Pécresse is a mainstream conservative of the Jacques Chirac variety (an endangered species in LR), who has been tacking right over the past several years—aligning with conservative Catholics on gay marriage and other such questions de société, adopting the stupid right-wing rhetoric on immigration, making even stupider pledges to shed 200,000 fonctionnaires—but whose governing reflexes are likely to be moderate. An American equivalent would maybe be Christine Todd Whitman, for those who remember her. And Pécresse is smart: she’s an énarque, after all (and her English is good, e.g. here, maybe better than Macron’s, and certainly Le Pen’s and Zemmour’s, who speak it poorly or not at all). I had an AWAV post on Pécresse in April 2011, when she was Sarkozy/Fillon’s minister of higher education, that was positive (perhaps a little too much so). I won’t vote for her (except to block Le Pen or Zemmour) but won’t have nightmares if she’s elected. I am frankly relieved that she’s LR’s candidate.

One person who merits a tip of the hat is LR president Christian Jacob, for having refused Éric Zemmour’s eventual participation in the party’s primary. If Zemmour had been a candidate along with Pécresse and the others, he would have attracted a flood of new members and definitely won, thus taking over the dominant party of the French parliamentary right, as did Trump with the US Republican Party. That would have been a disaster of the first order.

As for the left, the equation is simple: with Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI), Yannick Jadot (EELV), and Anne Hidalgo (PS) all polling in the single digits, they’re out of the picture. JLM will not repeat his feat of 2017 (19% in the 1st round), not a chance, and Hidalgo will be lucky to outperform Benoît Hamon’s 2017 score (6%). If Jadot’s poll numbers remain a few points higher than hers into February, she and the PS will be well advised to withdraw her candidacy and throw their support to Jadot, in return for a deal with the EELV in the June legislatives. As the combined score of the left is around 30%, that would push Jadot into the teens and with a possible shot at the 2nd round. Mais on n’en est pas là.

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Zemmour

[update below]

He formally—and finally—announced his presidential candidacy today, in a ten-minute video posted on social media that one really must watch and behold. It is, as a Paris-based American journalist aptly characterized on Twitter, “totally wild over the top rococo opera of greatness and resentment,” in addition to being “insane and hilarious and bizarre and beautiful and stirring and frightening all at once” (and to which I added “apocalyptic, totally bonkers, and you name it”).

A couple of AWAV readers have asked when I’m going to write something about him. My response (which I’ve already given in previous posts): in due course, soon, in an article that will be linked to on AWAV. But when I mentioned Éric Zemmour on the phone with a close stateside family member the other day, she replied: who? In fact, for those outside France and who don’t keep up with politics in this beau pays, it is not surprising that they wouldn’t have heard of EZ, however much he may have dominated political news in the Hexagon over the past several months—and who has been without doubt the most high-profile journalist-pundit-intellectual (some will contest this one) here over the past fifteen years, and with a sizable fan base on the right. So as a public service to non-Francophone AWAV readers, here are a few recent articles in English on the man who, rest assured, will not be the next president of the French republic.

For those who can access them, The Economist’s Paris correspondent, Sophie Pedder, has two good articles, “Who is Eric Zemmour, France’s wannabe Donald Trump? The populist, anti-immigrant provocateur is outflanking Marine Le Pen” & “Far-right ideas are gaining a renewed respectability in France: They have a deep and troubling history,” both linked to in this Twitter thread.

Writing in The Local, John Lichfield, who knows France better than any foreign journalist, has two pieces, “Zemmour won’t worry Macron, but he should worry France,” and “Zemmour’s fake French history has a dark and long-term motive.”

If you have an hour to spare, the podcast discussion with John Lichfield & Anne-Élisabeth Moutet, “A storm named Éric Zemmour,” is worth the listen.

In The Nation: “The face of the new French right: The pundit Éric Zemmour is leading a confident and radicalized conservative movement,” by Harrison Stetler.

On the LRB Blog, the always excellent Adam Shatz offered his thoughts on “The Zemmour effect.”

And not to be missed is “French toast: A review of Éric Zemmour’s latest,” by David Berlinski (father of Claire, who is well known to AWAV readers) in The Cosmopolitan Globalist substack site. The review is mordant and witty. E.g.

Just recently, Zemmour debated Jean-Luc Mélenchon on French television. Mélenchon is a cultivated, well-read man. When confronted by Zemmour’s declaration that either we get rid of them [the Muslims] or they get rid of us, he responded with the by-now expected objurgation: vous êtes un raciste, a gesture as useful as that of a peacock in spreading its tail feathers before a boa constrictor.

Going back to February 2019, Elisabeth Zerofsky had feature article on Zemmour in The New York Times Magazine, “The right-wing pundit ‘hashtag triggering’ France: The pop historian Éric Zemmour has fashioned himself as an evangelist of French culture — and become a driving force for French conservatism.”

And going back further, to December 2014, Christopher Caldwell had a sympathetic portrait of Zemmour, “French curtains,” in The Weekly Standard.

À suivre.

UPDATE: John Lichfield has a typically spot-on analysis in UnHerd (Dec. 1st) of Zemmour’s announcement, “The world according to Éric Zemmour: He is more interested in being himself than president.”

Also in UnHerd (Nov. 29th) is an English translation of a commentary by the historian Simon Epstein that was much circulated here earlier in the month, “How Zemmour exploits his Jewishness: He uses my work to pour scorn on the Left.”

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[Non-French readers who wish to know who I’m writing about, see here and here]

J’avais l’intention de faire un post R.I.P. sur lui après son décès le dimanche dernier mais, après réflexion, j’ai laissé tomber; pour quoi faire, vu qu’il n’était pas un personnage de premier plan dans l’histoire contemporaine (et était inconnu en dehors de la France)? Mais après avoir vu la pub ci-dessus, sur le boulevard Saint-Germain cet après-midi, j’ai décidé qu’il fallait dire quelque chose sur lui, et d’autant plus, compte tenu de la couverture médiatique sur sa mort (la Une de toute la presse le lundi, y compris une nécrologie de quatre pages dans Le Monde, et ne parlons pas de la télé), l’éloge posthume qu’il a reçu de toutes parts, et les quasi obsèques d’État à Marseille aujourd’hui.

Très franchement, je ne comprends pas l’importance accordée à cet homme, ou l’affection que peuvent avoir les gens pour lui, y compris—voire particulièrement—à gauche (voir, par ex., cette vidéo tweetée par deux personnages de gauche que je suis sur les réseaux). Bernard Tapie était certes un personnage intriguant et captivant lors de son irruption dans les médias dans les années 80. Quand je l’ai vu à la télé pour la première fois à l’époque, je me suis dit que, aux Etats-Unis, Tapie serait une star et avec un avenir politique s’il prenait ce chemin. Il y avait un peu de Trump dans Tapie, quoique je ne veux pas pousser trop loin la comparaison. Tapie n’était pas antipathique ni démago, réac ou raciste—il y avait une vrai adoration à son égard par les jeunes (et moins jeunes) d’origine maghrébine (qui m’a laissé perplexe)—et à la différence de Trump, il provenait des couches populaires. Et il avait des vrais amis (pas des escrocs ou fripouilles comme les fréquentations de Trump). Son pugilat avec Jean-Marie Le Pen et d’autres sorties contre le Front National étaient bien appréciés, surtout à gauche, même si on apprenait plus tard qu’il a magouillé avec Le Pen dans les coulisses.

On sait également que Tapie n’était propulsé au premier plan politique que par François Mitterrand, pendant la décadence de son deuxième mandat, et qui l’a utilisé pour couler Michel Rocard aux élections européennes de 1994. Tapie n’avait aucun bilan politique en tant que député ou ministre, et à partir de 1994, on n’entendait parler de lui que pour son train de vie d’emir du Golfe—avec du pognon qu’on ne peut pas dire qu’il a gagné grâce à la sueur de son front—et, surtout, pour ses sempiternels déboires judiciaires, comme Riss de Charlie Hebdo nous a rappelé. Tapie, en tant que hommes d’affaires, y compris footballistique, était un filou, que Thomas Legrand, qui le connaissait bien, a bien décrit. Il était un beau parleur dénué d’ethique qui ne s’intéressait que au fric (facilement gagné) et son propre promotion (voir le cinglant commentaire de Patrick Cohen là-dessus, que Jean-Louis Borloo, ami inconditionnel de Tapie, a vaillamment tenté de contrer). Mais il a quand même eu un accès privilégié aux grands médias presque jusqu’à sa mort, même s’il n’a strictement rien foutu d’intérêt public ces 25 dernières années.

Le bilan global de Tapie, et ce qu’il a représenté pour la France de notre époque, est bien analysé par Laurent Mauduit dans Mediapart, “Ce que Bernard Tapie a révélé de la République.”

Voilà, c’est tout.

