European elections: What are the 'têtes de liste' in France?

James Harrington
James Harrington - [email protected]
European elections: What are the 'têtes de liste' in France?
Official campaign posters for the upcoming European parliament elections. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

Political news is set to fill a lot of the French news agenda over the coming weeks and you’ll hear a lot of talk about lists and 'têtes de liste' – but what do they mean, and what are the elections all about anyway?


European elections are coming up in the first week in June - and although under EU law all countries must use voting systems that ensure proportional representation, each individual country has its own rules for voting.

France operates a 'closed list' policy - which means that you vote for a party, rather than an individual candidate at these elections. 

READ ALSO Can foreign residents in France vote in the European elections?

France used to divide its candidates into eight constituencies but these have now been abolished. Effectively, for the purposes of the European Parliamentary elections, France is a single constituency represented by 81 politicians – up from 79 at the last elections.


The number of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) that each party gets is decided by the percentage of total votes that party receives. Parties must win at least 5 percent of the votes in order to send representatives to the Parliament.

Each party that plans to field candidates in the election supplies a list to France’s Interior Ministry. That full list was published in the Journal Officiel on Saturday, May 18th, and shows that 37 parties are fielding a total of 2,997 candidates to fill France’s allocation of seats.

In total, the post-election European Parliament will have 720 members, compared to 705 currently.

Tête de liste

The lists are defined by parties with their preferred candidates at the top – the first of these preferred candidates is the tête de liste (head of the list) and the de facto leader of the European election campaign. 

For example, Valérie Hayer is the tête de liste of Emmanuel Macron's party group Renaissance while Jordan Bardella is tête de liste for the group representing Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National. 

These politicians will be the first to be elected to the European parliament for their respective parties, based on vote share - and as both parties are predicted to get well over five percent, they're virtually guaranteed a place in the European Parliament.

The last name on RN’s list is party vice-president (and mayor of Perpignan) Louis Aliot - as he is 81st on the list, he would only become an MEP if RN got almost 100 percent of the votes in France.

But the nature of the party over personality vote has already led to an unusual dynamic. Intriguingly, it’s French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal – who is, unsurprisingly, not running for a seat at the European Parliament – who will debate Bardella live on France 2 on Thursday, May 23rd, rather than Hayer, the nominal top politician in the government-backed groups European election campaign.

READ ALSO OPINION: A European disaster for Macron could lead to messy autumn elections in France

Once elected, most MEPs decide to join a pan-European political group. Prior to this election, MEPs from French parties were aligned with six European political groups out of the seven that make up the Parliament.


What do the polls say?

According to an Ispos poll published on May 16th for Radio France and Le Parisien, 31 percent of those questioned said they were ready to vote for a list led by the far-right's Jordan Bardella. 

Centrist Hayer's list ranks second, with around 16 percent of the intended votes, the centre-left Parti socialiste could collect 14.5 percent, followed by the far-left La France Insoumise at 8 percent, the right-wing Les Républicains at 7 percent while Les Ecologistes (green party) and the extreme-right Reconquête are projected to get 6.5 percent each. 

Crucially, however, there’s not much French interest in the ballot, with only 45 percent of those questioned intending to vote, according to the Ipsos survey.

In 2019, voter turnout was  50.12 percent, up more than 7.5 percentage points on the previous ballot in 2014.


The lists in full

Below are the politicians chosen as 'head of the list' for their parties, listed in order of their current polling

Jordan Bardella - Rassemblement National

Valérie Hayer - Renaissance (the grouping of Macron's LREM party plus centrist Horizons and MoDem parties)

Raphaël Glucksmann - Parti Socialiste

Manon Aubry - La France Insoumise

François-Xavier Bellamy - Les Républicains

Marie Toussaint - Les Ecologistes 

Marion Maréchal - Recônquete

The below parties are projected to get below the 5 percent threshold, although there is always the possibility for an election surprise

Léon Deffontaines - Parti Communiste français

Hélène Thouy - Parti Animaliste

Jean Lasselle - Alliance rurale

Jean-Marc Governatori - Ecologie au centre

Nathalie Arthaud - Lutte ouvrière

Pierre Larrouturou - Nouvelle Donne - Allons Enfants 

Florian Philippot - Les Patriotes

Selma Labib - Nouveau parti anticapitaliste - Révolutionnaires

François Asselineau - Populaire républicaine

Nagib Azergui - Free Palestine

Guillaume Lacroix - Parti radical de gauche

Yann Wehrling - Ecologie Positive & Territoires

Caroline Zorn - Parti pirate

M. Fidèl (believed to be a pseudonym) - Pour une humanité souveraine

Philippe Ponge - Mouvement constituant populaire

Olivier Terrien - Parti révolutionnaire Communistes

Audric Alexandre - Parti des citoyens européens

Marine Cholley - Equinoxe

Michel Simonin - Paix et décroissance

Jean-Marc Fortané - Pour une autre Europe

Georges Kuzmanovic - Nous le peuple

Camille Adoue - Parti des travailleurs

Edouard Husson - Non ! Prenons-nous en mains

Pierre-Marie Bonneau - Les Nationalistes

Charles Hoareau - Association nationale des communistes

Francis Lalanne -  de la Résistance

Lorys Elmayan - La ruche citoyenne

Gaël Coste-Meunier - Droits du parent et de l’Infant

Hadama Traoré - Démocratie représentative

Laure Patas d’Illiers - Europe Démocratie Espéranto



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