At the 17th century town hall in the Provencal town of Arles, a large tricolor flag fluttered vigorously in front of the open window of the town hall last week, animated perhaps by what locals call the mistralet, a soft and summery version of the strong wind which blows in the valley of the Rhône.
The World Heritage City – the largest municipality in mainland France – has been marked by foreign influence throughout its history: the Romans conquered it in 123 BC, leaving the magnificent arenas, theater, necropolis and aqueduct ; much later came the artists, among them the Dutch Vincent Van Gogh and the Spaniard Pablo Picasso.
Arles has foundations honoring Puerto Rican photographer Manuel Rivera-Ortiz and Korean artist Lee Ufan, and is home to Gipsy Kings musicians of Roma origin. This weekend saw the opening of Luma, a “creative campus” estimated at 200 million euros offered to the city by the Swiss-born philanthropist Maja Hoffmann and equipped with a tower designed by the Canadian architect. American Frank Gehry.
Despite this universal heritage, immigration, especially from north-west Africa, remains a populist concern – and who could see this southern Mediterranean region, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur (PACA), become the only victory for Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in Sunday’s regional elections.
The RN was expected to succeed in at least five regions in the first round vote last Sunday. In the end, he only came first in PACA, and just barely. The election has so far been marked by widespread abstention and disappointment for presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
While many see the regional elections as a repeat for next year’s presidential election, neither the supposed 2022 leadership leaders – Emmanuel Macron or Le Pen – had much to celebrate after the weekend vote. latest.
Since the first round, marked by the abstention of two-thirds of the voters, the last few days have seen last-minute negotiations and alliances between different parties to form what is called a “republican front” to rule out the RN.
In PACA – the last and best hope of the RN – the party Thierry Mariani, defector of the center-right Republicans, obtained last Sunday 36% of the vote, followed closely by LR Renaud Muselier with 32%. Opinion polls showed Muselier beat Mariani on Sunday, but in truth it’s too close to call him.
Patrick de Carolis, mayor of Arles and former boss of France Télévisions – the French equivalent of the BBC – ended 19 years of Communist control of the city when he was elected last year to not represent any party Politics.
De Carolis, who supported Muselier, says poverty and unemployment – which stand at 15.43% in the city, where the average wage is € 2,024 per month – are driving a far-right support. “I regret that there is this pull, but I think it is because neither the traditional left nor the right has solved the problems. It means that people have become exasperated, and when they are exasperated, they vote RN, ”he said.
“We live five to six months of the year, three months intensively – thanks to our exceptional cultural offer the whole world comes to us for this – but we have a deplorable social and economic situation.
Asked what he would do if the region was taken over by the far right, he added: “She’s an unknown. We have never worked with the RN, so we don’t know what’s going to happen.
In the past, far-right voters have been among the most motivated to participate in elections. An unintended consequence of Le Pen’s attempt to detoxify the party is that the RN now appears to be facing the same problem as the others – getting its supporters to vote.
A particular challenge for all parties is to encourage young French people to participate. Last Sunday, nearly 90% of 18-24 year olds stayed away.
Bruno Cautrès, researcher at Sciences Po’s Center for Political Studies, CNRS, said many young French people did not see voting as “the best way to make a difference”.
“There is a kind of disconnect between interest in politics, which is often real and important, and real participation in elections. Often this is seen as something that hasn’t changed much, ”said Cautrès. The Marseillaise journal.
“There is a sociological tendency towards individualism and autonomy. Everyone feels that they must make their own life choices and it is not up to the authorities to tell them what to do.
Le Pen was in a bullish mood on Friday. Denying the RN’s disappointing results with “it was worse for the others,” she said the party was confident of winning the PACA, putting the far right in control of its first regional authority. “If there is a massive mobilization of our voters, we can turn the tide,” she said.