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[update below]

Second rounds of French elections often bring surprises, or results that were not predicted by otherwise alert observers. Such was not the case on Sunday, excepting perhaps the landslide margin of Renaud Muselier’s victory over Thierry Mariani in the PACA. And with the turnout rate increasing by a mere one point, to 34.3%, there was no sursaut of 1st round abstentionists deciding to exercise their civic duty and flock to the polls (as happened, e.g., in 2015). Pundits and politicos have continued to wring their hands over this crisis of democracy and propose various gimmicks to boost turnout—or which they think will achieve this—notably voting by Internet and allowing for absentee ballots, though French election rules and procedures work perfectly well as they are and, apart from simplifying the demarche for proxy voting (vote par procuration) and modifying the deadline for changing one’s registration address, require no changes. Having been an assesseur in a bureau de vote in some 25 election rounds over the past fourteen years, including these last two, I know of what I speak on this.

A good analysis of the mass indifference toward the election was offered by sociologist Albert Ogien in a tribune in yesterday’s Libération, “Régionales: le crépuscule des partis,” in which he underscored the thorough domination of political life in France by an omnipresent and omnipotent head of state—Emmanuel Macron—a state bureaucracy that is incapable of ceding any of its power or decision-making authority, and partisan political apparatuses whose singular obsession is preparing for and waging the campaign for the next presidential election. In such a climate, why, Ogien rhetorically asks, would most voters care a whit about an election to relatively powerless bodies composed of representatives little known to even those who follow politics closely, not to mention the larger public? As mentioned in last week’s post and by Ogien here, regional and departmental councils in France are dwarfs compared to their equivalents in Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the UK, among other European countries, in terms of their powers, budgets, and impact their decisions have on the voters they represent. Talking to an educated, professional under-30 member of my family yesterday, she said she had no idea what the Conseil Régional is or does. I am quite sure that it is likewise for the quasi totality of those she knows. And given the decline in partisan political activism—which has never been high in France to begin with; seriously, how many people here personally know a card-carrying party militant?—the changing, technology-driven ways in which people inform themselves about public affairs (if/when they do), and the disappearance of electoral posters that used to plaster the walls of French cities and towns (which are now only seen on dedicated signposts in front of polling stations), it is hardly surprising that millions of citizens may only be dimly aware that a low stakes election is even happening.

And then there are the 13 new mega regions created from the previous 22, thanks to François Hollande’s cockamamie 2015 territorial reform, that only a committee of Parisian haut fonctionnaire énarques could concoct. The failings of the mega regions are well-expressed in a tribune (h/t Guillaume Duval) by Fabien Granier, a writer based in deepest rural France, in the online Reporterre: le quotidien de l’écologie, the thrust of which is summed up in the lede: “L’abstention record du premier tour des régionales révèle une catastrophe institutionnelle, selon l’auteur de cette tribune. Pourquoi voter pour des institutions auxquelles les citoyens n’ont plus accès depuis la nouvelle organisation du territoire en pôles régionaux?” Money quote:

Vers 2005, quand je suis arrivé dans le Bocage bourbonnais, au nord-ouest de l’Allier, il y avait une gare à sept minutes de chez moi, des médecins, des écoles… En plus de ses compétences obligatoires, notre département finançait des permis de conduire aux jeunes, soutenait les installations et pouvait se targuer d’une vraie politique culturelle. Notre capitale de Région, c’était Clermont-Ferrand, à une heure de chez nous. On avait un problème du ressort d’une de ces collectivités: on prenait rendez-vous et on y allait. On connaissait nos conseillers, on pouvait même les voir et les contacter. C’était pas dingue, le pays tournait déjà plutôt carré autour de ses archaïsmes jacobins, mais, au moins, on n’était pas abandonnés.

Quinze ans plus tard: plus d’interlocuteurs, plus de médecins, plus de trains, des écoles qui ferment, des mairies et un département à peine en mesure de couvrir leurs frais obligatoires (salaires, frais de gestion courante, etc.). Ajoutez à ça la disparition quasi complète des services anciennement dévolus aux sous-préfectures (cartes grises, associations, etc.), et peut-être alors commencerez-vous à comprendre pourquoi plus personne ne se rend aux urnes. Pourquoi voter pour des institutions auxquelles nous n’avons plus accès?

On Sunday’s results, see the spot-on instant analyses (in English) by John Lichfield in The Local and Arthur Goldhammer in Tocqueville 21. As for my take, here are a few brief comments on the four political blocs, moving from right to left.

Rassemblement National: That Marine Le Pen and the ex-Front National were big losers—winning not a single region and outright losing departmental council seats, netting a mere 28 (of 4,108)—is one of the big stories of the election. The RN’s calamitous scores do indeed cloud the picture for Marine LP next year, though one recalls the FN’s biting the dust in the 1999 European elections, which looked to be the end of the FN as a factor in French politics, only to be followed in the presidential three years later by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s stunning second place finish. And then there was JMLP’s distant fourth place finish in the 2007 presidential, with Nicolas Sarkozy siphoning off a significant number of his voters, and which I thought at the time signaled the end of the road for JMLP and his party. So much for that prediction. And the fact is, a disproportionate number of abstentionists in this present election were MLP/RN voters, most of whom are likely to cast a ballot next April. This said, one wonders how MLP can possibly hope to win a presidential election—in which all of France votes—when her party can not only not win the regional council in the PACA—the part of France where it is the strongest—but gets buried in a landslide to boot. And likewise in the RN’s next strongest region, the Hauts-de-France, where it was crushed by an even bigger landslide. MLP does indeed appear to have hit a glass ceiling, with a sizable number of conservative voters otherwise sympathetic to her message and rhetoric refusing to vote for her or her party (which is the subject of a reportage by Luc Bronner in Le Monde today).

The election also laid bare the limits of MLP’s strategy of poaching high-profile politicians from the parliamentary right to head the RN’s lists, notably Thierry Mariani in the PACA and Sébastien Chenu in the Hauts-de-France. Mariani, who issues from the RPR/UMP/LR’s FN-compatible hard right flank, is a well-known advocate for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, among other charming leaders of like-minded regimes (he’s also a fan of Narendra Modi, one learns in a lengthy portrait in Le Monde last week of Mariani and his liaisons dangereuses across the globe; among other things, he speaks Russian and has traveled there countless times). As he is a sure-fire pick for the Quai d’Orsay if Marine LP, par malheur, ends up in the Élysée, any setback he suffers is to be welcomed. As for Chenu, formerly of the PR/DL/UMP, qui a mangé à tous les râteliers—among the mainstream things he has done was to serve on Christine Lagarde’s staff when she was Minister of Foreign Trade in the government of Dominique de Villepin—he manifestly did not have the proper populist profile for RN voters in France’s industrial north. Tant mieux.

Les Républicains: They were the big winners, or presented as such, by merely keeping the seven regions they won in 2015 and vanquishing the challenges from the RN—and with the principal interest in this being the brilliant victories of putative presidential candidates Xavier Bertrand of the Hauts-de-France, Valérie Pécresse of the Île-de-France, and Laurent Wauquiez of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the first two having formally quit LR, in which they were longtime pillars, over the past four years. On the presidential ambition front, one may safely dismiss that of Wauquiez, who is too right-wing (and too nasty of an SOB to boot). If there are any significant policy differences between him and Marine Le Pen, I have not perceived them. I simply cannot imagine a scenario in which he emerges as the non-RN right’s standard-bearer.

Bertrand is manifestly the favorite, as not only do the polls have him as the best placed to break the Macron-Le Pen duopoly but he is also the right-wing candidate who is the most acceptable to centrist voters and least unacceptable to the left, while—for the moment at least—maintaining his credibility with the LR base. Bertrand has cultivated his moderate image as president of the Hauts-de-France regional council over the past six years, even flattering lefty sensibilities in certain domains, notably cultural policy. Inevitably though, he has engaged in the usual right-wing demagoguery on law-and-order issues and immigration, e.g. calling for minimum mandatory sentencing, minimum 50-year sentences for persons convicted of terrorism, lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 15, expelling undocumented foreigners manu militari, and the like—and knowing full well that some of what he proposes is unconstitutional or violates the European Charter on Human Rights. Such is the French right.

À propos, one notes that Bertrand and other LR personalities, such as Christian Jacob, continue to refer to Marine Le Pen’s party as the “Front National,” as if to make clear that they do not believe it has changed in any way, that they still consider it beyond the pale and will not deal with it. Except that on immigration, national identity, insécurité, and other such hot button issues, there is no longer any appreciable difference between LR and the FN/RN—Exhibit A being the tract below by the first-tier LR deputy from Nice, Éric Ciotti.

Whatever procedure LR ultimately adopts for selecting its candidate, Bertrand has made it clear that he won’t be bound by it, that his candidacy is all but definitive. Unless he somehow plunges in the polls, it is hard to see how LR can not se rendre à l’évidence and rally behind him, particularly if he continues to have the best chance of making it to the 2nd round. But if he somehow does plunge, Pécresse would be LR’s best alternative IMHO, as she’s conservative but not hard right (I had not bad things to say about her in an early AWAV post ten years ago). As for other LR presidential possibilities—e.g. Bruno Retailleau, Michel Barnier—I doubt it.

