‘A real shift’?: Le Pen’s French far-right party claims big city in local elections

Marine Le Pen's National Rally claimed victory in the southern city of Perpignan, in the first far-right takeover of a French city of more than 100,000 inhabitants since 1995. But the news was not all good for the far-right.

'A real shift'?: Le Pen's French far-right party claims big city in local elections
Marine Le Pen with Louis Aliot, the newly-elected mayor of Perpignan. AFP

“It's not just a symbolic victory, it's a real shift,” Marine Le Pen told French TV channel TF1 just after the announcement that her party-colleague Louis Aliot would be the next major of Perpignan.

The southern city of 120,000 inhabitants, which is ranked France's 30th biggest city, was until this weekend ruled by the right-wing party Les Républicains.

The far-right party's takeover would be a chance to “show our capability of leading large administrative collectives,” Le Pen said.



Sunday's local elections in France were marked by record-low turnout, an unprecedented number of cities taken over by the Green Party, and a failure of President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party to make any significant impact

Macron expressed his concern over the high abstention rate, estimated at about 60 percent, and acknowledged that the elections were marked by a “green wave”, the presidency said.

With just 22 months to the next presidential election, Le Pen is viewed by political analysts as President Emmanuel Macron's main contender, and her party hailed their victory in Perpignan as proof that things were moving in the right direction.

READ MORE: French local elections: Greens achieve major gains while Macron's party slumps

However the overall results were disappointing for the Rassemblement National (RN, formerly Front National) compared to the last municipal elections in France.

The RN managed to keep the power in eight of the 10 municipalities they had won six years ago, but lost in Mantes-la-Ville in the Yvelines département (the only municipality they held in the Paris region) and Luc in the Var département.

They also lost around 40 percent of their local elected officials. In 2014 the party won 1,438 municipal seats in 463 communes. This year, they won 840 seats in 258 communes.

ANALYSIS: Cut the hysteria, Le Pen is not on her way to French presidency

The RN did claim victory in a handful new municipalities, including three small-towns in the Vaucluse département (Morières-les-Avignon, Bédarrides et Mazan).

Except for Perpignan, the party's most significant victories were in four in towns in the north and four in the south. 

In the north, the party won Bruay-la-Buissière, Henin-Beaumont, Villiers-Cotterês and Hayanges. Their southern claims included three cities around the Cote-d'Azur area (Le Pontet, Beaucaire and Fréjus), Perpignan and, further east, Moissac.

Several other towns were also won by candidates that were supported by the far-right party, but ran as independent. In Beziers, Robert Ménard, an close ally of the RN, was re-elected by 65 percent of the electorate.

Emeric Bréhier, Director of the Political Observatory at the Jean Jaurès Foundation, said the RN's victory in Perpignan was mostly “symbolic.”

“It's certainly an important victory, but it's not to be interpreted (as a sign of what will happen) on a national level in the future,” he told LCI, adding that he did not believe in an “RN wave” in the upcoming presidential elections of 2022.

Bruno Cautres, a French political analyst from the research centre Cevipof says the big challenge for Le Pen's party will be next year's regional elections.

“If they manage to win one or two regions in 2021, it could be a big boost for Marine Le Pen towards the presidential elections,” he told France Info.

Member comments

  1. In today’s article on the RN’s performance in the municipal elections, you include a link to an analysis. But the analysis is in fact from 2019. Is this an error? Or is there a genuine analysis of the RN performance this time somewhere on the site?

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Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

Foreigners living in France could get the right to vote in certain elections if a newly-created bill passes through parliament.

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

The newly elected president of the National Assembly’s law commission calmly lobbed a 40-year-old electoral hand-grenade into the political discourse of the summer – and then went on holiday.

Sacha Houlié, MP for the Vienne and a member of Macron’s LREM party, filed a bill on Monday that would, if passed, allow non-EU citizens living in France to vote and stand for office in local elections. 

Under current electoral legislation, only French citizens can vote in presidential and parliamentary elections; EU citizens in France can vote in local and European elections; and non-EU citizens have no voting rights in France whatsoever. 

EU citizens can also stand for office in local elections, but are barred from becoming mayor or running for a seat in the Assembly.

Since Brexit, Britons in France have not been allowed to vote in local or  local office, any many Brits who were on their local councils had to resign because they were no longer EU citizens.

Many countries limit voting for their citizens who are out of the country, so non-EU citizens living in France often do not have the right to vote in any country.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and the far-right Rassemblement National wasted little time criticising Houlié’s bill.

Darminin’s entourage said that the minister was “firmly opposed” to the idea.

The far-right party went further. “We have crossed the limits of indecency and incomprehension of what the French are asking for,” Rassemblement national spokesperson Laurent Jacobelli told Franceinfo, echoing the sentiment of the party’s interim president Jordan Bardella, who insisted the passing of the bill would mark the, “final dispossession of the French from their country”.

Houlié said: “The right to vote for European Union nationals in local elections already exists in France. No one is surprised that a Spaniard or a Bulgarian can vote in municipal elections. But it has surprised many people that the British can no longer do it since Brexit.”

Given the current shape of the Parliament in France, it seems unlikely that the latest bill will pass. But it is far from the first time it has been on the table.

François Mitterrand had pledged during his presidential campaign in 1981 to ensure “the right to vote in municipal elections after five years of presence on French territory.”

But, in the face of opposition from the right, he backed down from this particular promise. 

In October 2004, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, tried to move forward with an electoral plan that would have allowed non-EU citizens certain voting rights – but was blocked by his own UMP party.

François Hollande re-launched the proposal during his 2012 campaign, before quietly letting it go in the face of opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.