Europe 2009 – France


France elects 72 MEPs at the 2009 European election, down from 78 in 2004. The French electorate is divided into eight constituencies, seven covering metropolitain France and an eighth covering voters in France’s overseas departments.

The 2004 election saw a recovery for the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement, although they still only polled about 16% of the vote and fell well short of the centre-left Socialist Party. This followed the 1999 election when the eurosceptic party Movement for France had been catapulted into second place. The national results in 2004 were:

  • Socialist Party (Party of European Socialists) – 31 MEPs
  • Union for a Popular Movement (European People’s Party) – 17
  • Union for French Democracy – 11 – Francois Bayrou’s centrist party is the founding part of the European Democratic Party which is part of the ALDE.
  • National Front – 7 – Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party is the leading part of the Europarty Euronat, although they are not part of any European Parliament group.
  • The Greens (European Greens) – 6
  • Movement for France (Independence/Democracy) – 3
  • French Communist Party (European United Left) – 3

The eight constituencies elected the following MEPs from each party:

  • Nord-Ouest – 5 Socialist, 2 UMP, 2 NF, 1 UFD, 1 Greens, 1 Communist
  • Ouest – 5 Socialist, 2 UMP, 1 MF, 1 UFD, 1 Greens
  • Est – 4 Socialist, 2 UMP, 2 UFD, 1 NF, 1 Greens
  • Sud-Ouest – 4 Socialist, 2 UMP, 2 UFD, 1 NF, 1 Greens
  • Sud-Est – 4 Socialist, 3 UMP, 2 NF, 2 UFD, 1 Greens, 1 MF
  • Massif-Centre – 3 Socialist, 2 UMP, 1 UFD
  • Île-de-France – 5 Socialist, 3 UMP, 2 UFD, 1 NF, 1 Greens, 1 MF, 1 Communist
  • Outre-Mer – 1 Communist, 1 UMP, 1 Socialist

Since the 2004 election, the Union for French Democracy has renamed itself the Democratic Movement. Recent polls show a few clear trends. First of all, the Socialists, who polled 28% in 2004, have fallen into second place in the low 20s, while Sarkozy’s UMP are consistently polling 26-28%, up from 16% in 2004.

The Democratic Movement looks set to match or slightly increase the UDF’s 11% in 2004, while the Movement for France is polling slightly below its 2004 levels. The National Front, who polled almost 10% in 2004, are down to 6-7%, while the Greens, who polled 9% in 1999 but fell to 6% in 2004, are polling 8-10%.

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  1. So last time
    Nord-Ouest 12
    Ouest 10
    Est 10
    Sud-Ouest 10
    Sud-Est 13
    Massif-Centre 6
    Ile-de-France 14
    Outre-Mer 3

    Does anybody know how many from each constituency this time?

  2. I had a bit of a look and could not find it either. One would presume that, unless there have been population movements in the last 5 years, the most of the 4 lost seats are being taken from the high population constituencies like Ile-de-France, Sud-Est and Nord-Ouest. Most of the seats are small enough for STV.

  3. According to the French wikipedia page on the elections, the repartition for 2009 is :
    Nord-Ouest 10
    Ouest 9
    Est 9
    Sud-Ouest 10
    Sud-Est 13
    Massif Central et Centre 5
    Ile de France 14
    Outre Mer 3

    So the North West is seemingly the big loser.

  4. Hi Ben –
    Sorry to be a pedant, but if the Union for a Popular Movement gets its French abbreviation, UMP, then Union for French Democracy should surely be UDF, & National Front FN.

  5. A well-written and informative introductory post to the confusing world of French politics. Well done. If I may, I’d like to note some extra information.

    Firstly, the UMP’s 16% in 2004 was technically an improvement on 1999, but still an horrible result. This year’s victory, around 26% will be a Pyrrhic victory for the UMP, since the combined left will probably poll even better than in 2004. Why? The PS is riven by internal divisions, as seen at the Reims Congress in November 2008. Martine Aubry, the “leader”, barely exists, and her rival, Segolene Royal, acts as if she was the leader. A new TNS-Sofres poll (TNS-Sofres is not a good pollster, though) indicates the PS is at 19%. Would be quite a defeat, and 19% would be their second-worst after their 1994 rout.

