Monday 11 December 2017
“I cannot prevent the French from being French.” - Charles de Gaulle
The French right and the spectre of the ‘schwarz-blau’ coalition
By Jocelyn Evans, Gilles Ivaldi
27 April 2012 | Parties | 1392 words
Much has been made of Marine Le Pen’s result in the first round of the presidentials. She placed third with 17.9 per cent of the vote, well behind the two leading candidates, but notably ahead of the left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who according to most opinion polls was threatening to overtake her throughout the latter stage of the campaign.

A party and presidential candidate which had been relatively marginalised in 2007 are now back at the centre of political competition in France. Mme Le Pen may have failed to replicate her father’s performance of progressing to a presidential run-off, yet for this election, she is kingmaker – and for the subsequent legislative elections, her party threatens to be a troublemaker, if not a usurper. The UMP is now confronting the worst possible political scenario: loss of the presidency, with a probable victory by the left, and heightened competition on its right flank across many constituencies in the June legislatives.

Sarkozy’s mission impossible?

To avoid the first outcome, Sarkozy faces the near-impossible task of courting high numbers of both Bayrou and Le Pen voters. The first round showed the mobilisation potential that anti-Sarkozy feeling has, through high turnout, and combining a profound desire for political alternation – the vote for the left rose to 44 per cent from 36 per cent in 2007 – and popular discontent, with a third of the electorate picking radical protest candidates.

With no evidence that Hollande is likely to lose more than a handful of the left’s first round vote, the greatest threat having been allayed by Mélenchon’s call for his supporters to vote against Sarkozy, Hollande requires only a small percentage in addition to this bloc to surpass the 50 per cent mark. Current polls indicate that the intended transfers leave Sarkozy well short of Hollande, a position reflected by the second-round intentions which indicate at least an eight-point differential. Averaging over a third of Bayrou supporters and a quarter of Le Pen’s by itself takes Hollande above 50%, well ahead of his rival (see table below). Sarkozy’s only possibility is to try to ensure the strongest turnout by Bayrou and Le Pen supporters who would move to him – and to try to convert the vast majority of those intending to abstain. With Marine Le Pen expected to call for abstention on 1st May, this would be an incredible outcome – as indeed would be a last minute surge in support for Sarkozy by first round abstentionists.

First-to-second round vote transfers from ‘key’ minor candidates in current polls


Le Pen

























































As % of 1st round







TOTAL (own bloc +
Bayrou/Le Pen transfers)













* Illustrative table only includes Bayrou and Le Pen voters in abstention figure for simplicity. Differential turnout by other electorates would vary final figures.

How is he likely to proceed? For Bayrou supporters, he needs to appeal to the policies of budgetary rigor, public deficit and debt reduction, ‘moralisation’ of France’s rather archaic political system, and a dose of proportional representation for future legislative elections (but not this May/June). This last proposal is already in the pipeline, and agreeable to both the Modem and FN electorates.

Conversely, for Le Pen supporters, he must move away from purely economic issues, towards immigration, crime, European borders and the Schengen agreement. Given that Sarkozy employed a very rightist campaign in the first round, he hardly enjoys a wide margin of manoeuvre within the region of political acceptability (the FN’s most cherished themes of national preference, death penalty and exit from the Eurozone are simply not possible policy ‘tweaks’ at this stage). To date in the second round campaign, the focus has definitely been on the latter rhetoric, with the UMP trying to trigger fears of Hollande’s proposal to give voting rights to foreigners. The risk that such rhetoric will in return deter centrist voters is squaring the political circle for the UMP runner.

The Austrian scenario?

Then the main risk could be the tactical building of a right/extreme right union resembling the ‘schwarz-blau’ coalition between the conservative ÖVP and far right FPÖ that had emerged from the 1999 legislatives in Austria. It seems improbable that the UMP will enter into formal cooperation with the FN at the national level. The FN remains in the avowedly ‘anti-system’ position taken in the mid-1990s, rejecting the so-called ‘UMPS oligarchy’. Again, it is highly unlikely Marine Le Pen will endorse any of the two finalists in her speech on 1st May.

