On Sunday 26 May the French will go to the ballot box to vote for their Members of the European Parliament. Because of the delay in Brexit, France will continue to have 79 MEPs out of 751, the same as the last parliament mandate. Only after Brexit, will France gain an extra 5 MEPs.
Low turnout in France for the European Elections, with no exception this year?
With a traditionally low turnout for European elections in France, far-right and fringe parties have often done disproportionately well in these elections, especially in 2014. Abstention in France reached 60% in 2014, compared to 40% in 1979, the first European elections, despite the fact that the powers of the Parliament have only grown since then. With a pro-European President trying to deal with the ongoing protest movement, the Yellow Vests, since November 2018, one might think that French citizens would –especially this year – go to the polls to support or punish the current government and President. Reality seems to be different as fears of a growing abstention are rising in France. The polling institute BVA estimated that participation would be between 40% and 50%. Indeed, European Elections in France seem to be in the shadow of current national politics, which could explain the current lack of interest of French people for the European elections debate.
With just very few days to go before the European Parliament elections, political forces will have the challenge to convince voters to go to the polls on 26 May.
A very atypical race between the far right and the liberals
The current European elections debate in France is clearly being billed as the pro-European Emmanuel Macron and his pro-EU party, La République En Marche (LREM)versus the Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen and her party, Rassemblement National (RN). While latest polls predict that LREM would win 23 seats, being the winner of this year European elections, RN would come second with 21 seats. Still, Emmanuel Macron and his LREM party could be punished in the polls in the European elections due to the current political situation in France and the Yellow Vests movement. This scenario would lead to a reduced number of seats for both traditional parties: Les Républicains (LR) and The Socialists, with13 and 5 seats respectively.
A rise of a populism in France would contribute to a louder Eurosceptic voice in the European parliament
Marine Le Pen has already announced that she would join Salvini’s new pan-European right-wing bloc. This populist coalition composed so far of nationalist parties from Austria, Germany, Denmark, Estonia and Finland could clearly challenge the future work within the European Parliament. A rise of Eurosceptic MEPs within the EP could derail or slow down the EU decision-making process. There is no doubt that attention will be much more focused on the results of the anti-EU far right party, the Rassemblement national, on 26 May.
Who are the big personalities?
With a record of 33 lists competing for the European Elections, there are a few names to bear in mind ahead of the vote. Nathalie Loiseau, current European Foreign Affairs Minister will represent the LREM party. A diplomat by trade, she has 25 years of experience in the French foreign service, and was also the second woman to be the director of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA). Jordan Bardella, 23 years old, has been appointed as lead candidate for the far-right party RN. If he is be elected, he would be one of the youngest MEPs in history. The list of Les Républicains is led by a trio – with François-Xavier Bellamy, philosophy professor and deputy mayor of Versailles; Agnès Evren, vice-president of the region Ile-de-France; and Arnaud Danjean, current MEP (2014-2019). Europe Écologie Les Verts is headed by Yannick Jadot, current MEP, who has refused to join any alliance with another party from the left. The philosopher, Raphaël Glucksmann, will head the list of the Socialist Party, which is officially supported by the former French President François Hollande. Another important figure is Benoît Hamon, the former socialist candidate in the 2017 French presidential elections, who has launched his own movement: Génération.s, and is in favor of introducing a European citizenship.