LILLE – Even Limoges, the city that has elected Socialist mayors since 1911, did not choose the Parti Socialiste (PS) in last night’s municipal elections. The second round of the municipal elections marked the most severe defeat the PS has ever experienced in the municipal elections. The PS, which has patiently constructed a strong network of mayors all over the country, lost many of these cities to the Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). Only the victories in Paris, Lyon, Lille and Strasbourg can serve as some consolation to President Hollande’s party.
While local midterm elections always benefit the opposing party, the UMP certainly did not think they would realize such widespread victories. Reims, Tours, Limoges, Mulhouse, Amiens, Caen, and of course Toulouse – the fourth largest city in France – are the main victories for Jean-François Copé’s party.
The list is not nearly as impressive for the Front National, but with 11 cities won, Marine Le Pen’s party can legitimately talk about a new step towards its recognition as the third largest party in the country. They have strengthened their positions in the north, east, and southeast, and they have garnered votes in all major cities that had previously rejected them. They now dispose of a small number of middle-sized cities they can use to implement their policies. This is a double-edged sword: either FN mayors will succeed and bring greater legitimacy to their party, or they will fail, like their 1995-2001 predecessors, and once again ruin the credibility of Le Pen’s policy choices.
Technically, last night the French people did not elect mayors but municipal councils. Those councils, one in each city, will gather during the week to officially elect the mayor for that city. There is no suspense here: the elected mayor is always the leader of the winning list in the municipal election.
However, another more subtle battle will occur this week: the one for inter-municipalities. This form of government, which regroups several municipalities, has taken over many responsibilities from the municipal councils. They are governed by a council formed by councilors from each city. This means that even if a party has managed to win a city, they might still lose the inter-municipality.
For example, in Lille (200,000 inhabitants), Martine Aubry, former PS leader, has managed to retain her seat as mayor. But the inter-municipality that regroups Lille with Roubaix, Tourcoing (each 100,000 inhabitants) and 85 other municipalities will most likely elect a UMP leader, following the right-wing party victories in several of those municipalities. The same will likely apply in Lyon and in the new Greater Parisian metropolis that will be created in 2016.
On the national level, former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and newly appointed Prime Minister Manuel Valls have each recognized the heavy defeat of the PS in this election.
Finally, in less than two months – on May 25th – are the elections for the European Parliament. While the Left is hoping for success on the continental level, the PS results will probably be minimal in France, with the first projections placing UMP and the FN ahead of the PS. And since many blame the EU for unemployment, the far-right and other euro-skeptic parties will likely benefit from an anti-EU stance.
Clearly, the difficulties have just begun for the PS majority.