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French local elections 2020 – Second Round Analysis

The second round of French local elections took place in 4’820 cities on Sunday 28 June 2020. In a particular health context (15 weeks after the first round on 15 March 2020), these elections were marked by a record 60% abstention, the highest rate under the Vth Republic. Local councils will now be able to elect their Mayors between Friday 3 and Sunday 6 July.

The victory of the plural left

The results of these elections are a clear victory for the French pluralist left with a rise in ecological issues. In cities with more than 30,000 inhabitants (270 French cities), about a hundred goes to the left, including 45 for the socialist party (PS), 15 for the communists (PCF) and 9 for the greens (EELV). The ecologists, often at the head of citizen collectives, are taking over major cities such as Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Annecy and Lyon, and are contributing to the victory of the left in several key cities such as Rennes and Paris. The situation is more delicate in Marseille where the left-wing rally only obtains a relative majority (42 seats out of 101), so the third round scheduled for July 3 (election of the mayor) is eagerly awaited.

The green wave described in the media eclipses the good scores of the socialist party, which achieves favourable results throughout the country, winning right-wing cities like Laval or Nancy, and taking over cities like Quimper or Chambéry. The party led by Olivier Faure swept several cities into its fold in the Ile-de-France region, including Saint-Denis, Chatillon, and Saint-Ouen.

The communist party, which held mainly cities in Ile-de-France, continued to crumble with the loss of the bastion of Saint-Denis (communist since 1945), Morsang-sur-Orge and many towns in the Val-de-Marne. With these results, it is very likely that the communists will lose its last department when it is renewed in 2021.

The right wing maintains a strong local anchorage

In 2014, the right wing was the clear winner in 55 cities with more than 9,000 inhabitants and 10 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. This Sunday it lost strong symbols such as Bordeaux and Marseille but took back a few cities including Lorient, Metz and Auxerre and kept most of those conquered in 2014. At the same time, the party secured some good victories when LREM presented candidates against them like in Nîmes, Belfort and Orléans.

Many cities had been acquired in the first round by the Republicans such as Reims and Caen. The party, despite its Parisian defeat, maintained a strong local political anchorage throughout the country.

A weaker far right

Despite Louis Alliot’s victory in Perpignan (120,000 inhabitants), the far right (RN) failed to score any major new victories and lost a few town halls, notably its only Ile-de-France town: Mantes-la-Ville. The RN’s previous major local victory was the city of Toulon between 1995 and 2001 (170,000 inhabitants).

The RN retains eight of its ten towns won in 2014 and gains only a handful of new town halls, including three small cities in the Vaucluse (Morières-les-Avignon, Bédarrides and Mazan). Moreover, while the party has succeeded in reappointing 70% of its outgoing mayors in 2020, this is only the case for half of its local councilors. From more than 1,400 in 463 communes in 2014, there are now only 840 in 258 communes.

Defeat of the government

Sunday’s election results demonstrate the cruel lack of local implementation of Emmanuel Macron’s party (LREM). The party’s etiquette has had a repulsive effect in many cities, such as Orléans or Besançon. In cities where it has allied itself with the right wing main party Les Républicains (Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg in particular), the presidential party also loses out, except in Toulouse and Nice, where the outgoing mayors are winning reelection because of their conservative stature. In the Paris Council, it won only 6 seats out of 163. With this defeat, Emmanuel Macron also lost some of the party’s heavyweights and one of his major objectives for 2017: to anchor his party in the territories. Since his election, Emmanuel Macron has lost both the 2019 and 2020 elections. The renewal of the Senate next September will be unfavourable to him, and it seems unlikely that he will succeed in reversing the trend for the departmental and regional elections of 2021, the last milestone before the presidential election of 2022.

The President of the Republic is sending out a strong signal on ecological issues by receiving the members of the Citizens’ Climate Convention at the Elysée Palace on Monday 29 June in a speech that the Elysée Palace describes as “offensive”. A reshuffle of the government is also expected in the coming days to begin this new political sequence. The President is notoriously tempted to change the Prime minister (Edouard Philippe) but it seems he hasn’t yet made his decision.