On the other side, since the early 1990s the mainstream right has maintained a relatively tight ‘sanitary cordon’ around the FN, precluding the forming of a national coalition with Le Pen’s party. Leaders of the former RPR and UDF (Chirac, Juppé, Bayrou) took very clear stances rejecting any attempt to collaborate with the far right. Last year, amidst the political turmoil caused by the FN’s electoral showing in the cantonals, this claim was reiterated by all UMP heavyweights. Sarkozy has talked of the FN being ‘legitimised’ by the system since Sunday’s result, but has again ruled out cooperation.

These recent comments by Sarkozy are testimony to the delicate balance that he needs to keep his chances with the swathes of voters who have turned to Le Pen last Sunday. There is concern however that the outgoing president might in fact be ready to cross the red line. Already put under pressure by Le Pen, Bayrou and the left, the UMP runner might not be able to wriggle out of his ambiguity much longer.

The real-world test will come in the legislatives where the FN clearly intends to capitalise on the ‘Marine blue wave’ to precipitate the collapse of the UMP and take over the role of leading opposition party under the Hollande presidency.

It is unclear how many constituencies will be truly at risk come June. Current evaluations of over 350 cases are surely an overestimation: abstention will probably be higher (thereby raising the threshold for qualification in the run-off) and the FN is unlikely to win as many votes then as it did in the presidential.

Moreover, the electoral system continues to play against peripheral and protest parties: the 2011 cantonals have recently demonstrated the FN’s inability to garner an absolute majority of votes. In the forthcoming legislatives, then, the party stands some chance of winning a handful of parliamentary seats but should not be in a position to reach the 15 MPs that would allow it to form its own parliamentary group.

What are the implications of this for the Right in France? If it is in a position to progress to the second-round in a large number of constituencies, the FN could make the UMP losses bigger by producing three-way contests – the famous triangulaires. In 1997, the FN contested 76 out of the 79 triangulaires which epitomised the party’s ‘nuisance power’, and devastated the then UDF and RPR’s electoral fortunes. In 2002, only nine three-ways were contested, and in 2007 only one – which did not include the FN. The constituency power of the FN looks therefore to have been resurrected. Politically, the UMP will be divided, as was already the case in 2011, between those who are prepared to support the left against the FN, and those who are not. With electoral defeat looming, the most immediate danger is that of local ‘barons’ of the right ignoring their national leaders’ directives, and entering tactical co-operation with the FN.

Finally, the UMP is weakened by its political DNA as an umbrella organisation for the various families of the centre and the right. Sarkozy’s uncontested authority over the party since Jacques Chirac’s retirement in 2007 has maintained its cohesion and unity: with its leader gone, the party may experience heavy turbulence in the battle for succession, not least between General Secretary Jean-François Copé and PM François Fillon, potentially leading to the reforming of its original constituent parties. A fragmented right would then be easy pickings for a revitalised FN.

Despite reassuring claims, the ideological radicalisation undergone by UMP hardliners of the Droite populaire, concomitant with the many efforts by the FN to present a more acceptable profile, clearly aggravates the risk of such convergence on the right fringe of the political spectrum.


Welcome to '500Signatures', for analysis and commentary on French politics and elections

This blog is produced by Jocelyn Evans (University of Leeds) and Gilles Ivaldi (University of Nice)

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posts have been published
since 10 January 2012

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Jocelyn Evans [@JocelynAJEvans] is Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds

Gilles Ivaldi is a CNRS researcher in political science based at the University of Nice



- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (updated 12 May 2014)

- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (Jan. 2014)

- Polling scores by polling type (CATI v CAWI) (updated 20 April 2012)

- Estimating Marine Le Pen's vote in the 2012 presidentials: an experiment (November 2011)

- Data for the 2011 expert forecast survey (in CSV file)



Last modified on Monday 25 April 2016
Copyright Gilles Ivaldi - @2012-2014