(A translation of a Le Monde editorial from June 12, 2004)
Although the June 13th elections are called “European,” you don’t have to be a scholar to know that these elections implicate considerable national interests. This is true for each of the 25 counties of the European Union, including the ten new members who will elect, for the first time, their representatives to the strange Parliament that migrates each month from Brussels to Strasbourg.
The first question is how the main parties in contention with one another will perform. According to the latest polls, the Socialist Party should come in first, with around 26% of the vote. This should be a dozen points more than the UMP. The President’s party will reap the fruits of its labors during this election. Its most significant failure—and a blow to Jacque Chirac’s ambitions—will be its inability to unite conservatives.
In the wake of a dull campaign that sought to avoid friction between the pro-Europeans and the nationalists, the UMP runs the risk of finding itself torn apart by warring factions on the Right. The UDF of François Bavrou, as Europhile as ever, shows, each day, its capacity to endure, and it attracts a significant swathe of moderate voters. For its part, the Movement for France, led by Philippe de Villiers, will rake in the votes of Euroskeptics who feel an affinity for this great attacker of Brussels and for his efforts to bridge the divide between the Right and the Far Right.
The protest vote against the veteran politicians—which a majority of the French wish—will, paradoxically, have few real consequences. In spite of two consecutive defeats in regional and European elections, Mr. Chirac will keep Jean-Pierre Raffarin at Matignon. The political situation will remain the same for now. Mr. Chirac can take advantage of the fact that the next elections will not likely take place until 2007. However certain voters might consider Mr. Chirac’s actions to be an effort to sweep a failure under the rug. And the lack of impact of these elections will likely provide yet one more justification for some not to vote.
This lack of hope, of a clear and inspiring plan, of ambitions and dynamism, is leading more and more voters to stay at home. The lack of interest is growing out of control: two-thirds of the French are not interested in this election. The growing distance between the Brussels’ decision-makers and the electorate in addition to the tendency of our leaders to place blame for any ill on Brussels are partially responsible for the French electorate’s indifference.
Nor is the Left immune from criticism. The Socialist Party has succeeded in organizing itself, but, instead of airing its members’ differences of opinion on Europe as it has done in the past, it has (although with good reason) emphasized the priority to be given to European social policies. Between the sound bites of possible presidential candidates and the calculated appearances of Lionel Jospin, the Socialist Party is up to its old tricks and warring ambitions which, in turn, merely contribute to this political crisis.