Results of the 2019 European elections and potential consequences in France

Insights Insights

France, like the other Member States, saw its voter turnout reach a record-breaking level, with 50.12% voter participation, an 8% increase from the last elections five years ago.

In France, both the populist Rassemblement National (RN)party and the majority La République en Marche (LaREM) party emerged as the leading forces in this election. With 23.31% of the vote (22 MEPs, +1 after ‘Brexit’), RN has done slightly better than it did in the last presidential elections while maintaining its record score in the 2014 European Parliament elections. LaREM - which ran in the election for the first time - clearly attracted a center-right and pro-Europe electorate but with only 22.41% (21 MEPs, +2 after ‘Brexit’), narrowly lost its bid to become the first political force at the French level.

The results also confirmed the seismic shift reverberating in French politics since the last presidential elections: the two historical mainstream parties, LR and PS, have been overtaken, and with respectively 8.48% (8 MEPs elected) and 6.19% (5 MEPs, +1 after the Brexit), they will have little influence to yield at either the French or European level.

With 13.48% and 12 elected MEPs (+1 MEP after ‘Brexit’) the Greens (EELV) became the third force, attracting a center-left electorate and the youth vote.

The far-left party La France Insoumise (LFI) failed to recreate the momentum of the 2017 presidential race (+19%) and only attracted 6.31% of voters, giving them 6 MEPs. This is a clear failure for a party which self-proclaimed itself to be the leading force of the left and the Government’s strongest challenger.

Overview:

As usual, these elections are the opportunity for numerous small parties to present a list, even though their candidacy and their political platform might seem frivolous. In fact, this year voters in France had to choose between no less than 34 lists, among which only 10 represented serious parties and candidates.

The campaign was highjacked by the Yellow Vest movement and the National Debate that followed, which focusing most of the attention of the media and politicians. Once this window of media coverage passed, the campaign morphed into a duel between the President’s list and the Rassemblement National, polarizing the political spectrum and forcing other parties to position themselves around the Macron-Le Pen duel in order to exist.

The outcome of the elections reflects the dynamics seen during the campaign. Both Rassemblement National (RN)and La République en Marche (LaREM) emerged as the leading forces.

With more than 23% of the vote, RN capitalized on the “anti-Macron” electorate. They will enter the European Parliament as one of the main delegations of the future Eurosceptic group in competition with the Italian.

Despite hopes of a resurrection during the campaign, Les Républicains did very poorly and will only be sending 8 MEPs to Brussels. This is a record low for them (8,48%, which is more than 12 points below their score in the last presidential elections and far behind their 28% in the 2009 EU elections) in the context of the recomposition of the political landscape following Emmanuel Macron’s disruptive launch into politics.

The Greens (Europe Ecologie les Verts - EELV) had bet on showcasing their candidacy as an alternative to LaREM for a center-left electorate mindful of environmental issues. With 13.47% and 12 elected MEPs (+1 MEP after ‘Brexit’) their strategy was very successful, and they became the third force, also attracting the youth and urban votes.

The left is highly fragmented due to the Socialist Party’s agony and failure to come up with a common list, having presented at least 5 lists for this ballot, but still took home 30% of the vote all together.

Impact within the European institutions:

Emmanuel Macron’s party should play an important role in the reshaping of the EU Parliament, by joining forces with the members of the current ALDE group, which if confirmed to have around 100 seats in the European Parliament, would make it the third-strongest bloc and possible “kingmaker”.

With 21 MEPs (+2 MEPs after ‘Brexit’) from his majority elected, Emmanuel Macron will try to challenge the Spitzenkandidat process to have a more friendly personality at the head of the European Commission. The names of Michel Barnier, Margrether Vestager or the Belgian Prime Minister continue to circulate.

The composition of the French delegations will come as a hard blow to the right-leaning EPP group and to the left-leaning S&D group, where they used to send some of the largest delegations and where they played an important role. The fragmentation of the results and the weakness of those two traditional frontrunners will have an impact in the shaping of the EP’s political groups. The question is now which of ALDE or the Greens will succeed in becoming the pivotal force in Parliament and the kingmaker of the future alliances.

Despite having some difficulties in finding allies to form an alliance of nationalist parties, RN should try to take the lead of a future Eurosceptic group.

No expected major changes in the French political landscape:

Regardless of the outcome of these elections and despite the majority party list only coming in second, Emmanuel Macron’s legitimacy is strengthened. The President still enjoys a solid majority that will keep the pace in his policy agenda. The Yellow Vests, which have destabilized the Government, could have been the surprise of this election. With less than 2% in two lists, they failed in offering a political option for the French people. This should put an end to the movement.

In the ranks of the opposition, RN has confirmed its role as the President’s strongest challenger. Although the party is accustomed to scoring well in some electoral races, it hardly represents a respectable alternative and has no leeway to shape alliances with other political forces.

A Government reshuffle is still possible to adjust the priorities of the second half of the presidential term, placing more emphasis on boosting purchasing power, stronger economic performance and a slight shift towards a more social policy in order to prepare for the 2022 presidential elections.

Following these elections, the French electorate remains scattered, reflecting the political landscape which is still struggling to come to terms with the upheaval triggered by Emmanuel Macron’s election.