French elections offer important lessons to rest of Europe

France regional elections on Sunday have dealt a major blow to both President Emmanuel Macron’s party and the party of his main rival in next year’s presidential elections, far right candidate Marine Le Pen.

The humiliating defeat of Macron’s ruling party La République en Marche (LREM) in the regional and municipal councils’ election could have only a minor effect on the president’s chances in next year’s polls, however they offer two important lessons to the rest of Europe and other industrial nations.

The result showed that mainstream parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, fared well in the elections, humbling in the process both the far right and the neophyte populists allied with Macron. Upon the defeat of Donald Trump in last year’s US presidential elections clearly signalled that populism was losing its appeal in America; majority of the voters opted for the more stable traditional spectre of politics.

In Sunday’s election in France, the world’s 7th largest economy, and Europe’s 3rd largest after Germany and the United Kingdom, the voters too shunned the populism of both Le Pen and LREM in favour of the traditional Centre right and Centre left candidates.

European leaders need to pay attention and cease from playing the nationalism card. One of the many lessons of the coronavirus pandemic is how unrealistic is the thinking that one country can isolate itself of the rest of the world. In this new world order shaped by the cross- border outbreak of unprecedented pathogen, there is little space for unilateralism and protectionism.

In another and perhaps more important note, French voters showed a great deal of support to those candidates who advocated green policies, in line with what France has been moving towards in the past decade.

Climate change and the environment have in recent years become a pressing issue for the majority of French voters, especially in the capital Paris. A recent poll, released shortly before the election’s second round, 56 per cent of the French said they “wanted an economic model in France that protects natural resources, rather than one focused just on job creation.”

Pro-environment candidates, mainly those allied with the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo of the Socialist Party, ceased on this momentum and the rewards were big, while Macron’s candidates in some regions failed to make the 10 per cent threshold to run in the second round. Now, Hidalgo is being tipped by the party to run in next year’s presidential elections.

France has come a long way in promoting greener policies. For example, a law passed in early 2015 made it mandatory for any building constructed in a commercial zone to have their rooftop partially covered by a sustainable rooftop garden or solar PV panels, with the clear aim of improving air quality by reducing carbon dioxide, attracting and increasing biodiversity and wildlife and conserving energy by providing greater thermal performance and roof insulation.

Few years later, Paris budgeted $164 million to make the city bicycle friendly by doubling the network of bike lanes and reduce speed limits on streets to 18mph.

The results of the elections might have reflected a more complicated dynamics, with the coronavirus, the economy and the ‘yellow vests’ protest movement were also in play. The polls however offered a clear preview of European politics in the near future. As they do so masterfully in fashion, the French people do also set the trend in politics

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