La République en Marche: What else to say about Emmanuel Macron’s party—the other big loser on Sunday—except to repeat myself and what everyone knows, which is that it is all but non-existent. President Macron, in effect, does not have a political party worthy of the name, which, after four years in office, is a complicated situation for an incumbent president to find himself in as he contemplates his reelection campaign. Macron’s poll numbers are acceptable for the moment (+40/-57 in the last IPSOS baromètre) but he still has to come up with a positive argument for his reelection, which is not readily apparent. And he has to initiate some kind of legislative action this fall and that will not cause his fragile approval rating to plummet. But even if he can pull that off, if the inevitable 4th wave of the coronavirus leads to yet another confinement or other sanitary restrictions, all bets will be off regarding Monsieur Macron. In short, it is not a totally sure thing that he will make it to next April.

If it looks like Macron may throw in the towel on running for reelection, we’re sure to start hearing a lot about Édouard Philippe.

La Gauche: Not a party but, for this election, we can consider the Parti Socialiste, Europe Écologie-Les Verts, La France Insoumise, and Parti Communiste as a bloc. The PS is satisfied with its showing, as it maintained its control of the five regions won in 2015 and held its own in the departmental councils, notably in the southwest. But one should not be deceived, as the overall performance of the left was rather less-than-impressive. E.g. in the Île-de-France, which the PS ran from 1999 to 2015, the united left list for the 2nd round—led by well-known personalities (Julien Bayou, Audrey Pulvar, Clémentine Autain)—managed to obtain only 33.7% of the vote. And in the Hauts-de-France, another erstwhile PS/PCF stronghold, the united left list, led by the écolo Karima Delli, netted a mere 22%. Pas fameux.

As for the presidential race, the election clarified nothing, and with the PS and EELV having yet to figure out how (or even if) they’re going to select a single candidate—not that anyone they could possibly propose to the French electorate has any credibility as Président de la République. Seriously, can one imagine Anne Hidalgo, Arnaud Montebourg, Yannick Jadot, or Éric Piolle in the Élysée palace? As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he will be lucky to even reach the double digits.

More on the crisis of the left another time.

UPDATE: See the analysis in Le Monde (July 2nd) by Florent Gougou of Sciences Po Grenoble, “‘La percée historique du RN en 2015 a été en partie effacée aux régionales et départementales 2021, mais seulement en partie’.” The lede: “Si la dynamique de recul est la plus forte de l’histoire du parti d’extrême droite entre deux scrutins de même type, elle mérite d’être nuancée, estime le chercheur en science politique, qui constate une ‘disparition de la surmobilisation’.” Noting that a fine-grained analysis of the vote at the cantonal level does not support the hypothesis that the high abstention rate was disproportionately prejudicial to the RN, Gougou concludes:

Finalement, le bilan de ces élections régionales et départementales est très mauvais pour le RN. Son réseau d’élus locaux a été fortement affaibli, avec une centaine de conseillers régionaux en moins (252 contre 356 en 2015). Mais surtout, il a perdu plus de la moitié de ses conseillers départementaux (26 contre 62 en 2015) dans un scrutin qui a très fortement favorisé les sortants. C’est un coup d’arrêt dans la dynamique d’implantation locale de la droite radicale en France.

The same issue of Le Monde has a lengthy enquête by Franck Johannès on the RN’s chaotic campaign in the Hauts-de-France, which laid bare a number of problems of the party at the national level: “Amateurisme et ombres identitaires, la drôle de campagne de Sébastien Chenu.”

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[update below]

A couple of comments on yesterday’s vote for the regional and departmental councils, about which I will have more to say after next Sunday’s 2nd round. First, the historically high abstention rate for a nationwide election—topped only by that of the 2000 constitutional referendum—which is leading all commentaries and analyses. Polls and analysts were predicting this but none had it as high as two-thirds of the electorate. By way of contrast, the participation rate for the previous elections to these two bodies—in March and December 2015—was 50%, seen then as disappointing.

The endless pandemic and long second confinement—which we’re thankfully coming out of—certainly had some effect, as partisan politics are not on everyone’s mind these days, and particularly younger voters—the abstention rate for the 18-24 cohort reaching 87%, according to one poll—and those from the couches populaires. I can personally affirm, via private conversations, that more than a few under-30 voters were barely aware that the elections—originally scheduled for March but postponed due to the pandemic and confinement—were even happening. The limited responsibilities and prerogatives of the regional and departmental councils—to which the great majority of voters pay little attention—also contributed to the relative disinterest. French administrative regions are not akin to Germany’s Länder, Italy’s provinces, or Spain’s autonomous communities in their powers, size of budgets, or as the wellspring of identity for their denizens—and the latter all the less so since President Hollande’s half-baked law that created 13 mega regions of the previous 22—which, six years after the fact, hasn’t worked out extremely well.

But the overriding factor explaining the unprecedented abstention rate is, as friend Guillaume Duval of Alternatives Économiques put it in an instant analysis on Facebook, the magnitude and severity of the crisis afflicting French democracy. The political climate in France, to put it tersely, has become insufferable, with a hysterization of political debate—if one can call the demagoguery, invective, and trolling one gets on the all-“news” stations and social media debate (or “debate”)—that is as bad as anything I’ve witnessed in three decades of living in this country—and which is being driven by the extreme right, with the heretofore mainstream right—followed by Emmanuel Macron and his allies—jumping on the bandwagon. A rematch between a right-lurching Macron and Marine Le Pen, which hardly anyone wishes for, has been presented as an inevitability by pundits and politicos alike. As Le Monde editorialized earlier this month, “un vent mauvais souffle sur la démocratie [française].”

This aspect of France’s current political state merits a lengthier treatment than I can give it right now—but which I will come back to—so in the meantime let me recommend three first-rate commentaries that have appeared in English over the past month, by the excellent Rokhaya Diallo in The Washington Post, “How France’s far right is now dictating the terms of public debate;” Cole Stangler in The New York Times, “France is becoming more like America: It’s terrible;” and Harrison Stetler in The New Republic, “The year that broke Emmanuel Macron’s republican front: The French president is facing a far right that has gained the upper hand in the country’s insidious culture wars. And he has only himself to blame.”

The second comment on yesterday’s vote is on the counter-performance of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN), the debacle of Macron’s La République en Marche (REM), the good showing of the Republicans (LR), and the relatively not too bad one of the Socialists. It was taken almost for granted that the RN would finish in first place in five or six of the regions, and with the prospect of winning at least three in the 2nd round, if not more. But with the RN plunging almost 9 points compared to the FN’s 2015 result (from 28% to 19% nationally), which was a genuine surprise, it now only has a chance to win one region, the PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)—where the 2nd round square-off with LR will be hard-fought now that the list of the left has thrown in the towel (regrettably IMO). As three-quarters of Marine LP’s 2017 voters abstained yesterday, we’ll see if the RN benefits from the kind of 2nd round sursaut as did the non-FN parties in 2015. But whatever happens to the RN next Sunday, it will likely not alter the dynamics for 2022 in regard to MLP and her prospects of making it to the 2nd round in that one.

As for Macron’s REM, the abject failure of its lists across the board confirmed what was revealed in last year’s municipal elections, which is that the REM is, as I wrote then, an empty vessel of political non-entities, existing solely to anchor Macron’s personal ambitions (now his reelection in 2022) and with the Great Helmsman making the REM’s every last decision. If Macron should win reelection next May—which, if his opponent is MLP, we will ardently hope he does—it is highly possible that he will not win a majority in the legislative elections that follow in June.

On Macron’s reelection prospects, these could be complicated by the strong performance of Xavier Bertrand in the Hauts-de-France, which all but guarantees him victory next Sunday—and with that, the formal launching of his presidential campaign. Whatever the scores of Laurent Wauquiez or Valérie Pécresse, it is hard to see how LR can seriously come up with a candidate of its own in the face of Bertrand’s fait accompli—unless they want to see a Macron-Le Pen rematch. And particularly if polls show Bertrand within striking distance of those two.

The left: regardless of how the PS and écolos do on Sunday, the left is out of the national picture for the foreseeable future. Sad but true.

À suivre la semaine prochaine.

UPDATE: Le Monde editorialist Françoise Fressoz has a noteworthy analysis, in the June 23rd issue, of the high abstention, “Quand la politique tourne à vide.”

Arun at polling station 38

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And against freedom-killing laws. I went into Paris yesterday afternoon, my first time in the city in almost a month, to attend this all-important demo. The Paris Prefecture of Police had initially banned it—ostensibly for sanitary reasons, France being under lockdown (confinement) since October 30th, though which has been “lightened up” (allégé) beginning this weekend—but with an administrative court annulling the interdiction late Friday. Given the explosive political context, though, the demo would have happened anyway, banning or not. The context is the government’s proposed law (Proposition de loi relative à la sécurité globale), currently under debate in the parliament, that would further reinforce the surveillance powers of the police (notably via drones) and, in the bill’s now infamous article 24, criminalize the Internet posting of photos and videos taken—by journalists or ordinary citizens—of the police going about their work—even when that work involves brutalizing people just for the hell of it. This is seemingly the umpteenth initiative by the right-lurching Emmanuel Macron—who we were led to believe was an American-style liberal during his presidential election run—to further constrict civil liberties—and with his Minister of Interior, the unambiguously right-wing Gérald Darmanin, playing the Top Cop with particular zealousness. Darmanin, an early defector from the LR party to Macron’s République en Marche and whom Macron appointed to the Place Beauvau in July, was/is a protégé of Nicolas Sarkozy, in both political orientation and personal ambition, which is as much as one needs to know about his views on the police and law-and-order. The proposed law (and its article 24) is his œuvre (and Macron’s obviously).