    The far-left, led by the young and “cute revolutionary” Olivier Besancenot has been the main benefactor of this, and his New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) will probably win seats. However, the NPA has been more interested by going on strike every now and then and the NPA’s voter base is the party base most likely to abstain (60% will probably abstain). The Left Front, a coalition between the Communists (PCF) and the new Linke-like Left Party (the orthodox left-wing of the PS) will probably be the surprise this election, due to excellent turnout by old PCF voters, a more serious image in the medias, and the PCF’s historical relationship with manual workers. The French Trotskysts have never attracted mass labour, and Besancenot’s ways are more and more unpopular, workers see him as exploiting their problems for his own personal gain.

    The Movement for France, allied with the Hunters’ Party (CPNT) has become the French outfit of Libertas, ironically. Though they’re loosing ground compared to 2004.

    The Greenies this year are led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and this year’s coalition includes non-Green Party Greenies, such as Jose Bove, a famed alter-globalization chap. Ironically enough, again. The Green campaign has definitely been sub-par.

    France uses the highest averages method with a 5% threshold. However, due to the nature of these constituencies and the method, this threshold becomes, in practice, a 7-15% threshold depending the size of the constituency.

  6. It will be interesting to see how some of the minor parties fare. The Greens seem to do better at Euro elections than for French parliamentary elections. The National Front was hammered at the French parliamentary elections in 2007 with just over 4% of the vote, as was the Fr. Communist Party (PCF)(4%). At its prime in the 1950’s (for national elections) the PCF was pulling in one in four votes, compared to around 10% in the ’80’s and ’90’s, and struggling to make 5% now. I believe that they are now a cash-strapped party.

    As regards Bayrou’s Democratic Movement, they are not actually the UDF retagged. Over the past decade or so, there had been fierce debates within the UDF as to whether the party (or coalition of parties, as the UDF was not actually a unified political party) should remain in alliance with the UMP or whether it should take a more independent path. An independent path for the UDF was always risky, because there were electoral advantages in being aligned to the UMP (as the UMP generally did not contest electorates where the UDF had a reasonable base, thereby avoiding 3 way contests with the Socialists). Ultimately, Bayrou’s faction (who favoured UDF independence) formed the Democratic Movement (in 2007) (which had the majority support from the membership), whilst the pro-UMP faction renamed itself the New Centre (with overwhelming support from the majority of MP’s ), and consequently the UDF ceased to exist. The 2007 election result for the two parties is interesting: Dem. Movement (7.6%) – 3 seats, New Centre (2.4%) – 22 seats.

  7. @Mrodowicz

    The Greenies are advantaged by the PR system – the only French election with “real” PR since the regionals switched to fake PR in 2003. They polled over 10% in 1989, 9.7% in 1999, and will probably do well this year again, unfortunately (FTR, I’m a strong Greenie myself, but the French Greens are a bunch of irrelevant hippies who fail at everything. This campaign has Cohn-Bendit and Bove, diametrically opposed on everything, creating an opportunistic alliance of fakes).

    As I said, the PCF is an alliance with the minor Left Party and they will probably do quite well (relatively speaking), giving the dieing party a welcome result. The FN is declining and there’s an open war between Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter and dauphin, Marine, and her male opponents (Carl Lang and Jean-Claude Martinez left the party and are running dissident lists; Bruno Gollnisch and Louis Aliot remain within the FN but in the ‘opposition’). The UMP still catches a large part of the FN’s 16.9% from the infamous 2002 election.

    Technically and legally, the MoDem is the successor to the UDF since the MoDem won the rights to inherit the UDF HQ and so forth. The 2007 results for the MoDem and NC are eerily similar to the PCF’s 1958 result (19% and only 10 seats). Like the PCF in 1958, the MoDem had no alliance with either left or right. Bayrou won his constituency since he’s well implanted there and Sarkozy actually had the UMP candidate (qualified for the runoff) drop out to endorse Bayrou. In the neighboring mountainous constituency, Bayrou’s close supporter, Jean Lasalle won the only three-way runoff in 2007. Lasalle is popular due to him being a champion of agricultural issues (like Bayrou) but also Basque identity. The MoDem also won a seat in Mayotte since the MoDem is affiliated with a local departmentalist movement. In my department of Ille-et-Vilaine, Thierry Benoit, who ran as a “UDF candidate” was elected over the UMP incumbent on left-wing ‘transfers’ (to use Aussie terms in the wrong context 😉 ). There had been no PS candidate in that seat and left-wing votes split between the Greenies and PRG. Benoit joined the NC not so long ago. All NC seats were won without UMP opposition – ‘official’ opposition.

