The second round of the French regional elections is now behind us, on Sunday night the exit polls showed that nationally the conservative Les Republicans received 38% of the vote with Greens & Socialist just 3% behind them at 35%. Front National came third with 20% while LREM, the party which President Emmanuel Macron has founded, finished at single digits. With absenteeism at 66%. One year before France's presidential elections both Macron and Le Pen failed to gain ground at regional level.
The regional elections were seen as a test before the presidential elections which are scheduled to take place in late spring early summer next year. Presidential elections polls published on Sunday showed the incumbent Macron, FN leader Le Pen and LR President of northern Hauts-de-France region Bertnard in a tight race with Macron at 24%, Le Pen 24%, Bertnard 18%.
The Northern Hauts-de-France region is considered to be the bastion of the From National, a region where generally the party does very well when it comes to presidential elections. In the 2017 presidential elections Le Pen managed to pull a victory in the region in the first round while only holding two departments within it in the second round. In another region where FN actually won in the first round, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur, the party recorded heavy losses losing the second round to an LR candidate.
Without a doubt the spotlight after the Sunday regional elections will be on Xavier Bertnard who has been the president of the Northern Hauts-de-France region since 2015. In the 2021 regional elections he defeated the FN candidate in the first as well as the second round. In his victory speech he addressed ,what he called, the ‘silent, invisible, the forgotten’ he said that ‘more than ever I believe that politics is not dead, I believe that it can make life better’.
After the 2017 Presidential elections many in France and around Europe predicted that the “two party” system in French politics is gone and that it would never come back, it is too early to say but it seems that we have witnessed the resurgence of the old divide: Conservatives vs Socialists/Greens. Polls in France’s neighbouring Germany indicate that the same seems to be happening, with Greens sliding and Social Democrats gaining.
The €100bln worth stimulus announced by Macron’s government seemed to have done very little to help LREM in the regional elections while Macron is not in the party anymore the links between him and LREM. His struggle for influence within the EU with Angela Merkel has also not paid off for Macron in the polls.
While he remains in first or second place in the polls at times it is looking likely that he will struggle to get re-elected. With Le Pen taking the far-right, LR candidate (whoever it may be) taking the centre and centre-right and a Green Socialist taking the left there will be very little space for Macron to maneuver ideologically. In the past few years we have seen that he has at times borrowed ideas from the right and the left, without major success however. Time will tell whether he can manage to remain at the top of the polls, after Sunday's elections that looks unlikely.