On the matter of civil liberties—of their being undermined—this is the law too many. If it passes, it will confirm that France is on a truly alarming political trajectory (for an elaboration on this in English, see James McAuley in The Washington Post, Adam Nossiter in The New York Times, Mira Kamdar in The Atlantic, and Art Goldhammer in Tocqueville 21. [UPDATE: Also see Cole Stangler in Jacobin and Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books]). In an interview in Le Monde dated Nov. 26th, the prominent Paris lawyer Patrice Spinosi—who pleads before the Conseil d’État and Cour de Cassation—asserted that, with this proposed law on sécurité globale, a future “Trump à la française“—who could possibly be elected President of the Republic in 2022 (and we know who she would be)—would have the legal framework already in place to impose major restrictions on civil liberties and political opposition.

Journalists and media organs across the political spectrum—and that includes the right—have been up in arms over the proposed law, with rallies organized in front of the National Assembly on Nov. 17th and at Trocadéro on Nov. 21st. Then last Monday night there was the brutal police action against the migrant camp that had been set up that day at the Place de la République—of desperate refugees and asylum-seekers (Afghans and Eritreans the largest contingents) who have been wandering the streets without shelter for months, and for whom the authorities are doing nothing—which even minister Darmanin claimed to find “shocking.” If it hadn’t been for the videos of the police action posted on the Internet, of course, there wouldn’t have been a story. And then there was the beating of Michel Zecler—of the gratuitous violence of the police and with racism thrown in, and their brazen lies to their hierarchical superiors about it—that was revealed on Twitter last Thursday, and which was the nº 1 story on the news for two days running. Again, if it hadn’t been for videos posted on social media (if one hasn’t seen them, go here and here) there would not only have been no story but Michel Zecler is the one who would have found himself in trouble—on a trumped-up charge of outrage à agent public—and not the four police functionaries, who will most certainly be severely sanctioned. With Macron, Darmanin, and just about everyone in the political class saying how revulsed and shocked they are—shocked, I tell you!—by the violence visited upon Michel Zecler—as if the French police haven’t been doing this kind of thing often and since forever—they will thus want the four flics to be held out to dry pour l’exemple. And the flics are indeed in very hot water.

I don’t participate in demos much but decided yesterday morning that I would this one. The last one I went to—to observe but finally participate in—was the November 10, 2019, march against Islamophobia, the turnout for which was some 15,000 (deemed a success; I posted pics of it on Facebook at the time, which may be viewed here if one is interested). According to the Ministry of Interior, some 46,000 attended yesterday’s march—which means it was likely more than that—making it a big success, particularly in view of the pandemic and ongoing limitations on movement linked to the confinement. It was the lead story on the evening news, which is not common for demos in Paris (demos being a banal occurrence in this city).

The rendez-vous for the demo was Place de la République at 2:00 PM, with the destination Place de la Bastille. A classic route for marches of the left (I doubt the right has ever, even once in history, had a manif in this part of the city). I went straight to Bastille, arriving around 3:30, to meet the head of the march as it proceeded down Avenue Beaumarchais. Here are pics I took, with commentary.

The people heading toward the march from this direction were clearly not at the République and, so it appeared, had their own motives for wanting to meet up with it.

Something is on fire up ahead, with billows of black smoke and periodic explosions. I couldn’t see what it was but figured it was a car or motorcycle that had been torched. The demonstration up ahead, that was heading down the avenue, was clearly blocked. There was no movement for at least 15 minutes.

The explosions continued but I couldn’t see what they were or where they were coming from.

(more…)

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Municipal elections 2020. Second round. (source: Le Monde)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

The second round of the French municipal elections happened on Sunday, if one didn’t know—which was the case with the near-totality of persons outside France (and no doubt a few inside France as well). E.g. I spoke on Sunday with a friend in the US, who is geopolitically well-informed and knows France well; he had no idea about the elections. Some background. The elections in the country’s 36,000-odd communes—85% of which have a population of less than 2,000—were scheduled for March 15th (first ballot) and March 22nd (runoff). Municipal elections, which happen every six years, are considered France’s most important after the presidential and legislative, generating a high level of interest and with a normally high participation rate (as mayors are the elected officials in closest proximity to citizens and, according to the polls, are the most appreciated). The elections are always a big deal. This one was going to be, entre autres, a particular test for the party Emmanuel Macron created ex nihilo in 2016, La République en Marche (REM), to show that it could sink roots at the local level, which it has entirely lacked. But then the pandemic hit and which dominated the news and public attention during the two week official campaign that preceded the first round, with the government exhorting citizens to wear masks and practice social distancing. The wisdom of even holding the election was called into question and with the government seriously considering postponement, but, receiving the green light from its science and health advisers, decided to go ahead with the first round, mandating mask-wearing and hand-washing in polling stations.

I worked a local polling station that whole day as an assesseur (titulaire), which I’ve done some twenty-five times since becoming a French citizen fifteen years ago. But this time I really had to do it, pandemic or not, as I was a candidate on the united list of the left in my (very right-wing) commune, led by the Parti Socialiste (PS) and with six other left formations (ballot below)—though I had no chance, let alone desire, of being elected to the city council (I also did this in 2008, in my capacity as a member of la société civile, to get an idea from the inside of the dynamics of local elections in France and compare them to my US experiences, and also as I’m friendly with the local Socialists).

Ballot, first round, 15 March 2020.

As it happens, we didn’t break the 10% threshold to qualify outright for the second round (for the first time ever, I believe) and, as negotiations to merge with the ecologists’ list, which qualified by a wide margin, for the second round didn’t work out (not their fault; see below for an explanation of the peculiar electoral system), I was not an assesseur on Sunday. I went to vote, mask and all, c’est tout.

Back to the March 15th first round, the abstention rate hit a historic high at 55% (the previous record, in 2014, was 38%). Not surprisingly, a lot of voters, particularly elderly ones, prudently stayed home on account of the pandemic. How much the low turnout skewed the results can only be speculated on, though it stands to reason that there was some effect. As always happens, the election outcome was settled outright in the first round in the vast majority of communes—86% of them, to be precise—with the winning list surpassing 50%, leaving the remaining 5,000 or so—accounting for some 35% of the electorate, most in the larger municipalities (and almost all the major cities)—to be settled in the second round.

(source: Le Monde)

As the nation was preoccupied with the pandemic, the first round results were an afterthought the next day, mentioned in passing on the news and relegated to the back pages of the papers; when President Macron announced that evening that the confinement, or lockdown, would begin at noon the following day, that obviously meant that the second round could not take place the next Sunday, so it was postponed sine die—though which posed a tricky legal issue, as, according to election law, if the second round is postponed, this annuls the results of the first, meaning the whole thing would have to be done over. The Conseil d’État ultimately ruled that if the second round were held before the end of June, then the results of the first could stand, so it was thus scheduled for June 28th—which looked to be the right thing to do in view of the success (so far) of the deconfinement and flattening of the curve of SARS-CoV-2 infections. The sanitary conditions for the polling stations were even stricter than for the first round, with mandatory masks, only three voters at a time, screens separating the assesseurs, etc. Things went smoothly, so it was okay.

There are three big takeaways from Sunday’s result. The first is the abstention rate, which set another new record. Of the 16.5 million voters eligible for the second round, 59% didn’t turn out—and particularly in cities. The pandemic was clearly a factor but not the only one. The interest was not there for many voters—and despite the uncertain outcomes and high stakes in many races—on account of the disruption to peoples’ lives by the pandemic and the long fifteen weeks separating the first round—which relatively few paid attention to to begin with—but also an increasing alienation from electoral politics. Rising abstention has been a secular trend over the past three decades. As this disproportionately concerns the couches populaires—the lower classes—and young people, it necessarily shaped the outcome on Sunday.

The second was the stunning success of the lists led by Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV), and in some of France’s largest cities: Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Grenoble (won in 2014), Tours, Annecy, Besançon, Poitiers, Colombes, plus others; the écolos likewise participated in left victories in other cities, including Paris and Montpellier (the outcome in Marseille is presently uncertain), and came within a hair of winning Lille. The victories in Lyon and Bordeaux were particularly amazing. In Lyon, where the EELV annihilated the REM, the result was a humiliating repudiation of mayor Gérard Collomb, an erstwhile PS centrist-turned-macroniste, who ran the city hegemonically since 2001, and had, moreover, entered into a post first round pact with the hard-right regional council president, Laurent Wauquiez, of the hard-right lurching Republican party (LR), to block an ecologist victory. Major fail. The result in Bordeaux was closer, with the EELV-led left-wing list edging out the LR-REM alliance, giving the city its first mayor of the left since 1947.

