French regional elections show widespread dissatisfaction

Far right National Rally leader, Marine Le Pen, failed to make a breakthrough in regional elections (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With a record 66% abstention rate, the French regional and departmental elections of 20 and 27 June obviously did not excite the mass of the population. And it cannot be said that they give a good indication of the political situation in the country. They mainly showed that the parties that have a certain presence and visibility already were able to maintain their position, rather than through having active campaigners.

All twelve metropolitan regions returned their outgoing teams. Five of them were “Socialist” Party (PS) and allies, and seven were for the right in the form of Les Républicains or the UDI. But it is not really possible to draw definitive conclusions from the results of these elections.

There is little at stake for a majority of the population in these regional elections. The regions have no great powers except to help the government to undermine and privatise public services, such as the railways or Education and Health. The regions represent only 13% of the total budget of the local authorities (Communes, Departments and Regions) and do not deal with support services like RSA (welfare benefit), social security, child support, the elderly etc. or local public services (schools, health and social centres, etc.).

Unfortunately, the departments themselves are now under the supervision of the regions and see their responsibilities disappearing.

But also the elections did not interest people because the PS and the Right did not represent a clear opposition to Macron, particularly with the political campaigning restricted by the measures linked to the pandemic. This is in contrast to the 2015 and, especially, the 2010 elections, which were paying these parties back for their national policies – in 2015 those of the PS and in 2010 those of the right and Sarkozy. These 2021 elections were just a kind of ritual which has nevertheless shown that Macron has no local base. His party, LaRem, was eliminated in the first round in Hauts-de-France, Occitanie and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and it barely exceeded 11% in other regions, such as Normandy, Île-de-France or Burgundy-Franche-Comté.

This does not however mean that the numbers intending to vote for Macron in next year’s presidential election are going down. It simply shows that he has no really substantial support in the country. What is clearly missing is a real opposition political force, with a strong base in the struggles, in the neighbourhoods and the workplaces, bringing together millions of workers, young people and pensioners against Macron’s policies.

Further setbacks for Le Pen’s RN

The RN (National Rally, former National Front ), which has received enormous media support (high profile on TV, a lot of “news” about “insecurity” and “delinquency”), has, in fact, received a slap in the face. They lost many canton councils compared to 2015: they went from 31 to only 13. At the regional level, its lists are also in decline. Even in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (Southern France), their attempt to have a candidate from the traditional right, Thierry Mariani, turned into a failure. The RN obtained just 42.7%, or 520,000 votes, where Marion Maréchal-Le Pen had obtained 880,000 in 2015.

This is certainly the beginning of a deep crisis for the RN.

On the one hand, it cannot achieve a high vote in the presidential elections without Marine Le Pen. But also many of its leaders are criticising their leader’s overly “social” line. Marine Le Pen has officially declared herself in favour of retirement at 60 (while being against workers’ strikes defending the pension system) but many figures of the RN are against it.

On the other hand, the RN does not know how to do anything apart from electoral campaigns, having very few members and often seeing their elected representatives disappearing before the end of their mandate.

The poison that the RN continues to inject into political life is still there, because it suits the right or the Macronites, to have racist slogans against Muslims or migrants put into the debate, just to make people forget that the people really responsible for unemployment and the poor quality of life in France are the government and the big bosses.

The PS regains leadership of the pro-capitalist “left”

Since the 2020 local elections, ‘Europe Écologie-Les Verts’ (EELV – the Greens) has become the ecological “underpinning” of the Socialist Party, which was then able to pass itself off as “ecological and social”. This is at the same time as nothing in its own programme or in its management of local authorities is either ‘social’ or ‘ecological’ (apart from a few small measures promoted noisily in the media).

The PS tactically left the EELV to head the lists in the regions that could not be won and thus held onto its own. The joint candidatures of the “left” of the PS with France Insoumise (J-L Mélenchon’s political formation), despite the incompatibility of their programmes, were very useful for the leaders of the PS in the Hauts-de-France region or in the second round in Île-de-France (the region around Paris) where they got poor results.

The PS, after being entirely discredited by the Valls-Hollande government (in which Macron was the economy minister without any problem), is thus gradually regaining the upper hand. It has managed to involve the EELV in its manoeuvres – and even the PCF in many areas. The PS can now claim to be capable of fielding a candidate for the 2022 presidential elections – almost certainly Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris. It is also clear that the PCF and EELV will end up bowing down to the PS, albeit with a bit of whining at times, and rewarded with a few elected positions.

 A missed opportunity for the PCF and FI?

The leader and “candidate” for the presidential elections next year for the PCF is Fabien Roussel who is scoring very poorly in the polls at present. He says that, following the regional elections, the number of Communist Party elected representatives has increased. What he does not say is that this is only because he agreed to go in with the PS in regions like Brittany, Burgundy-Franche-Comté and Centre-Val-de-Loire. Still refusing, as in the local elections, to adopt a policy independent from the PS, the PCF is, in fact, very divided. A section of the membership is in favour of an alliance with France Insoumise, given the similarity of their programmes. But a majority of the leadership prefers ending up in an alliance with the PS.

The PCF lost control of Val-de-Marne – its last department. It only kept elected representatives in old historic bastions such as Nord, Allier or in Seine-Maritime. But this was often because their candidates were also mayors and this may not last.

On the other hand, when the PCF ran on the same lists as the FI, the scores were not bad – often exceeding 10% or even 15%. These elections could have been an opportunity to run a much more combative campaign, denouncing Macron’s policies and the destruction of public services, which are also largely under attack from administrations with PS majorities. But the PCF leadership does not want to break with the PS. It fails to see the need for a mass political force that cannot be provided by a PCF that is increasingly adapting to capitalism.

The FI, for its part, has been incapable of having a consistent policy. In the south-west (Occitanie, Nouvelle-Aquitaine), it ran with the NPA, obtaining honourable scores of over 5%. But elsewhere, as in the Hauts-de-France, it was in the 1st or 2nd round with the PS. This was a ‘red line’ they could not cross, according to the text adopted by the LFI assembly in the summer of 2020. This is a sign of the democratic and programmatic weakness of the FI; it made these choices without them being discussed and validated by the members.

The main concerns of the majority of the population are jobs, the future of young people and health. All of these require a fighting programme against Macron and all the parties that defend capitalism, whether it be from the right, the RN, or the pseudo-left of the PS-EELV.

This is what the campaign around Mélenchon will have to address in the coming months. The programme needs to be more combative and focus on the defence of the rights and interests of workers and the majority of the population. The defence of public services and wage increases that the LFI calls for is good, but more is needed.

Our conclusion

We must get back what the capitalists have been stealing from us – gas and electricity, finance, rail transport… all must be taken into public ownership. The FI’s campaign must be linked with the struggles of workers and clearly denounce the real causes of our problems – capitalism with its dictatorship of profit and the governments that serve it.

Such a campaign will assist workers’ struggles if we make it a campaign to build a real new party of workers and youth. It has to be a democratic fighting party that puts forward a real alternative to this rotten system: against capitalism, and for socialism!

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July 2021