Election analysis: Is there really a ‘far right voter surge’ in France?

One of the big news stories to come out of France's parliamentary elections was the unexpected success of Marine Le Pen's far-right party - so what happened and what does it mean for the next five years?

Election analysis: Is there really a 'far right voter surge' in France?
French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) leader Marine Le Pen delivers a speech after the first results of the parliamentary elections in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, on June 19. Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP

What were the results?

In Sunday’s parliamentary elections Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party won 89 seats. 

The biggest group in the parliament is president Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble with 245 seats (44 seats short of an outright majority), followed by the leftist alliance Nupes with 131 and then Le Pen’s party.

But since Ensemble and Nupes are coalitions of several parties, Rassemblement National can claim to be the largest single party (not in partnership) in the parliament.

So is there really a far-right surge in France?

Not only was the RN win big, it was also unexpected, since pollsters had predicted a third position for the party, but with a much smaller number of seats (most polls predicted between 20 and 40 seats).

The party’s 89 seats also represent a massive increase from the eight seats that it held previously.

But while the increase in seats is clearly significant, it may not represent a ‘voter surge’.

In total, 17.3 percent of the population voted RN on Sunday, compared to eight percent in the second round of the 2017 elections. First round voting also showed a similar pattern – 13.2 percent in 2017 and 18.6 percent in 2022. 

But while the party’s vote share doubled, their number of seats increased tenfold – with a major effect being the collapse of the ‘front républicain‘ (see below). 

The vote totals are also well below those seen in presidential elections, albeit that different voting systems make direct comparison difficult.

In the 2017 presidential election Marine Le Pen finished second with 33 percent of the vote in the second round. In the April 2022 parliamentary election she again finished second to Emmanuel Macron, this time with 41 percent of the vote. 

So what does the seat increase mean? 

The biggest immediate impact of RN’s success is on the party’s finances, since political parties receive funding from the State based on their representation in parliament. Le Pen’s party has been in major financial difficulties for some years, unable to pay back huge loans secured from Russian and Hungarian banks to finance to 2017 and 2022 presidential campaigns, so the extra cash will undoubtedly be welcome.

Politically, there will also be an impact.

Le Pen has already said that she will demand the chair of the powerful finance commission, which traditionally goes to the largest opposition party, although she bases her claim on being the largest single party of opposition, since Nupes (on 131 seats) is an alliance of four parties. 

Commanding a large block of seats in parliament will undoubtedly make the far-right party more of a force in national politics than previously, although the party is extremely unlikely to be approached by Macron’s team in their search for allies to build a working majority over the next five years. 

What is the Front républicain?

One of the most striking things about Sunday’s result was the collapse in many areas of the ‘republican front’ against the far right.

In all elections apart from European ones, France votes in two rounds: candidates with the highest scores in the first round go through to round two, so French voters go to the polls for a second time to decide between the second round candidates.

The tradition of the Front républicain dictates that if a far-right candidate makes it through to the second round, voters from across the political spectrum vote for whichever candidate is standing against the far-right, even if they are not a supporter of that candidate.

The ‘hold your nose and vote’ method benefited Macron in both the 2017 and 2022 presidential elections, when many voters who were not his supporters cast their votes for him in the second round in order to avoid the possibility of a President Le Pen. This also benefited Jacques Chirac in 2022 when he found himself in the second round against Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie.  

This time, though, it appears to have collapsed in many areas, with defeated candidates from both Ensemble and Nupes declining to call for voters to back their opponents against Le Pen.

This lack of a ‘blocking’ vote is a major contributor to the way RN was able to convert vote share into seats in parliament – converting 17 percent of the vote into 89 seats, compared to converting eight percent of the vote into eight seats in 2017.   

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Deadline day: What Brits in Europe can do to make sure they vote in UK election

Tuesday, June 18th is the deadline for Brits to register to vote in the UK's general election, but there are other measures you can take to make sure your vote gets to the ballot box on time.

Deadline day: What Brits in Europe can do to make sure they vote in UK election

The deadline for registering to vote in the UK election on July 4th is 11:59pm on Tuesday June 18th.

Is it too late to register for a postal vote? 

While it is theoretically possible to register for a postal vote until 5pm on Wednesday 19th, it is far from certain that you will be able to get your postal voting pack sent out to you, vote, and send it back to the UK fast enough for your vote to have arrived by the deadline of 10pm on polling day, July 4th. 

The UK’s Royal Mail aims to deliver letters to France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria within 3 to 4 working days, and to other European countries in The Local’s network within 3-5 days. 

This means that while those who registered early should expect to receive their postal voting pack from about June 18th, those who apply on Wednesday may have to wait until June 25th or later.

READ ALSO: The key deadlines Brits in Europe need to know to vote in the UK election

Postnord in Sweden and Denmark aim to get a first class letter to the UK within 3-4 days, France’s La Poste and Germany’s Deutsche Post both take between 2-3 days, and Spain’s Correos aims to deliver to the UK in 2-4 days.

This means you might make it. But all of these services can sometimes take longer, so do you really want to trust them with something as important as your vote?

For Brits in Italy, with its notoriously slow postal service, it’s almost certainly too much of a risk. 

If you registered months ago, can you guarantee getting your postal vote back on time? 

Some councils in the UK sent out postal votes for overseas voters from June 13th, but some Brits have received emails informing them that they will be sent out much later, with one saying they will be sent from June 24th.

It’s worth ringing the electoral services team at your local council to check. 

Indeed, some local councils in the UK (among them South Norfolk and Broadland) have already been in contact with Brits warning them it’s likely to be too tight and advising them to switch to a proxy vote. 

Is it worth paying for a courier or registered delivery? 

Many postal services will offer a more expensive faster service rather than the usual “snail mail” service or there are private firms like DHL that offer quicker delivery services.

Some Brits in Europe are discussing paying for a courier or some other form of express delivery if their voter pack arrives too close to the election.

This may well be worth it as most courier services guarantee to deliver letters within a few days, or even offer same day international delivery, meaning you can skip the worry over whether your ballot will arrive on time. 

If I don’t want to take the risk, can I switch to a proxy? 

So you may prefer to opt for the proxy option, in which you authorise someone else in the UK to vote for you. Your proxy can either opt to vote in-person at your polling station or they can ask for a postal vote on your behalf. 

Again, you can apply by post or online. If applying by post, your application needs to reach your local Electoral Registration Office by 5pm on June 19th.

If you have already applied for a postal vote, and want to shift to a proxy, can still make the change up until that same 5pm deadline.