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COMMENTS 

"A bad day for Europe"?

Juncker’s nomination was not a sudden, not an unexpected and not even a distinct event. Neither does it spell an end to the European Council’s dominance in constitutional politics or make EU reform less likely.
Dr Christine Reh
2 July 2014
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Starts: Jul 1, 2014 12:00:00 AM

When anger masks apathy

As a closer look at the European Parliament Elections in Central and Eastern Europe suggests, it may be non-voting, rather than populist protest voting, which could prove the real long-term threat to sustainability of the EU’s troubled democratic institutions.
Dr Sean Hanley
2 June 2014 More...

Starts: Jun 2, 2014 12:00:00 AM

The Eighth European Parliament: More Politicisation

Despite “shocks” & “earthquakes” that took place at the national level, the European Parliament remains mainly pro-EU. Why did the rise of Eurosceptics not make more of an impact, and what do the results mean for the 8th European Parliament?
Alexander Katsaitis
27 May 2014 More...

Starts: May 27, 2014 12:00:00 AM

Analysis: First round of French Presidential Elections

Publication date: Mar 21, 2012 6:46:56 PM

Start: Apr 18, 2012 12:00:00 AM
End: May 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM

Prof Philippe Marlière, 23 April 2012


Philippe Marlière
Professor of French and European Politics
UCL French


For the first time in the Fifth republic, an incumbent president was beaten into second place in a first round marked by a solid turnout (80.16%). Nicolas Sarkozy has qualified for the second round, but François Hollande is on course to become the next French president.

Sarkozy, the right-wing candidate, has ended his presidential term with an electoral disaster. Over the past few weeks, he has constructed a political Frankenstein, whose first name is Marine. Mrs Le Pen has demonstrated time and again during the campaign that the Front National remains the same xenophobic party, always intent on polarising voters with race politics: from halal meat to immigration or policies of “national preference”, the FN continues to play to the traditional tune of the old extreme-right. Le Pen can be grateful to Sarkozy. His very right-wing campaign was Le Pen’s stepping stone for her own success. Sarkozy should know that when it comes to hard right rhetoric, voters always “prefer the original to the copy”.

The first round results show that France is polarised and deeply divided. Sarkozy is fighting for his political life and I predict a nasty battle full of dirty tricks. In his address to his supporters last night, the president gave us a foretaste of things to come in the next two weeks. He promised to defend France from (illegal) immigration and there will be more talk on law and order.

Sarkozy’s right-wing campaign aimed to siphon off Le Pen’s voters. This strategy was designed by Patrick Buisson, an influential political advisor and former editor-in-chief of Minute, a far-right publication. It was successful in 2007, but it backfired this time round. Now Sarkozy faces a Cornelian dilemma: either he continues with this hard right stance and totally alienates François Bayrou’s centrist electorate (9.11%), or he shifts to the centre in which case he will lose the support of FN voters. Early signs are that Sarkozy will pursue his right-wing strategy and that he will push to extremity a personalised duel with Hollande. Sarkozy will not concentrate on policy details, but he will try to pick a playground fight with his socialist opponent. He will make the most of his alleged “superior leadership qualities” to win the hearts and minds of French voters. Marine Le Pen will do anything she can to help Hollande defeat Sarkozy, as she is to benefit from the defeat of the UMP, the governing party.

Early estimates show that the vote transfers from Bayrou to Sarkozy and from Le Pen to Sarkozy will be mediocre in the second round which makes a Hollande victory likely. Furthermore, the total votes for the left: 43.87% compared to the 47% for the right and extreme right, has never been so favourable to the left since 1981. In 2007, the left totalled 36.5% against 45% for the right; and in 2002, 42.8% against 48.4%.

François Hollande finds himself in a strong position. He got the highest share of the votes for any left-wing candidate (François Mitterrand in 1981 and Ségolène Royal in 2007 had both secured 25.8%). The moderate Hollande does not arouse any public enthusiasm, but his prudent campaign has proved strategically astute. He has received the backing of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left Front) and Eva Joly (Green) without entering any negotiations with them. Centrist he was, centrist he will be until the May 6. He should receive a strong support from Mélenchon’s (11.13%) and Joly’s voters (2.27%). He has behind him a unified and disciplined Parti Socialiste which contrasts with Sarkozy’s increasing isolation in his own camp.

The other major event of this first round was the emergence and strong showing of the Left Front, a new electoral coalition of left-wing forces. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, its candidate, led a dynamic campaign which drew impressive and enthusiastic crowds at each of his rallies. He is below the 15% that polls credited him with at some point, but his actual result remains impressive considering that he was promised a mere 4% of the votes six months ago. Supported by the Communist Party (PCF) whose candidate received 1.9% of the share of the votes in 2007, the Left Front is no nostalgic revival of 1970s class politics. It is a new party economically anticapitalist, but open to green and gender politics as well as to citizen’s direct participation in decision making.

Mélenchon was the only candidate to successfully take on Marine Le Pen in television debates. Mélenchon believes that there will not be any left-wing revival in France and in Europe as long as the extreme-right is in a position to blur the left-right divide by playing the race card.


First published on Open Democracy, 23 April 2012