A few remarks about the écolo “green wave.” 1. The newly-elected EELV mayors—some of them newcomers to politics—were unknowns outside their cities before Sunday. The EELV has almost completely renewed its leading personnel, with the high media profile écolo politicians of 15-20 years ago now out of politics. This is not common with French political parties. 2. Yannick Jadot, who led the EELV’s successful campaign in last year’s European election—and has presidential dreams for 2022—has been avoiding the “left” label—seeking to transcend the left-right cleavage—but the winning EELV lists on Sunday all situated themselves decidedly on the left, and most in alliance with the PS and other left formations. There is no ambiguity about where the EELV situates itself on the political spectrum. But it is also clear that the party is decidedly closer to the PS (moderate left) than to the gauche radicale (La France Insoumise et al). The fact that the EELV is now responsible for governing some of France’s largest (and most prosperous) cities will necessarily impose a certain pragmatism. Looking ahead to 2021 (regional and departmental elections) and 2022 (presidential and legislative), there will almost certainly be an EELV-PS alliance, but with the former no longer playing junior partner to the latter. 3. The EELV’s “green wave” will indeed reshape the left in the coming period but its importance should not be exaggerated. Prior to Sunday, the écolos governed four of France’s 270 cities with a population of 30,000 and over. Now they will govern fifteen. The fact is, the EELV is still pretty small and, when it comes to local power, nowhere near the still convalescing PS. And the écolos have a history of performing well in intermediate elections but biting the dust in the presidential and legislative. Polls for 2022 presently have Yannick Jadot in the single digits and there is no a priori reason to believe he will go higher. Moreover, the high abstention rate on Sunday did facilitate the “green wave,” as the ecologists’ Millennial and Gen-Z CSP+ voters (educated, professional, urban) turned out in higher numbers than did the couches populaires.

The third big takeaway of the election was the abject failure of the REM, which won practically nothing. The only mayor of a commune with a population of 30K+ elected under the sole REM label was LR-defector Gérald Darmanin in Tourcoing. All the other centrist victories were by Emmanuel Macron’s MoDem and UDI allies, e.g. François Bayrou in Pau. PM Édouard Philippe may have won a landslide reelection in Le Havre but while having quit LR, he has not joined the REM. The REM is an empty vessel, existing solely to anchor Macron’s personal ambitions (now his reelection in 2022) and with the Great Helmsman making his party’s every last decision. The party has no autonomy whatever from the Élysée. It would be one thing if Macron were a brilliant political strategist, but he demonstrated yet again in this electoral episode his pathetic political skills, the showcase being his imposing the arrogant, imperious Benjamin Griveaux—who manifestly has more enemies than friends—as the REM candidate for mayor of Paris—which Macron really believed he could win—and when Griveaux got caught up in the miserable sextape affair, replacing him with non-politician Agnès Buzyn, who quit her post as minister of health as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic was making its way to France—and who later admitted that she knew as early as January that the pandemic would indeed hit France and with a fury, was worried sick about it, informed Macron, but publicly revealed nothing. The Buzyn fiasco was epitomized by the fact that she failed to even win a seat for herself in the Paris city council. Also contributing to the REM’s rout was its/Macron’s decision to ally the party with LR, i.e. the right, in a number of cities in the second round, with the express purpose of trying to block the ecologists. Not only did the strategy fail but it definitively confirmed that the REM, a centrist formation at its foundation—and with a significant center-left flank—is now solidly anchored on the center-right. And it’s not going back; e.g. one learns that now ex-REM left-leaning deputies, led by Aurélien Taché (who’s taken good positions on issues, notably immigration), will be forming a new center-left party, #NousDemain. Whatever the REM’s future as a center-right party—the center-right political space already being crowded and with plenty of political pros not in the REM—it definitely has none without Emmanuel Macron.

A quick rundown of the results of the other parties.

The Socialists: The 2014 elections being a historic catastrophe for the PS—which I detailed at the time here, here, and here, if anyone’s interested—it was hard to see it losing even more ground. Sunday’s bilan was not bad at all, with the party easily holding on to its major cities, including Paris, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Clermont-Ferrand, Avignon, and Rouen, though Martine Aubry in Lille won the narrowest of victories (vs. EELV). The PS also picked up Montpellier, Nancy (a longtime center-right bastion), and Saint-Denis, and may yet Marseille—which would be huge—but given the specific electoral system for the three largest cities (Paris-Lyon-Marseille), that won’t be known until the newly-elected city council meets on Friday (as no list there has a majority of seats). Paris was the big one, of course, with Anne Hidalgo—allied with EELV in the second round—easily defeating her main rival, LR’s Rachida Dati. Hidalgo has not been overly popular—though several of my Parisian friends love her—but she’s redoutable. I’m not enamoured with her myself—as a banlieuesard, I have issues with her anti-automobile measures—and find her to be a dull, plodding speaker—I’ve seen her more than once—but she’s solid. And she is, at this given moment, the PS’s preeminent political figure. And as the PS has no obvious candidate for 2022—First Secretary Olivier Faure is a good man but it can’t be him, and Bernard Cazeneuve is nowhere to be seen—eyes will inevitably start to turn toward Hidalgo. She says she’s not interested and I can’t see it myself, but who knows? As Ségolène Royal is intimating that she may jump in the 2022 race—which will dismay, if not alarm, many on the left—the pressure on Hidalgo may consequently become intense. On verra.

The Communists: The PCF took a big hit in 2014, losing many of its longtime bastions in Paris’s famous “red belt” (working class banlieues—now heavily immigrant—ringing the city to the north, east, and south), to both the PS and the right. The party won back a few—notably Bobigny, Noisy-le-Sec, and Villejuif, and picked up Corbeil-Essonnes—but lost even more, including Saint-Denis—its last city of over 100K inhabitants, and which had been Communist since 1944—Aubervilliers, Champigny-sur-Marne (where Georges Marchais lived), Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, Valenton, and Choisy-le-Roi; and down south, Arles and Gardanne. The PCF continues its slow descent to oblivion.

As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, it won practically nothing, mainly because it contested practically nothing (though even if it had, it still would have won practically nothing). LFI is little more than a vehicle for JLM’s megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur. JLM must have had a tough time swallowing the specter of Philippe Poutou, chef de file of the historically Trotskyist Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, winning an impressive 9.3% in Bordeaux (of all places). LFI didn’t attain that score anywhere outside a few left-leaning communes in the Île-de-France. It is even being said that the mere fact that LFI was part of the left-wing coalition in Toulouse caused defections of some voters there to the incumbent LR-led right-wing list, which won a narrow victory.

Les Républicains: LR were the big winners in 2014, controlling the mairies in over half the communes with populations of 30K+. There was no significant change this year. The heir of neo-Gaullism won a few (Metz, Orléans, Auxerre, Biarritz, Lorient) but also saw some big ones slip through its hands. And losing Bordeaux—where Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Alain Juppé reigned for almost all of the past 75 years—was tough; if Marseille—ruled by Jean-Claude Gaudin since 1995—is lost in the “third round” on Friday, that will be tougher still.

Rassemblement National: Last but not least. The ex-Front National’s breakthrough on the municipal level was in 2014, when it won eleven mairies, which was a big deal for the FN but, in the larger scheme of things, not that much of one. In view of Marine Le Pen’s trajectory since then, one could expect her renamed RN make further gains this time, but such did not happen at all. The party of the extreme right continues to experience great difficulty in recruiting competent activists and sympathizers to fill its lists at the local level, and then to retain those it does who are eventually elected to municipal councils. The drop-out rate—of counselors who stop showing up—is significant. In 2014, the FN managed to run lists in 369 communes with populations of 10,000 and over. This year the RN managed to do so in only 262. And whereas the FN broke 10% of the vote in 317 of those 362 lists in 2014—thus qualifying for the second round—on this March 15th, such only happened in 136 communes (source here). That said, the RN won outright first round victories in six of its 2014 communes, including Hénin-Beaumont (Steeve Briois), Fréjus (David Rachline), and Béziers (mayor Robert Ménard is informally allied with the RN, though is distancing himself from the party and Marine LP). On Sunday the RN lost three mairies, including Mantes-la-Ville (in the Île-de-France) and the 7th sector of Marseille, but picked up three new ones: Moissac, Bruay-la-Buissière, and, above all, Perpignan, the first city of over 100,000 won by the FN/RN since Toulon in 1995. Perpignan’s new mayor, Louis Aliot (Marine LP’s ex), is a first-tier RN personality and has been working that city for many years. He also downplayed the RN label during the campaign, to the point where it didn’t even appear on the candidate’s posters. Perpignan, with its large population of rapatriés from Algeria—there’s even a pro-OAS stele in a cemetery there—is ready-made terrain for the RN, so Aliot’s victory was hardly a surprise.

Conclusion: in local politics in France, the long-established parties—LR, successor constituents of the ex-UDF, PS, PCF—continue to dominate.

