French voters will go to the polls on Sunday to pick their representatives in the European parliament to determine the bloc’s policies over the next five years, in a vote widely seen as an important gauge to assess the sentiment among the EU’s about 500 million people.
Targeting the higher score to win a seat at the 751-seat parliament, candidates from the traditional right and left parties, ecologists, populists and even two groups from anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement will run for this year’s European elections, making a record 34 lists for voters to choose on May 26.
Only the list that secures 5 percent of the votes or more can book a ticket to the Strasbourg-based institution.
BATTLE BETWEEN CENTRIST,PRO-EU PARTIES AND NATIONALIST FORMATIONS
But, despite an unprecedented number of electoral lists, the European contest, the first national election since French President Emmanuel Macron took power in 2017, has been shaped up to be a major battle between centrist, pro-EU parties and nationalist formations, amid high expectations that the far right across Europe,notably in Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Austria and Poland, will perform strongly.
In a BVA survey released on Wednesday, the National Rally (RN) list headed by 23-year-old Jordan Bardella gained ground, overtaking the ruling party list, fronted by ex-European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau whose campaign was tainted by a series of missteps.
The pollster found that the RN which wants to stop immigration and globalization is on course to win 23 percent of the voting intentions, one percentage point separating it form the Republic on the Move party (LREM).
The traditional conservatives who have been struggling to recover after fake jobs scandal that engulfed their presidential candidate, Francois Fillon’s campaign in 2017, was set to collect 13 percent, under the helm of 33-year-old philosopher Francois-Xavier Bellamy.
Fourth-placed hard-left “Unbowed France” party’s score is at 8.5 percent, followed by the green list with 8 percent, according to the pollster.
Coming second would be a setback for Macron on the European stage, as he has been working for stronger eurozone and further economic openness to boslter domestic economy and create wider businesses opportunities for millions of people without work.
Facing his first electoral challenge, he risks to lose his influence to choose the next group of EU officials and to persuade other EU countries to support his agenda.
At home, if finishing behind far-right party led by Marine Le Pen, it would be likely to further pressure him to reverse his reform agenda and put his credibility on test, while his public support is sliding due to growing anger over his policy.
“In a society already fractured by ‘Yellow Vests’, a defeat in the European elections would make it more difficult to reform …,” Jean-Michel Aphatie, a political analyst told Europe1 radio.
MACRON INVOLVED IN THE CAMPAIGN: DOUBLE-EDGED TACTIC
As the countdown started for the elections, and following a flat performance of Loiseau, Macron throws himself into the campaign to give an impetus to his party’s list.
“I can not be a spectator but an actor in this European election which is the most important since 1979 because the Union is facing an existential risk,” Macron told regional media earlier this week.
“If, as head of state, I let Europe…breaks up, I will have a responsibility to history. The French president is not a party leader but it is normal for him to get involved in fundamental choices,” he added.
“I do not have the spirit of defeat, I have the spirit of conquest. France will be all the stronger as we will make a good score,” he stressed.
As was shown during three months of national debate during which he succeeded to garner support via a series of meetings, Macron is seeking once again to re-energize supporters. He appeared in a poster with a smiling face and a look at the horizon.
In the non-official LREM candidates poster, in which Loiseau’s portray is pulled off, it was written “On the march for Europe, May 26, I vote Renaissance.”
“Macron is the only glue that holds his En Marche movement together, and the further his political fortunes sink as the time for his re-election approaches, the greater the danger that things come unstuck,” analysts wrote at the Eurointelligence blog.
To Bardella, head of RN’s list, “by behaving as campaign leader of LREM, putting aside his candidate especially on campaign posters, Emmanuel Macron turned this European election into a referendum for or against him and his politics.”
“If we come first Sunday, Emmanuel Macron will first learn humility, give up all the anti-social reforms that are planned, and commit to no longer accepting migrants,” he told local broadcaster Europe1.
As nearly half of voters still undecided, Macron’s strategy to hit airwaves while a majority of people disapprove his action and still refuse his reforms drive, may turn the tide against him and push them to choose the rightists in a punishment vote.
In 2014, the National Rally, then named the National Front, topped last EU ballots with 24.85 percent of the votes and more than quadrupled their representation in the European parliament with 24 seats, making the ruling Socialists’ second heavy losses in their second major electoral test.