    As Mrodowicz said, the MoDem got the voter base, the NC got the parliamentary party. Though the MoDem has more Senators than the NC – the Senate isn’t directly elected, meaning that MoDem affiliation doesn’t kill you in the runoff.

  8. Gael L’Hermine,

    I’m interested to know how The Greens have managed to strike a deal with the Socialists, at French parliamentary elections, to have the Socialists opt out of running in seats which the Greens stand a chance of winning. Do the Socialists not stand a chance of winning these seats anyway, and what do the Socialists get out of letting The Greens take these seats? The curious thing is that post-election 2007, The Greens didn’t join the Socialist–led parliamentary caucus, but instead joined the Communist-led caucus, the GDR (Democratic and Republican Left).

  9. The Greens, Communists and Left Radicals all have electoral deals with the Socialists that keeps them alive in parliament. The alliance between the PS and PCF has been in existence since atleast 1988, if not earlier. The principle of all these electoral deals is a) find a common candidate or if not b) the best placed left-wing candidate in a right-wing constituency is the sole leftie in the runoff.

    For the Greens, in 1993, the Greens and Ecology Generation (GE, now a quite right-wing green party formerly led by Brice Lalonde, John Kerry’s cousin) won about 10-11% of the vote but no seats since they had no alliances. The result was quite poor for them as they were expecting better, but the fact that they were shut out created an internal division with the Green Party on whether or not to pursue an electoral alliance with the PS/Left. The pro-alliance wing, which included Dominique Voynet, won out against the centrist independent wing led by Antoine Waechter (who founded his own party, the MEI). As a result, in 1997, the Greens (with the PCF, Radicals, and the Citizens’ Movement) joined the Lionel Jospin-led Gauche plurielle. The PS gave the Greens a number of seats where the PS ran no candidate, and 7 Greens won seats. The Jospin government had one Green cabinet minster (Voynet in Environment). In 2002, the deal was renewed between the PS and Greens in a number of constituencies (most were solidly right-wing) and only 3 Greens won (2 in Paris, 1 in Bordeaux).

    In 2007, the Greens and PS didn’t actually strike out a deal but the PS did not run candidates against Greens in the 3 Green-held seats but also in a few other seats. The Greens held all 3 seats and gained one in Nantes.

    Parliamentary groups within the left don’t really mean that the left is not united by an alliance. All parties want to have a parliamentary group (minimum 20 MPs) to get the advantages of having a group (question period, etc.). In 1997, there was Radical-Citizen-Green group as well as a Communist group and a PS group.

    The Left Radicals holds all their seats without PS electoral opposition.

    The PCF and PS run candidates against each other in the first round, but if both qualify for the runoff, the least well placed drops out to endorse the one who has a chance at winning.

  10. If only the French Greens had been been able to get enough votes in 1986 to get sets under proportional representation.

  11. Thanks Gael L’Hermine, that certainly helps to clarify the issue. I’ve noticed that France appears to moving closer towards a two party system (whereas many other countries such as Australia, UK and Germany are shifting the other way, with support for the major parties falling over the last few decades). The elections of 2007 put the UMP vote at 39.4% and Socialists at 24.7%, which combines to around 64% – this is quite high for a multi-party country like France, where voter loyalty towards parties is not very strong. I suppose this could be in part explained by the collapse in support of the other parties – UDF, Communists and National Front.

    The French electoral system is not kind to minor parties and could ultimately work towards bringing about a fully-fledged two-party system. Given that, I’m surprised that I haven’t heard anything from France in the way of discussion about electoral reform. Are any parties or groups in French society pushing for electoral reform, and what do you think are the prospects of a proportional representation system winning support and being instituted for elections to the National Assembly.