I mentioned above that I would have a description of the electoral system (mode de scrutin) for municipal elections. I’ll add that later as an update, so if anyone is interested, please revisit this post tomorrow.

UPDATE: Here’s the electoral system for municipal elections (adapted from an official website, translated, and edited):

The lists must be composed of as many women as men, with compulsory alternation between women and men or vice versa.

In the first round, the list which obtains the absolute majority of the votes cast receives a number of seats equal to half of the seats to be filled. The other seats are distributed by proportional representation (highest average) among all the lists having obtained more than 5% of the votes cast, according to the number of votes obtained.

In an eventual second round, only the lists having obtained in the first round at least 10% of the votes cast are allowed to remain. They may be subject to modifications, in particular by merging with other lists, which may be maintained or merged. Indeed, the lists having obtained at least 5% of the votes cast may merge with a list having obtained more than 10%. The distribution of seats is then as in the first round.

In Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, lists are constituted at the level of the arrondissement (in Marseille, in sectors grouping two arrondissements), each with their own mayor and council, with designated counselors in the latter being seated in the city-wide council. A ‘third round’ vote of the newly elected city council selects the city’s mayor.

The number of seats in the municipal councils—and thus the size of the lists—depends on their population, ranging from 15 for communes of 1,000 to 1,499 inhabitants to 69 for those over 300K.

Commentary: no one in France sees anything problematic with this mixed majoritarian-proportional electoral system. I have never come across a single critique of it. But it is a terrible system IMHO. First, it gives a super majority to the winning list, including those that win with a narrow plurality in a triangulaire or even quadrangulaire (three or four-way race) in a second round run-off. Lists that finish behind the winner get a symbolic handful of seats but are reduced to impotent opposition. A fundamental principle of proportional representation—the necessity of forming coalitions, as a single party almost never wins an outright majority—is rendered inoperative. Second, the municipal councils are way too big. They’re bloated. E.g. there are 49 members of the one in my commune, which has a population of some 75,000. Except for the counselors (in my commune, a third of the 49) who have a délégation (i.e. are in charge of a particular file, e.g. sanitation, street maintenance, pre-school education, culture) assigned by the mayor—and who thus become deputy mayors (adjoints au maire)—they are mostly useless (and don’t get paid, so it’s not even a part-time job). Third, the mayor—the n° 1 on the list—has too much power and almost no political checks on it (unless the elected counselors on his/her list split into dissident factions, which does happen). Fourth, the lists being voted at-large means that, excepting highly politicized citizens and local actors (business and other) who closely follow local politics, most people do not know their local elected representatives apart from the mayor.

The six-year term is also way too long. For local elections, the term should be four years maximum.

A correct reform of the system—proposed by no one other than myself—would be to elect mayors and municipal counselors separately (both in two rounds), the former running under partisan labels and the latter sans etiquette, at-large in the smaller communes and with the larger ones (say, over 20,000 inhabitants) divided into single-member circonscriptions, and with the size of the council divided by three (each circonscription encompassing three bureaux de vote), so that each counselor would receive a délégation (assigned by the mayor). The structure of elected city government in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, with their arrondissements, would be more complex, though with the mayor nonetheless elected citywide under her/his name (and not indirectly, as is presently the case).

2nd UPDATE: The well-known, very smart political scientist Jean-François Bayart has a must-read post on his Mediapart blog that is sharply critical of Anne Hidalgo’s action as mayor of Paris. Among other things, he slams the pedestrian malling of the city’s central arrondissements, of turning Paris into a playground for tourists and the youthful CSP+ crowd. He also rightly deplores Paris’s organizing the 2024 Olympics, which Hidalgo led the campaign for. It is well worth the read for anyone who lives in Paris or spends time in the city.

3rd UPDATE: The newly-elected Marseille city council selected Michèle Rubirola, who led the broad left-wing coalition, as mayor (July 4th), in circumstances that may only be described as rocambolesque. Big win for the left, big loss for LR.

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[update below] [2nd update below]

In 2014 it was a disaster, as I wrote back then. This time it wasn’t. Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National may have finished in first place but this was pretty much expected. And there were some bright spots—from my standpoint at least—in the scores for all the principal lists. I’m not going to give a full-blown analysis here, just flesh out some instant thoughts I posted on social media on Sunday night.

