The French far right suffers a setback in the regional vote | Voice of America
PARIS – The booming far-right in Europe has recently suffered setbacks – in the German state of Saxony, in eastern Germany, where the ruling conservatives of Chancellor Angela Merckel have prevailed, and in France , where the National Rally did not do as well as expected in the first round of regional elections on Sunday.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen was hoping to party this week. The polls have given its National Rally a chance to control at least one of France’s 13 regions for the first time – with budgets of several hundred million dollars, and oversight of schools, transport and local economic development. Some have seen this election as a foretaste of next year’s presidential poll – which could again pit Le Pen against incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.
But Sunday’s results disappointed both politicians. Macron’s centrist party is doing badly. And it is only in the south of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region that the far-right candidate, Thierry Mariani, is in the lead.
University of Avignon political scientist Christele Lagier has said Mariani’s challenge will be the second round – when he takes on her traditional right-wing rival Renaud Muselier.
In the east of the Bourgogne-Franche-Compte region, the leader of the regional party of the National Rally Julien Odoul trails a few points behind the socialist and outgoing leader Marie-Guite Dufay. With a record two-thirds abstention nationwide, Odoul urges his supporters to vote in the second round next Sunday. Staying at home, he says, is like voting for Macron.
Odoul operates in a region which is a key industrial hub, but also largely rural, known for its wine, cows and cheese.
In an interview with VOA, he said French voters now realize that Marine Le Pen and the National Rassemblement were right on all matters before others. We were right about immigration, insecurity, Islamism, he said, and local issues like lack of medical services. Today, the candidate said, everything his party members predicted came to fruition.
The supporters welcoming Odoul to Montbéliard recently echoed his words.
Rassemblement national youth leader Maxime Callois said he did not feel safe on the streets. He says the government is forgiving of crime – and that Odul and the far right can fix it.
Odoul’s rivals have said the National Rally is misleading voters. Crime and immigration, they said, are the responsibility of the national government, not the regional one.
Left-wing lawmaker Eric Lancon, who presents himself on the Dufay ticket, says Odoul is presenting himself on these issues because Montbéliard and other local towns are facing difficult economic times. A key employer in the region, car maker Peugeot, has cut 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 made fun of farmer suicides.
These allegations do not suit some residents of Montbéliard.
Watchmaker Emilien Debrosse, 21, said he disagreed with the Rassemblement national platform. He will not vote for the party next Sunday.
The results of the National Rally in the second round on June 27 will be closely watched. But that may not necessarily offer lessons for the higher-stakes national elections next year.