A guide to French regional elections

Thierry Zoccolan, AFP | French regional elections will take place December 6 to 13, 2015

France’s regional elections, the first round of which will take place on December 6, followed by a second round on December 13, will decide who will serve as representatives in each of France’s 13 newly redrawn regions.


Just 10 days after the attacks in Paris and close to the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, the election campaign for French regional elections officially kicked off on November 23. The elections are the first in the country since it redrew its internal borders last year, reducing the number of regions from 22 to 13 while its number of departments (which make up each region) stayed the same at 101. How will this affect the coming election, and what’s at stake at the polls? FRANCE 24 gives you the keys to understanding the regional elections and the recent changes in the political landscape.

From 22 to 13 regions, but still 1,757 seats to fill

France will elect 1,671 regional councilors for metropolitan France as well as for the overseas departments of Guadeloupe (41) and Réunion (45). At the same time, elections will be held for the 51 councilors of the Corsican assembly and 102 representatives for French Guyana and Martinique.

In addition to the new number of regions, the length of the representatives’ terms has also been reduced. Typically six years, authorities brought the term down by nine months so the next elections will be held in March 2021.

But not much else has changed. The two-round election system is still based on proportional representation in each of France’s departments. This means that voters in any given region will vote only for candidates in their own departments, and may not vote for a candidate or party leader if he or she is not a candidate in the voter’s department.

The number of seats available in a French department depends on its number of inhabitants. Departments with fewer than than 100,000 habitants have at least two regional councilors and those with more than 100,000 habitants have at least four. Furthermore, French ballots must propose two candidates more than the number of seats available to ensure equal representation.

In the first round of voting, the party that receives an absolute majority of votes automatically gets a quarter of the available seats. The remaining seats are allocated proportionally among the parties that received at least 5% of the vote.

If no party receives an absolute majority in the first round, a second round of voting occurs; only the parties that garnered at least 10% of the vote in the first round are allowed to participate in the second. Moreover, the candidates for each party can change in the period between voting rounds. For example, two parties that both received at least 5% in the first-round vote can join forces to create a new candidate list for the second round. Allocating seats after the second round of voting is done according to the same rules as the first round if an absolute majority is not obtained.

Increased responsibility

The territorial reform that took effect on August 7, 2015, strengthened the political roles and responsibilities of the regions in France, namely in the sphere of economic development. Regions have now become responsible for supporting their local small- and medium-sized businesses. They must also present detailed five-year plans for development and innovation with an international focus.

Sustainable development and planning has also become the responsibility of the regions. Each region must draft plans for operations in the sectors of land management, urban zoning, pollution control, new and clean energies, housing and waste management.

Regions also control their public school systems, higher education, professional training programmes and public transport. However, regions share partial responsibility with their internal departments for matters concerning culture, sports, tourism and regional languages.

In spite of what’s now at stake in these elections, some say that not many of the main candidates have made efforts to present a programme that corresponds to their region’s needs and responsibilities.

“With few notable exceptions, the electoral registers are full of candidates running on a very limited programme or no programme at all,” said Thomas Guénolé, a political science professor at Sciences Po, in a November 6 interview with FRANCE 24.

Candidates are instead running campaigns that focus more on national issues. With public fear and discontent exacerbated by the November 13 attacks in Paris, many voters may be tempted to oust the incumbent Socialist Party. The Socialists currently head 21 of the 22 regions and therefore have much to lose.

Centre-right coalitions

During the candidate application period for this year’s vote, 171 candidate lists were submitted with a total of 21,456 candidates. That’s slightly more than in 2010, when 20,584 candidates ran on 254 rosters.

The increase is due principally to internal party divisions on the left, especially since the Socialist Party has not been able to create an alliance with the Radical Left Party ahead of the first round of voting. The Socialists are therefore at risk of falling into third place behind parties on the right, notably the far-right National Front party.

On the right, in contrast, Les Républicains (formerly the UMP) have managed to forge alliances with other conservative groups and the centrists, creating right-leaning coalitions with a strong presence in regions such as Normandy, Pays de la Loire and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.

The National Front itself is present throughout France. It faces little competition on the far right, apart from two candidate lists led by former leaders of the National Front in the southern regions of Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Opinion polls forecast the right winning at least seven of France’s 13 regions. But French media have focused primarily on the possible election gains for the National Front. It is likely that Marine Le Pen – party leader and daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen – could take the northern Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region. Her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, could win Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the south with 41% according to opinion polls from Ipsos/Sopera Steria from 22 November, with Les Républicains’ Christian Estrosi at 34%, and Christophe Castaner of the leftist coalition, polling just 25%.

Public discontent and high turnout helped secure the opposition Socialists 53.6% of the vote in 2010’s first round when they faced off against the ruling UMP. But while polls show that Socialist voters may be fleeing the party, the newly rebranded and revamped Les Républicains is waiting in the wings.

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