Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

2014 EU Elections in France: A "Seismic" Victory1

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

2014 EU Elections in France: A "Seismic" Victory1

Article excerpt

Traditionally European elections have failed to create an "electoral connection" between European citizens and politics in the European Parliament (EP), in particular, and in the European Union (EU), more generally. The 2014 overall voter turnout of 42,54% is the lowest ever registered. Elections after elections, the story never ends. The conclusion seems straightforward. The EU lacks popular support. Of course, Western democracies face more or less the same trend with an increasing level of abstention, be it for national, regional or European polls. However, because the EU as a non-State political system has to find its own source of legitimation, the increasing abstention is a particularly vivid issue. The stakes for the EU democracy are huge. This increasing abstention asks the very possibility of a political European Union that EU citizens could appropriate.

France is no exception to the rule of massive abstention. Since 1979, turnout has been decreasing from 60.7% in 1979 to 40.6% in 2009 (see below Table 1). Therefore, the 2014 voter turnout of 42,4% is not a surprise at all. However, this is not the issue of abstention which was mainly debated. The victory for the far-right and populist party Front National (24.86%), multiplying its result of 2009 by four (6,34%), feeds a huge debate in the political and media spectrum. The traditional right-wing party UMP followed with 20.81%, whereas the governing socialist party of President François Hollande only got 13.98%.The FN obtained then 23 deputies in the European Parliament among France's 74 mandates taking advantage of the general economic slump, social eurosceptisism and lack of interest in EU-matters. What's more, this was the first time in French political life history that the Front National have ever won a general election.

This contribution intends to revisit the main challenges this victory stresses. To what extent may this victory weaken the influence of France in the EU institutions? What does this "day of glory" mean for the French popular attitude towards the EU? This chapter is organized in two main parts. The first one goes back to the main components of the EU elections' campaign in France. It will more particularly focus on the deep popular discontent against the French socialist government, as well as on the deferred start the EU campaign. Then, the contribution will focus on the consequences of this victory for the French representatives in the European Parliament.


A "Protest Vote " against the French Government

In 2014, 43% of French citizens went to the polls2 3. This is two points more than in 2009, where 41% of voters went to the polls (see below). Even if abstention remains higher than turnout, these scores may be read as a kind of stop in the increasing abstention since 1979. At least, one might see a sign of the "stabilization of abstention"3.

The main reason evoked by French citizens when it comes to explain their abstention is a misinformation in European affairs. This seems to be a strongly French particularity since for 85% of the French voters, it is crucial to be informed on Europe (4 points more than the overall EU average). Closely linked is the feeling of disinterest. In 2009, 50% of them say that the European elections "are not interesting" at all4. The crisis and the difficulties of France to face it might explain the feeling of disinterest among French voters.

Most important, when it comes to explain this rather relative stabilization, one might evoke the vivid discontent against the French government led by President François Hollande, a trend known as a "sanction vote". 50% of French voters say they don't go to the polls because they reject the policy of the socialist government. According to pre-election surveys, 71% intended to use the European elections to "punish" the French President and its which is 20 points higher than in 2009. It is to be reminded indeed that the popularity of President Hollande is the worst ever registered in the Fifth Republic, with less than 15% of French citizens supporting its agenda. …

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