Analysis. The second round of the municipal elections on Sunday confirmed the polls, with the Greens winning several prominent victories. However, low voter turnout is a shadow over their success.

In French elections, a green turning point: ‘The landscape is reordering itself’

There was a green turn in the big French cities in these latest municipal elections. But the Greens, who now think that “the alternative is being built around ecology,” will not join the new government that Macron is set to announce any day now, because the president “is not ecological enough and is not social enough.”

The second round of the municipal elections on Sunday confirmed the polls, with the Greens winning several prominent victories: Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, but also Annecy and Tours will have a mayor from Europa Ecologia. In Paris as well, Anne Hidalgo won decisively, whose campaign focused on ecological commitment. In Marseille, the situation is still unclear: the candidate of the Printemps Marseillais, a coalition of left-wing parties and city collectives, is in the lead, but the local right—the crony establishment—is not letting go without a fight.

However, there is a shadow hanging over this Green success: the very high absenteeism, at 59%. It is a historical high, which cannot be explained by the fear of COVID alone. It was a “civic strike,” “a cold insurrection,” according to Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Macron responds with referendums

On Monday, in a tough position following the failure of the La République en Marche (LREM) candidates, Emmanuel Macron received the 150 citizens of the Climate Convention. In response to the 149 proposals voted by the Convention, the French president is favorable to the idea of putting them to a referendum: there could be two of them in 2021, one to amend Article 1 of the Constitution and introduce references to biodiversity, the environment and the fight against climate warming, and the second on the basis of Article 11, to introduce one or more legislative texts.

Macron expressed doubts about three of the proposals: lowering the speed limit on motorways from 130 to 110 km per hour (he already got burned by the change from 90km/h to 80 km/h on regional roads, at the origin of the revolt of the yellow vests, together with the increase in fuel costs), the additional tax of 4% on dividends, and the amendment of the Preamble to the Constitution, where the Convention wanted to include the crime of “ecocide.”

On the other proposals, the road seems to be open—which would be a turning point in terms of transport, housing, food, consumption and production (from the limitation of shopping centers to the renovation of houses and the reduction in flights, while the ratification of the CETA will take place only if the EU-Canada agreement respects the Paris Agreement on the climate). Meanwhile, Macron has promised funding in the amount of €15 billion for the ecological transformation. While the Convention, made up of ordinary citizens, did not discuss nuclear power, on Tuesday the president announced the closure of the second and last reactor in Fessenheim, France’s oldest nuclear plant. This will be followed by 20 years of work on its decommissioning.

The green wave and the balances to the left

Europe Ecology (EELV) conquered a number of important cities. In Lyon, the Green Grégory Doucet was elected mayor, and the legacy of the strongman of the last twenty years, Gérard Collomb, a former socialist who passed over to Macron, a figure who had transformed the city, has been defeated. In Bordeaux, a city of the right since WWII, Pierre Hurmic has won, a Green allied with PS and PCF. In most cases, the victory of Europe Ecology was due to alliances on the left, as in Besançon or Tours. But in other cases, the Greens won against a PS list, as in Strasbourg (where LREM was also in contention) or Poitiers, where the Socialists had controlled the city for 43 years.

In Lille, the Socialist Martine Aubry (together with the PCF) won by only 227 votes, against an EELV list. In Dijon as well, the PS won without any alliance with the Greens. “The landscape is reordering itself around ecology,” said MEP Yannick Jadot, who is already thinking about the 2022 presidential elections. In 2017, Jadot had given up his candidacy for the presidential elections to support the Socialist Benoît Hamon. In 2022, would the PS accept to step aside in order to put its votes behind EELV? “We are becoming the refuge option for Macron’s disappointed voters, but also for the leftist electorate who are seeing that the classic social-democratic narrative is obsolete,” was the analysis from former Green Secretary David Cormand.

France Insoumise (LFI) remains a force to be reckoned with, which doesn’t seem to have any intention of not running its own candidate in 2022. In Marseille, the rejection from a part of LFI limited the result obtained by the Green Michèle Rubirola, who took the lead with 39.9%, while her opponent Martine Vassal—the anointed successor of the old mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, who had been in power for 24 years—still hopes to be elected, despite the fact that she got only 29.8%, thanks to deals with elected councilors (in Marseille, as in Paris, the vote is conducted by districts and the mayor is elected by the councilors). Overall, LFI has remained on the margins in these municipal elections, almost absent.

The PS held its own, with wins in Nantes, Rennes, Clermont-Ferrand, Le Mans, Brest, Angers, Montpellier, Chambéry and the conquest of Nancy. The Socialists snatched Saint-Denis from the PCF, which also lost in the Parisian banlieues of Aubervilliers, Champigny and Choisy-le-Roi, although it conquered Bobigny, Noisy-le-Sec, Villejuif and Corbeil-Essonne. The PCF came out weakened from these municipal elections, as it lost Arles and the symbolic municipality of Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, near Tours, the first municipality in France that went to the Communists in 1920.

The right – between alliances and disappointments

The generalized collapse of LREM, a new party without roots, was also due to the wrongheaded alliances with the right wing of Les Républicains (LR), in about seventy races. The only consolation was the success of the Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, in Le Havre (and that of five other ministers elected in the first round of the municipal elections). LREM had put all its hopes on Paris, and was dealt a symbolic defeat, with candidate Angès Buzyn failing to even be elected councilor. The recovery of LR, which controls half the cities with more than 9,000 inhabitants, is overshadowed by its losses of Bordeaux and Marseille. There were few successes for the Rassemblement National, which, however, managed to take Perpignan, a city of more than 100,000 inhabitants.

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