  12. France is kind of moving to a two-party system, but I don’t think we’ll ever get there like Malta or the US. This is because the right and centre has been united for the first time in French history with the UMP (The RPR Gaullists, the UDF Christian democrats and liberals, the Radical secular social-liberals, and smaller souverainiste parties). The Socialists have been on the rise with the decline of the PCF in the Mitterrand days and they have been helped by MoDem voters in runoffs, as these voters become less-and-less of the traditional right-wing Catholic type so common in the 60’s-70’s.

    However, this could fall apart. If the UMP nominates a candidate like Pierre Mehaignerie, a ex-Christian democrat (won’t happen, of course), the UMP’s (really, Sarkozy’s) gains into FN territory could be eliminated. If the PS nominates what they call a “liberal”, then the far-left would return. If both parties are discredited, like right now, you see voters turning to third parties.

    You see a fair share of tactical voting these days in general and presidential elections – the “vote utile” (useful vote). People vote for the UMP and PS to prevent a 2002 scenario. In euros, locals, and regionals, you see a lot less tactical voting.

    Two-round system is probably the best non-PR system for small parties. As Maurice Duverger wrote, two-round FPTP creates a multiple-party scenario and allows voters to vote for third parties in the first round and vote for the least worst in the second. As we say: in the first round, we vote; in the runoff we eliminate.

    Michel Debre, de Gaulle’s first PM (a bit cuckoo, of course), proposed FPTP by 1958. FPTP in France would have made the PCF the party of the left, and the Gaullists the party of the right. The SFIO, Centre would have resisted a few elections, but would die out or merge into one of the larger parties.

    We got PR in 1986, but solely because Mitterrand thought it would save the PS in the 1986 elections. Chances for electoral reform are minimal- the UMP and PS are silent and probably opposed to it. Only smaller parties, who stand to benefit from PR, support it. The MoDem, FN, Communists, Greenies, and so forth. The New Centre supports a German MMP system. I recommend you check out this old link:

    It simulates the 2007 elections under the current system, FPTP, 50/50 MMP, 15% PR, German-type PR (5% national PR) and the 1986 system.

  13. France had PR (possibly multi-member electorate) during the Fourth Republic. In 1951 it was modified to be a system of multi-member electorates with an exemption that if a party had a majority of the vote in a electorate it got all the seats.

    I read somewhere that France had partial PR after the First World War fore a few years.

  14. Yes, there was PR in either a department or multi-member constituency during the GPRF and the 1st legislature of the Fourth Republic.

    In 1951, to prevent the victory of the PCF and Gaullists (anti-Fourth Republic), the Third Force coalition (Socialists, Christian democrats, Radicals, and smaller conservative parties) created the apparentements electoral law to give the pro-Fourth Republic parties a majority. This law allowed the Third Force parties to ally/create a coalition locally and if all votes cast for coalition parties were a majority, they got all seats.

    Between 1919 and 1927 there was a similar half-PR half-majority system used. It’s quite a complex law, but if a party had over 50% of the votes, it won all seats.

  15. I agree, that aside from PR, a two-round system is probably the next best thing for minor parties. Preferential voting, as for the Aust. House of Reps, is a more efficient system (ie. does everything in one round that would otherwise be done in two, and does it more effectively), but this depends on voters understanding of the system. In Australia, many voters still engage in strategic voting (even though there is no need for it under PV), since they don’t understand the system.

    The two round system requires a good deal of cooperation between parties for it to work, otherwise some parties without prospects will only spoil things for those who do stand a chance. From my distant observation, there seems to be a good deal of cooperation among parties in France here (there are some possible exceptions, eg. the Socialists challenging Jean Lasalle in PYRENEES ATLANTIQUES in 2007). My own assumption, would be that if you can’t reach 20% in the first round, you cannot win the seat. I wonder whether anyone has in fact won a seat in the National Assembly with less than 20% of the vote in the first round?

    On a separate note, I am unable to find websites which show opinion polling data for French political party support for national elections. Do you know where can I access these? Angus Reid Global Monitor polling data only publishes polls relating to approval ratings for Sarkozy & Fillon, so far as I can tell.

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