Mixed fortunes for regionalist parties in French elections

Was there anything for micro-nationalist and regionalist parties to cheer about in the elections across the French hexagon on Sunday?

Most disappointingly, just as in the Cornish case, Breton regionalism still fails to make an electoral impact. The 33 candidates of Oui la Bretagne (OLB), led by Christian Troadec and bringing together L’Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB) and the Mouvement Bretagne et Progrès (MBP), achieved a poor median vote of 1.2%, no better than the UDB’s performance on its own back in 2002. For the UDB, this was the worst result for 20 years, with a median score of just 1.0%. The MBP did better, with a median score of 2.2%. Troadec himself came third with 13.9% of the vote in his Finistere heartland. But this was considerably down on his vote in 2012, when he obtained 19.9%. Meanwhile, former UDB member and ‘autonomist’ Paul Molac, now standing for President Macron’s La République En Marche!, was the sole candidate in the region to be elected on the first ballot.

Spurning the left. Breton voters showed no greater inclination to vote for the centre-right Parti Breton (PB). Its 26 candidates averaged under 1%. More generally, La République En Marche! confronts 16 candidates of the left and 21 from the right in next Sunday’s second ballot in Brittany and looks set to sweep up the majority of Breton seats. Yet turnout in Brittany, as elsewhere, was low, between 50 and 60%. The centrist revolution doesn’t appear to be galvanising huge enthusiasm.

In the rest of the hexagon, there were some brighter spots for regionalist parties. Not particularly in Occitania however. Although the Partit Occitan improved its median score, it continues to poll relatively dismally, at under 2%, while the number of candidates it stands has fallen from 42 in 2002 to just five this year.

The Ipparalde (northern Basque Country) presents a more encouraging picture. There, the leftist Euskal Herria Bai steadily progresses, increasing its vote for the fourth election running, as did the Parti Nationaliste Basque, although the latter remains well behind. Basque nationalists are now winning around 10% of the vote in the three Basque constituencies.

For many years Catalan nationalism in France has been weak, struggling to win over 1% of the vote in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales. This time it was boosted by a regional reform last year that united the former Languedoc-Rousillon region with Midi- Pyrénées to form a new mega-region of Occitanie. This recentralization spurred resentment in French Catalonia and the formation of Oui au Pays Catalan to demand recognition of the unique status of Pyrénées-Orientales, decentralization and the protection of the Catalan identity. It managed to win a mean vote of just over 3%, still fairly feeble but a big improvement on the previous Catalan nationalist vote in the region

Regionalism in Alsace was formerly associated more with the far right. That’s now changed. Unser Land in Alsace also benefited from the state’s regional redrawing, which abolished the region of Alsace and lumped it in with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardennes. Unser Land was founded in 2009 as a progressive party fighting for recognition of Alsace, replacing the Union du peuple Alsacien (UA). The UPA had struggled to capture over 2% of the vote in this right-leaning region. Nonetheless Unser Land managed a mean 8.1% on Sunday, with one candidate making it to the second ballot.

While the clumsy and insensitive restructuring of France’s regions by the previous Socialist Government has re-ignited Alsatian regionalism (and to an extent Catalan) the biggest regionalist success was again seen in Corsica. There the nationalist movement, for years split between moderate and radical wings, came together to win a historic victory in the regional elections of 2015. Pè a Corsica (For Corsica) continued that alliance into these elections, which saw the vote for Corsican nationalism grow to almost 30%, a steady rise since 1997. In three of the four Corsican constituencies Pè a Corsica will be present in the second ballot next Sunday, in two instances against the right-wing Les Républicains and one against En Marche!.

Median vote of regionalist/nationalist parties in French legislative elections, 2002-2017

2002 2007 2012 2017
Brittany UDB/OLB 1.2% 1.5% 2.1% 1.2%
PB 1.2% 1.5% 0.8%
Occitania PO 0.4% 0.7% 0.7% 1.9%
Basque Country EH Bai/PNB 6.5% 6.3% 8.1% 9.9%
Catalonia 1.2% 1.0% 3.4%
Alsace UPA/UL 0.7% 1.8% 5.7%
Corsica 5.1% 12.0% 22.4% 29.8%

Regionalist parties and the Spanish election: short-term defeat or long-term victory?

How did ethnoregionalist parties in Spain get on in yesterday’s election? On the cup half-full or half-empty analogy, it entirely depends on how you look at it. Or more specifically, how you assess the better than expected showing of Podemos, the insurgent Spanish populist left party.

spanish election result

Despite Spain’s media and polls bigging up the centre-right and safer, anti-corruption insurgent party of the Ciudadanos (C’s) (now why ever would they do that?), the C’s came fourth across Spain and, with 14%, lagged 7% behind Podemos. The overall results in terms of seats in the 350-member Spanish Cortes looks like this:

Seats won in Spanish elections 2015 and 2011

2015 2011
Popular Party (PP) 123 186
Socialist Partyy (PSOE) 90 110
Podemos and allies 69
Cuidadanos 40 1
Regionalist/nationalist parties 26 38
Other left 2 10
Centrists 0 5

Look out for media reports of the Popular Party (PP) ‘winning’. But this was a strange ‘victory’ as their vote slumped from 45% in 2011 to just 29% now. The second party, the Socialists, also saw support fall from 29% to 22% and only narrowly edged out Podemos. The vote for the two main post-Franco Spanish parties fell to under 50%.

At first glance the loss of 12 regionalist/nationalist seats looks like a poor performance. The Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) won no seats for the first time since 1986. The Canarian Coalition lost one of its two seats. In Navarra, the even split between the two Basque nationalist formations means they both lost their single seat.

But the key lies in the ‘and allies’ description of Podemos. For in Catalonia, Galicia and Valencia Podemos was part of lists including leftist pro-independence parties. In Galicia, the leftist Anova joined with Podemos and others in a list that came second, winning six seats. Similarly, a list bringing together Podemos and the regionalists of Compromis in Valencia also did very well, second with nine seats.

But the biggest success for Podemos came in Catalonia. Here it was part of a list including pro-independence parties, Greens and civic activists. Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias last night called for a special constitutional settlement for Catalonia and in the election campaign the party was supporting a referendum on independence. As a result, their list topped the poll, as in Galicia and Valencia winning 25%.

Meanwhile, the older leftist Catalan Republican Left (ERC) increased its representation from three to nine seats, with its second best performance ever. For the centre-right traditional Catalan ruling party Convergencia (CiU) the election was disastrous. Under the name of Democracy and Liberty, it saw its seats halve from 16 to eight. Nonetheless, anti-independence parties in Catalonia won just 18 of the region’s 47 seats.

In the Basque Country, Podemos also topped the poll with 26%, although the Basque Nationalist Party won one more seat, its six seats this time increasing its tally by one. Clearly, a large chunk of the radical Basque nationalist vote left EH Bildu for Podemos. EH Bildu’s vote fell from 24% to 15% and it saw its seats slip from six to two.

Furthermore, with neither left nor right in Spain able to cobble together a majority, the role of the Catalan and Basque parties has become critical for whoever forms the next Spanish Government. Interesting times.