PARIS - Europe’s surging far-right has suffered setbacks recently — in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony, where Chancellor Angela Merckel’s ruling conservatives prevailed, and in France, where the National Rally party did not do as well as expected in the first round of regional elections Sunday.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen hoped to be celebrating this week. Polls gave her National Rally a shot at controlling at least one of France’s 13 regions for the first time — with budgets running into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and oversight of schools, transport and local economic development. Some considered this election a preview of next year’s presidential vote — which may again pit Le Pen against current incumbent Emmanuel Macron.
But Sunday’s results disappointed both politicians. Macron's centrist party fared poorly. And only in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region is the far-right's candidate, Thierry Mariani, ahead.
Avignon University political scientist Christele Lagier said Mariani’s challenge will be the second round — when he faces traditional right rival Renaud Muselier.
In eastern Bourgogne-Franche-Compte region, the National Rally’s regional party head Julien Odoul trails a few points behind Socialist front-runner and incumbent Marie-Guite Dufay. With a record two-thirds abstention countrywide, Odoul is urging supporters to vote in next Sunday’s runoff. Staying home, he says, amounts to a vote for Macron.
Odoul is running in a region that’s a key industrial hub — but also largely rural, known for its wine, cows and cheese.
In an interview with VOA, he said French voters today realize that Marine Le Pen and the National Rally were right on every subject before the others. We were right about immigration, insecurity, Islamism, he said, and on local issues like lack of medical services. Today, the candidate said, everything his party members predicted has come to fruition.
Supporters welcoming Odoul in Montbeliard recently echo his remarks.
National Rally youth leader Maxime Callois said he doesn’t feel safe walking the streets. He claims the government is soft on crime — and that Odoul and the far-right can fix that.
Odoul’s rivals said the National Rally is misleading voters. Crime and immigration, they said, are the responsibility of the national, not regional, government.
Leftist lawmaker Eric Lancon, running on Dufay’s ticket, claims Odoul is running on these issues because Montbeliard and other local towns are facing hard economic times. A key area employer, Peugeot automaker, has shed thousands of jobs over the decades.
Odoul is controversial for other reasons. In 2019, he ordered a Muslim woman to remove her veil at a regional council meeting. More recent reports, which he denies, suggest he mocked farmers’ suicides.
Those allegations do not sit well with some Montbeliard residents.
Watchmaker Emilien Debrosse, 21, said he doesn’t agree with the National Rally’s platform. He won’t be voting for the party next Sunday.
How the National Rally fares in the June 27 runoff will be closely watched. But it may not necessarily offer lessons for higher-stakes national elections, next year.