  • First, the marked increase in the participation rate, which broke 50%, the highest for a European election since 1994. Late polling indicated that turnout would be up compared to last time, but it wasn’t expected to this extent. I was an assesseur titulaire in my bureau de vote on Sunday, so could observe this throughout the day. Salutary this sursaut citoyen, even if the veritable impetus had less to do with Europe than national considerations (to sanction Emmanuel Macron or deny first place to Marine Le Pen). That said, the increased turnout—and in other EU states as well—signals in increasing interest in the European  Union—and for many, a support for the European project.
  • The RN may have come in first place but, at 23.3%, its score was lower than in 2014 (24.9%). And as it will have two fewer seats (22) in the European Parliament, this cannot be seen as a hands-down victory for Le Pen. The RN drew votes from Gilets Jaunes—up to 44% of GJs voted RN, according to one poll—but they were likely RN/FN voters anyway. The RN has consecrated its status as one of the major poles in French politics but this result does not, in itself, point to RN gains in next year’s municipal elections (as for 2022, that’s a ways away). So long as the RN remains in its ghetto, with no major party willing to ally with it, it will not be able win a national election. And in the European Parliament, one may be sure that it won’t do a thing—i.e. its MEPs won’t participate in the work of the parliamentary committees (where they’re congenital no shows)—and will only undermine the influence of France in EU institutions.
  • I wrote on Sunday night that Macron took a hit (and a well-deserved one) with the République en Marche-MoDem list finishing in second place, though think I need to attenuate that. It would have obviously been preferable from Macron’s standpoint to finish first, but the close second—and with 22.4%—should not be viewed as a setback, all things considered. E.g. with Macron’s unpopularity—he’s at 27% approval/68% disapproval in the latest IPSOS baromètre—and the endless weekend GJ manifs, it could have been worse for him, cf. the more marked votes de sanction against the party in the Élysée in almost all past European elections (2009 a notable recent exception). Exit polling has shown that the REM benefited yesterday from the defection of moderate right LR voters in its direction, confirming that Macron will most surely govern from the center-right for the rest of his term. This will be majorly consequential for the ongoing recomposition of the French political spectrum heading toward 2022.
  • Europe Écologie-Les Verts’ 13.5% is quite simply stunning, as no one expected it, Yannick Jadot’s list polling at 9% tops. Given the momentum of Green parties in Germany and elsewhere, and the increasing importance attached by voters to climate change and other environmental issues, such electoral progress can only warm the heart. And the increased size of the European Greens political group in the European Parliament can only be welcomed. This said, EELV’s excellent score does not augur anything for the future, as we’ve seen this before. E.g. in the 1999 European elections, Les Verts, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, reached almost 10%, but which did not send the écolos into orbit nationally, nor did its amazing 16.4% in the 2009 Euro elections (close on the heels of the PS, led by Martine Aubry at the time). The écolo spikes in past elections have been sans lendemain, with European election Verts voters returning to other left or centrist parties/candidates in national elections. And this will likely remain the case, with almost all parties outside the hard right having integrated environmental themes into their programs, The fact is, EELV remains a small formation, permanently rent by factional infighting, and with, at present, almost no high-profile elected representatives. And if it tries to go it alone electorally—presenting candidates on its own, outside of any alliance or pact with the PS or anyone else—which has been its reflex in recent years, it will bite the dust, as it always has in two-round elections when it does its cavalier seul act. So despite EELV’s brilliant score yesterday, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to become the leading force on the French left.
  • The catastrophic 8.5% of Les Républicains, which not a single poll came anywhere close to predicting—LR was seen going as high as 15%, if not more—is the big story of this election. No one could have ever foreseen the longtime standard-bearer of neo-Gaullism and la droite parlementaire sinking into the single digits, and despite the party’s increasingly hard right turn over the past decade (recalling the rightward progression of a certain conservative party outre-Atlantique). The cerebral tête de liste François-Xavier Bellamy seemed to be catching on with the LR base, and despite—or perhaps because of—his very conservative, Catholic views on questions de société, and came across as friendly and open-minded to boot (quite unlike the cynical, insufferably arrogant LR secy-gen Laurent Wauquiez). E.g. even Benoît Hamon, among other lefties, enjoys conversations with Bellamy, so one reads. But this finally didn’t matter to LR voters, particularly the more moderate among them, who found Bellamy too conservative—and Wauquiez’s identitarian rhetoric too extreme—so defected to the REM and Macron. And on LR’s right flank, réac voters decided to go for the real thing—Marine LP and the RN—rather than the wannabe. As for where LR goes from here, it would be nice if this calamitous result brings moderate rightists like Valérie Pécresse or Xavier Bertrand back to the fore, but I’m not optimistic. The core of the LR base remains the “Trocadéro right,” and despite the REM having realized some its best scores in Paris’s most upscale arrondissements (6th, 7th, 8th, 16th), plus wealthy western banlieues (Neuilly-sur-Seine et al)—which have been fiefs of the right since the dawn of time—finishing way ahead in first place and with 45-48% of the vote. With the REM now occupying the center-right and the RN formally abandoning its pledge to quit the EU, the space for a significant conservative party between these two is narrow indeed.
  • The paltry 6.3% of La France Insoumise list was the most gratifying surprise of the election. This catastrophic, utterly unforeseen result for LFI was not a failure of tête de liste Manon Aubry, who is sympathique and acquitted herself well in the campaign, so I thought, but of LFI caudillo Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was aiming for the double-digits and to consecrate LFI as the uncontested nº 1 force on the left, but instead barely avoided being overtaken by the convalescing PS, which would have been the supreme humiliation for him. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. With this score, JLM is K.O., both politically and personally, the latter because his trash-talking, scowling personality is not wearing well, including among his voters. I personally know people who are otherwise supportive of LFI’s line but simply cannot stand JLM (the televised spectacle of him blowing his fuses with the judicial police last October turned off more than a few). And within LFI, there is increasing exasperation at JLM’s authoritarian style and of his solo leadership—in informal tandem with his significant other—of the party. On the political level, LFI’s counter-performance signifies the limits of JLM’s populist discourse, of trying to appeal to categories of the electorate who don’t necessarily have the same world-view, e.g. the couches populaires—of the Gilets Jaunes variety—and urban, educated left-wing millennials. Both may share an allergy to neoliberalism but they sharply differ on other matters (e.g. immigration, identity). The couches populaires are attached to the nation and are reflexively suspicious of the European Union; with educated millennials, it’s the reverse. With the latter, JLM’s nationalism and Euroscepticism—when it comes to the EU, he is fundamentally not so different from Marine Le Pen—will not fly. There is a bitter truth that a lot of lefties over a certain age have a hard time accepting, which is that the working class unmoored from trade unions leans much more to the right than the left. JLM knows this—I’ve heard him say it up close, that it’s a myth that the WC has always monolithically voted for the left—but he underestimates the numbers. Left-wing parties can craft an appropriate economic message—that’s what makes them left-wing—but insofar as identity and nationalism trump economics for atomized WC voters, the latter are out of reach for the left. And a party of the left that tries to address the cultural anxieties of WC voters will not only fail in the effort but lose sizable numbers of its educated supporters. There is a space on the political spectrum for an LFI-type party but in the single digits. If LFI were to become the leading party of the left—which is now not too likely—it would consign the French left to permanent opposition in the same way the PCF’s domination did in the three decades following the end of WWII. Hopefully JLM will wake up, smell the coffee, and abandon his ambitions for 2022. As for who could take his place as the porte-drapeau of the radical left, I have my ideas.
  • The Parti Socialiste-Place Publique’s 6.2% was cause for satisfaction, as, according to the final polls, the list was in danger of falling under 5%, and thus sending no deputies to the European Parliament. As I wrote in the previous post, such a result would have likely meant the end of the PS. That the PS came close to matching its calamitous score in the 2017 presidential election is hardly a cause for rejoicing—which Raphaël Glucksmann made clear on Sunday night—but at least we know that the Socialists have touched bottom and can only go up, particularly in view of LFI’s failure. If Benoît Hamon had responded favorably to Glucksmann’s unity initiative and not run a list of his irrelevant micro-party, Génération.s—which received a predictable 3.3%—the “Envie d’Europe” list could have gone as high as 9%. So now that the PS has sauvé les meubles, it can now look to rebuild, as the positioning of Macron and the REM on the center-right has created a wide open space on the center-left that cannot and will not be filled by EELV alone. Or even primarily. The PS still has an infrastructure of militants and élus—which is rather larger than EELV’s—and, with the next elections being the municipals in March 2020, can realistically aim to recover some of the ground it lost in the 2014 debacle, particularly if it can forge single slates with EELV. Also, the REM controls not a single mairie—the party not existing in the last municipal elections—and most of its eager beaver marcheurs of the 2017 campaign have fallen by the wayside. If Macron remains unpopular into next year—which is likely—the REM will not be entering the municipal election campaign with a head of steam. Likewise with LR, in view of its current state. So things may indeed be looking up for a rejuvenated PS after next March. In this respect, some history: (a) In the 1969 presidential election, as everyone remembers, the Socialists hit rock bottom with Gaston Deferre’s 5%. Two years later was the Epinay congress and François Mitterrand, followed by the Union de la Gauche and the cliffhanger 49.2% loss in 1974; and then there was 1981… (b) After the victories of 1981 the PS suffered one major electoral setback after another and by 1986 the right looked to be in the drivers seat; but Mitterrand recovered and was easily reelected in 1988;  (c) The catastrophic 1993 legislative elections saw the PS lose 218 of its 275 incumbent deputies, followed by the rout of Michel Rocard’s list in the 1994 European elections; the PS looked to be out of it for the foreseeable future; four months before the 1st round of the 1995 presidential election, the party didn’t even have a candidate, but then Lionel Jospin rose from the ashes, losing to Jacques Chirac with a respectable 47.4% in the 2nd round; and then there was the 1997 early legislatives and the brilliant victory of the PS-led Gauche Plurielle; and if it hadn’t been for the accident of the 21 avril, Jospin would have likely defeated Chirac in the 2002 presidential election. (d) After its miserable result in the 2009 European elections, the future of the PS looked somber, and with the high-profile pundit BHL proclaiming in a banner headline in a Sunday newspaper that the party would soon be “dead.” But it came back in the 2010 regionals and, by mid 2012, was the dominant party in France (okay, that didn’t last long but still). The lesson: when it comes to the French Socialist Party, it ain’t over till it’s over…

There’s a lot more to say but that’s it for now.

UPDATE: The image below illustrates the point made above about the REM doing particularly well in Paris’s beaux quartiers on Sunday (h/t Angelo Pardi via Guillaume Duval).

2nd UPDATE: Libération editor-in-chief Laurent Joffrin’s “lettre politique” of May 28th, on LFI and JLM, is absolutely worth reading. He totally nails it.

28 mai 2019
La lettre politique de Laurent Joffrin

La France insoumise a «un problème»

Clémentine Autain est sortie du bois la première. Il y a, dit-elle, «un problème de ligne et de profil politique» à La France insoumise, qui a trop misé sur «le ressentiment, la haine, ou le clash permanent». Nostra culpa : «Sans doute avons-nous pris trop de distance avec un discours de gauche.»

«Problème» il y a, de toute évidence. Sur une ligne dégagiste, LFI a divisé par trois en deux ans le score de Jean-Luc Mélenchon à la présidentielle (de 18% à 6%). C’est l’effet des innombrables sorties de route volontaires des insoumis, toutes justifiées par la culture de l’anathème : agressivité permanente, dénigrement constant du reste de la gauche, procès en sorcellerie contre Jadot, «haine» assumée contre les journalistes de tous bords, vociférations grand-guignolesques contre une perquisition judiciaire, invocation rituelle d’un «raz-de-marée» populaire qui n’a jamais eu lieu, sauf avec le mouvement des gilets jaunes, parti tout seul, quand LFI n’appelait à rien ; déification compensatoire de certains leaders gilets jaunes aux options pour le moins ambiguës, discours européen incompréhensible consistant à prévoir une «sortie des traités» qui ne serait pas une sortie de l’Union, alors que l’Union est justement bâtie sur un traité, etc. A force de considérer que l’enfer, c’est les autres, tous traîtres, soumis ou vendus, on reste seul avec ses certitudes.

Problème plus large, d’ailleurs : le recul de la gauche radicale est général en Europe. La débâcle la plus spectaculaire a frappé le parti dégagiste Podemos, miné par les divisions, tombé à 10% en Espagne, après avoir perdu la plupart des villes conquises dans la foulée du mouvement des «indignés», dont Madrid et Barcelone, excusez du peu. Il n’est pas le seul. Au total, le groupe d’extrême gauche au Parlement européen est passé de plus de 50 sièges à moins de 40, représentant tout au plus 5% de l’électorat. Gauche radicale, gauche marginale. A force de dire non à tout, les énergies militantes se lassent et passent chez ceux qui disent oui à quelque chose. Elles ont gonflé le mouvement écologiste, qui se bat sur un programme positif de réformes immédiates et, au lieu de dénoncer mécaniquement tous les compromis, cherche des alliances européennes pour y parvenir.

C’est l’essence même du dégagisme qui est en cause. Le peuple d’un côté, les élites de l’autre : sommaire et faux. Les élites ne sont pas toujours réactionnaires ni le peuple progressiste. C’est en bâtissant une coalition «interclasses» qu’on réunit une majorité ou, à tout le moins, qu’on impose des réformes de progrès. C’est avec des civils qu’on fait des militaires, et donc avec des gens qui ne pensent pas comme soi qu’on élargit son influence. Sans quoi on reste au balcon à distribuer les excommunications. Le dégagisme a marché un temps. Il est usé, ou alors il profite aux nationalistes. LFI en avait fait un dogme, un leitmotiv, un ADN. Effectivement, il y a «un problème».

