The first round of the French regional elections which took place on Sunday didn’t go as well as expected for the National Rally (RN), a party which has been led by Marine Le Pen, the 2022 Presidential hopeful. The elections were considered to be a test before next year’s presidential elections which will be crucial not only for the future of France but also for the future of the European Union.
Polls taken before the elections suggested that the FN would come out on top, the results however were a bit different. First-round exit polls saw Les Republicains at 29,3%, Front National at 19,1%, Socialists at 16,5%, Greens at 13,2%, and LREM the party associated with France’s President Emmanuel Macron at 10,9%.
Without a doubt, the results are a great boost for the centre-right Les Republicains which for some time now have been behind in the polls and whose candidate did not manage to enter the second round of the presidential elections in 2017. It is yet to be known how many of the 13 regions and 96 departments the Les Republicains will win and how many will the FN manage to take. For Macron the first round of the regional elections seems like a disastrous night as the party he founded and with which he is associated finished fifth barely making it over 10%.
Since the 2017 presidential elections Le Pen has rebranded the Front National and also moved closer to the centre-right in an effort to attract conservative voters and have a better chance of winning in the 2022 presidential elections. Her position on the EU has changed and she no longer is voicing loud support for Frexit, rather than that she would like to reform the project from inside and apply some of her policies to it. Her party dropped a number of policies such as going back to Franc, Frexit as mentioned earlier, the hardliners who were accused of anti-Semitism were pushed aside or kicked out from the party. It at the same time embraced ecological conservatism.
While the regional elections were a major test before the presidential elections few key points could be taken out from them: the Les Republicains managed to rebuild their support, the FN did not attract as many Les Republicains voters as excepted, Macron can begin to seriously worry about the prospects of winning a second round.
It is said that Edouard Philippe, France’s former Prime Minister who served in the office from 2017-2020 under Macron might run in the presidential elections. This would seriously cut the chances for Macron as Philippe seems to be very popular among French voters and could very well become France’s next President. Philippe refuses to confirm whether his name would be on the ballot next year, during his time in office his approval ratings were higher than Macrons.
Currently second round polls give Macron the lead over Le Pen. The latest one placed Macron at 53%, Le Pen at 47%. Polls suggest that Macron could finish significantly lower than in the 2017 Presidential elections in which he gained 66,1% of support in the second round. The Les Republicains have yet to decide who their candidate will be, the momentum from the regional elections will definitely help their presidential hopeful to garner more support and challenge both Macron and Le Pen at the ballot box next year.