L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

18 March 2008 Blog Home : March 2008 : Permalink

French Local Elections

The press, in its fickle way, is reporting that Sarko received a black eye, bloody nose etc. as voters swung away from the UMP and they span PM François Fillon's statement that many mayoral races were about local issues as being some kind of feeble excuse. This is in my opinion a somewhat facile reading of the results.

It is undoubtedly true that Sarko, Fillon and the UMP are less popular than they were a year ago, and that some people may have voted based on national politics but it is also worth pointing out that last year the UMP gained what was basically a landslide so it was unlikely that they would get similar results this year. Likewise local issues certainly do count, particularly in the smaller communes. The mayor of my commune, Mouans Sartoux, was re-elected with 81% of the votes cast (and over 50% of the registered electorate) according to the excellent Le Monde site. He won because he's a very very good mayor.

There was also the problem of turnout. The mayor of Grasse, for example, was also re-elected but the real winner was the "Apathy" candidate as turnout was around 55%. Turnout was a little better in Nice where the offical UMP candidate beat the former (UMP) mayor of Nice and a socialist challenger. Jacques Peyrat, the former mayor,probably lost UMP backing because the UMP decided he was really too sleazy to be allowed to be the official candidate, given the various scandals to do with the tramway, the football stadium and other municipal projects that should not be a great surprise.

One suspects that similar stories cover a large proportion of the races. I also suspect that quite a few French people consider, as indeed I do, that mayors do better when that is their only job. Unfortunately in France is has been quite common for mayors to also be national deputies (MPs), regional representaives or heads and any number of other elected posts. While it is true that being a senior politician and a mayor helps the commune you are mayor of get a certain amount of national pork the trade off is that you also lose the attention and focus of the mayor on local issues. Hence the place tends not to run as smoothly as it might and hence a certain willingness by voters to kick out mayors who seem to be ignoring their communes and focussing on the national stage.

Something not mentioned of course is corruption. French local government puts a lot of discretionary power at the hands of the mayor and many mayors seem to take advantage of this to line their own pockets. One would not want to name names, because that could involve legal unpleasantness, but many local mayors seem to end up better off than they ought to given their government salaries. As far as I can see French voters tolerate this so long as a) they aren't too greedy b) don't get caught and c) the majority of municpal services etc. work.