French Nationalists Seen Winning Three Regions

Marine Le Pen’s party is expected to break through at the regional level in an election this month.

Marine Le Pen, leader of France's Front national, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, June 24
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front national, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, June 24 (European Parliament)

France’s Front national could take control of three out of thirteen regions in an election this month that would boost its chances for the presidential election in 2017.

FranceTV shows nationalist candidates winning in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie in the northwest, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine in the northeast and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the south.

In the first, Marine Le Pen, the party leader, is running for the regional presidency herself. The latest Ipsos poll has her at 40 percent support in a second-round runoff against the leading Socialist candidate, Pierre de Saintignon.

In the south, Le Pen’s niece, Marion, would get 41 percent support, enough to defeat her mainstream conservative and Socialist Party rivals.

In Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine — one of the seven new regions created this year — the Front‘s Florian Philippot is ahead of the combined center-right’s candidate 37 to 35 percent.

The region, bordering Germany, has traditionally been a right-wing stronghold.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president, got between 51 and 63 percent support in the northeast in 2012. He nevertheless lost the election to the Socialists’ François Hollande that year.

Divided right

Sarkozy, who is expected to seek the presidency again in 2017, won the most recent elections for his party in March when it took control of 67 out of 101 départements, a level of government below the regions.

Its support was boosted by an alliance with smaller centrist parties who are backing Sarkozy’s Les Républicains this time around as well.

They are projected to take control of at least three regions in the middle of France whereas the Socialists would keep four. The other two — Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Normandy — are too close to call. The Front national is unlikely to win in either, though.

The elections were called because France’s now 27 regions are reduced to thirteen next year in a series of mergers.

Terrorist attacks

They are the first elections since Islamic terrorists killed more than 130 people in Paris last month in a series of shootings and suicide bombings.

58 percent of French voters told TNS Sofres recently that the terror attacks had “no impact” on their voting intentions.

But they probably have helped Le Pen, who has worked hard to detoxify her party in recent years without sacrificing its aggressively secular, anti-foreigner platform.

After the attacks, she called for an “immediate halt” to immigration “as a precaution,” playing into fears that radical Muslims could be among the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe from the Middle East.

She also wants to take France out of the Schengen free-travel area, which allowed the Paris bombers to plot their attacks from Belgium.

Sarkozy has similarly called for travel restrictions and hardline assimilation policies in an attempt to prevent mass defections to the far right.

Hollande, for his part, is more popular than he has been in years. An Ifop/Fiducial survey conducted for Paris Match and Sud Radio found that one in two French voters now approve of his job performance, the highest since 2012. But that may not help many left-wing candidates in this month’s election.

The Socialist Party leader called the Paris attacks an “act of war” and has stepped up French bombing of the Islamic State group in Syria that claimed responsibility for them.