Sunday's second round of voting in France's local elections was dubbed "Black Sunday" for the Socialist Party after some crushing and humiliating defeats. But it was anything but a dark day for the National Front.
The far-right party, run by Marine Le Pen, picked up at least 12 towns, beating the previous record of four, that it held back in 1997 as well as claim more than 1,200 council seats nationwide. Party leader Marine Le Pen hailed the arrival of a new political force in France.
Although 12 may seem pretty insignificant when compared to the fact that 36,000 communes, towns and cities were electing new mayors, political analyst Jean-Yves Camus from France's Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques tells The Local why it would be a mistake to dismiss the importance of the FN's results.
How significant are these results for the National Front?
It was a hugely significant night for Marine Le Pen’s Party. She predicted her party would win ten to 15 towns and that’s exactly what they achieved. They took towns in the south and south east of France which is their stronghold, but also in the east and the north of the country as well as one in the western suburbs of Paris. This is the most significant electoral breakthrough by a far-right party in Europe since what happened in Greece in 2012.
The problem Le Pen has now is does she have the staff, the resources in her party to run these towns? They may have to borrow people from other parties.
It’s only 12 towns. Why is that so significant?
Because it’s a foothold. It’s a chance to show the French people that they can be a mainstream political party capable of running towns. Many politicians from the mainstream centre-right UMP party said, 'it’s only 12 towns' and they focused on that, but it’s a mistake. Once you buy the land then you can build something, and that’s what the National Front will be hoping to do. They have these 12 towns and they want to show they can run them. Then they will look to achieve similar significant results in future French elections.
How can they convince the French people they are a mainstream force?
They have to avoid what they did when they won towns back in the 1990s, when they ran them like an ideological party. They have to run them like they are ordinary mayors. They are much more of a mainstream party now than in the 1990s. There were a few incidences last night in Frejus where anti-FN protestors turned up to show their anger. But everything pretty much went smoothly. The FN will be closely watched in these towns now. All the NGOs will be there keeping an eye on what they do. They have to avoid making any statements about immigration or about Jews or the war etc. This is a real test for them to see if they really have changed as a party.
Was the National Front victory the biggest shock from elections?
Clearly the biggest story was the mainstream parties and the failure of the Socialist Party to achieve significant support. It’s the strongest showing by a conservative centre-right party in local elections in the history of the Fifth Republic. It was a huge victory for them.
What will François Hollande do now?
Hollande is very unpredictable, so I would not bet on him changing his Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. There will probably be a reshuffle but the problem for Hollande is not his Prime Minister, it’s whether he can implement the right policies to convince the public.
What bearing will this have on the upcoming European elections?
We are likely to have a European parliament with the most MPs from extreme-right parties that we have ever had. France's National Front is predicted to receive between 20 to 24 percent of the vote in those elections. I believe the National Front could get as many as 20 seats in the European parliament, compared to the three they have now.