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A guide to France's regional elections

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2010-03-14

French voters head to the polls on March 14 and 21 to elect their regional councillors and, perhaps, pass judgement on the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Here is FRANCE24’s guide to the French regional elections.

The candidates

A grand total of 20,584 candidates will be vying for a seat in France’s 26 regional councils/government. 98 members of the National Assembly, 31 senators and 19 ministers are standing for election, confirming a French tradition of holding multiple offices. The ruling UMP party has the highest number of professionals (43%), the far left has the most working class candidates (12%) and the far-right National Front has the highest share of retired people (30%). The average ages of the candidates is 50. The Greens have both the youngest candidate (18) and the oldest (97). (Figures: IFOP polling institute)


People to watch out for

Sarkozy’s mid-term test: By taking an unusually prominent role in the campaign, the French president has turned the regional polls into a half-way test of his presidency. With his UMP party seemingly heading for a beating, France’s increasingly unpopular president could come under intense pressure to carry out a cabinet reshuffle.

Greens poised for breakthrough: Propelled by their stunning result in last year’s European elections, the Greens are expected to confirm their status as the emerging force in French politics. Though they have agreed to merge with the Socialists in the second round, they have made it clear they no longer intend to play a junior role. Their best chance of winning a region is in Alsace, where they could well lead a leftwing ticket in the second round.

Ségolène Royal eyes comeback: The maverick president of Poitou-Charentes and former candidate to the French presidency has been repeatedly frustrated in her bid to take over the Socialist Party. She will be looking for a big win against Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau of the ruling UMP party to propel her back onto the national stage ahead of a 2012 presidential poll.

Le Pen’s never-ending exit: At 81, the dark horse of French politics for the past three decades has suggested this will be his last campaign. The leader of the far-right National Front (FN) will be hoping to go out with a bang in the southern PACA region, where he is expected to force a three-way match in the second round. Also watch out for his daughter Marine (41), who needs a good score to position herself as a credible successor, and his grand-daughter Marion (19), who will be standing in her first election. 

The Socialist Party runs the regions in pink; the UMP the ones in light blue.

The regions as they stand

Since its stunning victory in the last regional polls, in 2004, the Socialist Party has been in control of all but two of Metropolitan France’s 22 regions. The left is hoping to make a clean sweep this time by taking the last two conservative strongholds of Corsica and Alsace. France also counts four overseas regions (Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana and Reunion Island). They are also controlled by the left, though in some cases in a coalition with local autonomist parties.

The electoral system

The election of France’s regional councils combines proportional representation with a majority, or first-past-the-post, system. If no single party list wins an outright majority (as is almost invariably the case) in a first round of voting on March 14, a second round is required the next Sunday (March 21).

Electoral reform

The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to change the system back to a single round of voting in a forthcoming reform of local politics; not least because the two-round election has tended to favour the left.

Party lists need a minimum 10% of votes to make it into the second round. They are entitled to merge with other lists that have made the 5% mark in the first round. The winner of the second round picks up a majority prize equivalent to 25% of seats in the regional council. The remaining seats are shared out proportionally between the winning party and the following lists, provided they get at least 5% of votes. In the unlikely event of a perfect match between the top two parties, the one with the highest average candidate age takes the bonus.

What regional government does:

• Maintenance and improvement of regional transport networks (roughly a quarter of a region’s budget)
• Secondary school infrastructure and equipment (take up another quarter of regional funds)
• Coordinating employment policies and training, particularly in times of economic crisis
• Regional development and the environment
• By virtue of a clause of “general competence”, regions play a role in a variety of domains, including housing, health and the arts. The "withdrawal", real or perceived, of the national state from welfare policies has prompted France's regions to take up a growing number of tasks.

Date created : 2010-03-12


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