France postpones regional elections until June due to Covid

The French government has pushed back the country's regional and departmental elections from March until June due to the ongoing health risk from Covid-19.

France postpones regional elections until June due to Covid
Photo: Clement Mahoudeau/AFP

Like the presidential elections, the regional and départment elections involve two rounds. Faced with a continued health crisis caused by the coronavirus, the French government has decided to push them back by three months, and the country will head to the polls on June 13th and 20th, 2021.

A law passed by the French Parliament earlier in February extended the mandate of councillors and deputies who were elected in 2015 until June. 

Marlène Schiappa, the Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship, told the Parliament: “If we need to push back the polls again, which I repeat that the government does not want to do, Parliament will have to pass a new law.”

Guided by the analysis of a scientific committee, the government will submit a report to parliament by April 1st about “the state of the Covid-19 epidemic, the health risks to take into account and the necessary changes to the way in which polls and the electoral campaigns ahead of them will take place.” 

There are 14 regional councils, as well as the assemblies of Corsica and the overseas départments of French Guiana, Martinique and Mayotte.

Each council manages regional affairs like economic development, regional rail and road networks, education and the environment. 

The 95 départment councils are smaller in scale and they manage more local affairs, such as providing social support, managing local roads and transport networks and promoting culture, local development and tourism. 

The law also changes the way in which voters will cast their ballots.

The government will provide protective equipment at each voting station and voters can use one machine to cast both their départment and regional votes, one official can preside over both voting stations if they are in the same place and each voter can have two proxies instead of one.

The new law will also change the electoral campaign: it will be extended from 12 to 19 days and, among other changes, candidates can put in place a free hotline, allowing voters to find out more about their policies.

Last year, the government faced criticism when it held the first round of voting for its municipal elections in March, a day after ordering all non-essential businesses to close because of the pandemic. 

The government then pushed back the second round of voting to June 2020.

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Macron: ‘Don’t panic’ over risk of power cuts in France this winter

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called growing fears of winter electricity outages overblown, even as authorities prepare for possible targeted power cuts if consumption is not reduced and cold snaps strain the grid.

Macron: 'Don't panic' over risk of power cuts in France this winter

France’s network is under pressure as state power company EDF races to restart dozens of nuclear reactors taken down for maintenance or safety work that has proved more challenging than originally thought.

Reduced gas exports from Russia as it cuts supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over the Ukraine war have added to worries that gas-burning power plants might have to trim production.

“Stop it — we’re a major power, we have a great energy system, and we’re going to get through this winter despite the war,” Macron told reporters ahead of an EU/Balkans summit in Tirana, Albania.

“This debate is absurd, the role of the public authorities is not to breed fear,” he added.

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Macron had already urged people “not to panic” over the weekend, saying power cuts could be avoided if overall usage this winter was reduced by 10 percent.

But last week the government told local officials to begin preparing contingency plans in case targeted cuts were needed, possibly including closing schools until midday.

France is usually one of Europe’s largest electricity exporters thanks to its network of 56 nuclear reactors, which supply around 70 percent of its electricity needs.

But this winter it will be a major importer of power from Britain, Germany, Spain and other neighbouring countries, grid operator RTE said last week.

READ ALSO Schools, hospitals and trains – how France plans to deal with blackouts this winter

RTE’s chief Xavier Piechaczyk told Franceinfo radio that the risk of power cuts could not be excluded, “but it will essentially depend on the weather.”

Normally France’s 56 nuclear reactors can produce 61 gigawatts but with around half of the fleet offline, just 43 gigawatts are expected to be available by the end-January, he said.

And while France has the capacity to import up to 15 gigawatts, winter usage can surge to 90 gigawatts at peak hours, prompting the calls for energy “restraint” such as lowering thermostats and using washing machines and other appliances at night.

“Rule number one is that nothing is inevitable… Together we have the capacity to avoid any risk of cuts, no matter how the winter turns out,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told France 2 television on Tuesday.