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Photo credit: Guy Bop/Sud Ouest

[updates below]

Today is Act XIII—designated in Roman numerals—of the Gilets Jaunes, a,k.a. Yellow Jackets (or Vests), which is to say, this is the 13th Saturday in a row that the movement has held demos in Paris and around France. It’s become routine (with the weekly numbers albeit steadily dropping). The GJ movement is fairly well understood outside France by now, in terms of who they are—lower middle class small town/non-farming rural folk—and what issues initially drove the protests (gasoline taxes, a new speed limit law, cost of living; which have since been superseded by others). The English-language reporting has been quite good on the whole, not to mention analyses from France specialists, a few of which I linked to in December. One of the best Anglophone journalists on the GJ beat, whose reports have been first-rate, is John Lichfield, formerly Paris correspondent of The Independent, now of The Local. Lichfield knows France comme sa poche and his analyses are invariably spot-on. One of his latest on the GJs is a talk he gave in Brussels on January 31st, sponsored by a group called BEERG and which published a transcript on its BEERG Brexit Blog dated February 2nd, which I have copied-and-pasted below (and taken the liberty of correcting a few spelling errors). As I almost entirely subscribe to Lichfield’s analysis, this has spared me from having to elaborate my own. The transcript is lengthy (some 4,400 words) but well worth the read.

I’m sort of glad I didn’t offer my views on AWAV last month, as I posted more than one comment on Facebook expressing my exasperation, indeed fed-upness, with the GJs (here, here, and here), which I pronounced to be—or to have objectively become—a movement of the extreme right, on account of the violence of a significant number of GJs—the Saturday casseurs were not only neofascists, black blocs, and loubards from the banlieues—the proliferation of conspiracy theories among the GJs and which have been rife on their Facebook pages—N.B. without Facebook, the GJ movement would not exist—overt expressions of antisemitism at GJ-occupied ronds-points and gatherings (e.g. here, here, and here), and their hatred of the media, and particularly the all-news TV stations, with only the Russian RT France meeting with approval (this has been widely reported)—though without the saturation coverage of BFM, CNews, and LCI, the GJ movement would have never attained the proportions it has. And to this GJ hatred may be added that of politicians, indeed of the institutions of representative democracy, a.k.a. the Republic. A case in point: the incessant, insistant demand that Emmanuel Macron resign. However one feels about Macron—I am personally not a fan—he was legitimately elected president of the republic for a five-year term. Who do these people think they are to imperiously demand that he pack his bags and quit the Elysée, tail between his legs? To throw the institutions of French democracy into grave crisis and with no clue as to what would come out of it? The verbal violence against Macron was indeed attaining a virulence never witnessed against a major political figure, let alone a president of the republic, since the Second World War. Macron has a number of issues, as it were, and bears some responsibility for the emergence of the GJs—more on this another time—but a lynch mob atmosphere around his person by GJs quickly developed. If Macron had tried to dialogue with a critical mass of GJs on a Saturday in December—of working men and women in their 30s and 40s, indeed older—he would have likely not made it out alive. His physical integrity was indeed in danger.

But it hasn’t only been Macron. GJs who accepted the invitation to meet with PM Édouard Philippe at the Matignon on December 4th renounced after receiving death threats. One of the more moderate public faces of the GJs, the 51-year-old Bretonne hypnotherapist Jacline Mouraud, told Le Figaro (December 7th) that she and her family had received death threats on account of her televised appearances as an informal GJ spokesperson. The climate of intimidation in the movement was palpable.

None of this is acceptable, regardless of the difficult economic situation individual GJs find themselves in. Barely being able to make ends meet—which is the case for the majority of GJs—does not give one the right to smash stuff and threaten people with violence. The abject political inculture of the GJs is breathtaking. A number of intellectuals and high-profile journalists, e.g. Libération’s Jean Quatremer, have been denouncing the GJs for all this since November, drawing historical parallels with the fascist factieux of February 1934 or the Poujadist movement of the mid 1950s, which started out as a non-political anti-tax reaction of shopkeepers and artisans but veered to the extreme right. I didn’t accept the views of the said intellos and journalists at first but then started to get on board. And then my friend Claire Berlinski published a lengthy (6,700 words), somewhat incendiary piece on the GJs in The American Interest on January 21st, expressing her dim view, to put it mildly, of the movement and how it was playing out, and with which I agreed.

But now I have to pull back. J’allais un peu vite en besogne, i.e. I was getting ahead of myself. It was not right to pigeonhole the GJ movement as extreme right tout court. Some of it clearly is but a lot of it is not. The operative word is hétéroclite: politically-speaking, the GJs are made up of men and women who vote for the left and right, or don’t vote at all, in more or less equal proportions. The grab bag of GJ revindications include as many that may be seen as left-wing—particularly the denunciations of the filthy rich and demands for greater redistribution—as right-wing. What is noteworthy, though—and why the GJs cannot be classified as extreme-right—is the absence of immigration and identity in GJ rhetoric. Individual GJs interviewed in the media will say that immigration is a problem—as do the majority of Frenchmen and women—when the question is posed to them—the classes populaires tend not to be cosmopolitan, après tout—but it simply has not been an issue for the movement. Moreover, the quiet, under-the-radar effort by Marine Le Pen and her renamed Rassemblement National to co-opt the GJ movement at the ronds-points appears not to be bearing fruit (and with some RN strongholds, such as the Hauts-de-France region, not having witnessed significant GJ activity). The GJs are allergic to the established political parties, including the RN. If the GJs manage to structure themselves into a lasting movement that contests elections—which is doubtful—it will surely resemble the Italian M5S, i.e. politically unclassifiable.

It is commonplace to refer to the GJ movement as inédit, i.e. unprecedented. There’s never been anything like it in France: a mass social movement in which the urban population is all but absent. There have been plenty of rural movements and protests in the course of history but of farmers and who are concerned solely with farmer-related issues (and who care about nothing else). The GJs are not peasants, as we know. They are the union of non-urban “petits-moyens,” in the words of sociologist Isabelle Coutant, or the “société des petits,” dixit Pierre Rosanvallon, and with a large participation of women (a few of whom have taken part in the violence). The inter-generational character of the GJs is equally noteworthy, forged in the fraternization on the ronds-points (the latter was the subject of a remarkable reportage by Florence Aubenas in Le Monde dated December 16th-17th). The movement has also evolved since November. The GJs were initially over-represented in the “diagonale du vide“—the swath of central France that has suffered population decline and economic stagnation—but the locus has shifted to the southwest and Mediterranean rim. The central role played by local leaders has also been observed, with GJ activity in a given locality dropping significantly with the arrest or departure of the charismatic personality.

I’ll no doubt come back to all this, particularly as teams of social scientists are studying the GJs—whose early findings have been extensively reported in Le Monde—and with edited collections of essays by academics and intellectuals already hitting the bookstores. And then there’s the Emmanuel Macron part of the equation, which I’ll take up soon, as well as some of the institutional revindications of the GJs, such as the citizens’ initiative referendum (to which I am hostile). In the meantime, here’s John Lichfield’s January 31st Brussels talk:

I’m here to explain the Gilets Jaunes. It might be easier to explain black holes. I’ll do my best. But there is no simple explanation of the Gilets Jaunes, no monolithic, single-minded movement, no leadership structure, no single, accepted programme of demands. That’s what makes them fascinating. And baffling. And worrying. I will give you a brief narrative of the story so far. Then I will offer some clues on how to understand the movement. And what may happen next.

Are the Gilets Jaunes just another example of the French being French? Is it all Macron’s fault? Or Putin’s fault? Or is it an internet phenomenon – Facebook populism – which could have happened anywhere? What are the similarities with other populist movements (more…)

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Credit: Sipa

And Emmanuel Macron. Everyone who’s anyone who habitually writes about France in English is publishing analyses and/or reportages on the Gilets Jaunes, and with friends and AWAV fans asking me when I’m going to offer my own brilliant thoughts. As a lifelong procrastinator I’m taking my time, but will soon. Promis juré. And hopefully before the GJ movement has fizzled out—which it will—and we’ve moved on to other things. In the meantime, I have to post three terrific articles that have gone up in the past twenty-four hours by A-list Anglophone France observers.

The first is Arthur Goldhammer in Foreign Affairs, “The Yellow Vest protests and the tragedy of Emmanuel Macron: How the Gilets Jaunes brought the French president low.” After reading Art’s piece I thought, ‘Zut, now that he’s said 85% of what I have to say—reading my mind, as is often the case—what’s left for me?’.

Then there’s David A. Bell in The Nation, whose knowledge of French history is deeper than mine will ever be—and who totally nails it on Emmanuel Macron: “For Emmanuel Macron, how did things get so bad, so fast? The fault lies with both the French president himself and the political and cultural elite that formed him.”

And finally there’s Paris-based freelance journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky in The New Yorker, who was on the ground in the quartiers chauds last Saturday: “The complicated politics of the Gilets Jaunes movement.”

À bientôt.

 

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