Paris 2020 municipal elections: caveats and challenges for la Ville-lumière
After the transportation strikes that blocked the city for over a month in opposition to French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, the year 2020 seems to continue on the path of 2019, conveying radical changes and bouleversements for the French political universe.
Well before the deciding presidential elections which will be held in 2022, the current year appears to be crucial for political parties. In point of fact, in March 2020 the political scenario will be largely dominated by the upcoming municipal elections; for the sake of this article, our attention will vert solely on Paris.
As to avoid simplistic conclusions as well as spurious and scattered information, first and foremost we will provide introductory premises regarding the nature of the electoral system and the incumbent administration.
French political tradition is consistently conjoined with the Two-Round System, given that presidential, legislative, regional and departmental elections all employ the system. The first round resembles the typical First Past the Post (FPTP) system; if a candidate receives an absolute majority of the vote, then it is elected outright with no need for a second ballot. Otherwise, in case no candidate receives an absolute majority, then a second voting round is conducted. The candidate who wins the most votes in the second round will be then elected. For the French National Assembly, all candidates winning more than 12.5% of the votes of registered voters, or the top two candidates, go through the second ballot.
In the case of municipal elections, a Two-Round system is exerted only for municipalities with more than one thousand residents. While it is slightly more representative at the constituency level than the First Past the Post (FPTP), it is deemed to be highly disproportional while artificially boosting large parties.
“Before the city, there was a land” (Cronon,1991).
In his book, William Cronon
recounts how Chicago was formed out of a city-less landscape, by people who migrated
there and crafted the urban scenery through cultural and economic exchanges.
Cities are not structures, cities are people, or better, they are the people who live them. This is why their destinies are so dissimilar one from the other. Assuming the equation city = people, in a social Darwinistic perspective cities can be considered to be struggling for survival too. Their success or their failure, their sterility or their blossoming, is strictly dependent on the renewed impulses of its inhabitants. What this brief and not exhaustive excursus wishes to highlight, is how significant a mayor can be for an urban space.
Since 2014 elections, Paris has been administered by the socialist Anne Hidalgo, the first women to conquer the French capital and one of the most prominent figures of the Socialist party on the national chessboard. Portrayed as strict and inflexible, the Socialist mayor of Paris has stood and still stands as a symbol of resistance to the ballot-box domination of 2017 which saw the macronian party La République En Marche! (LREM) winning 12 out of 18 National Assembly seats. In between acclaims and harsh criticism, she has renewed her willingness to be elected and has launched her campaign for 2020.
According to the French newspaper Le Monde, around 60 percent from a sample of 2.942 electors, have expressed their dissent towards a putative re-election of Hidalgo; despite this fact, the polls still deem the incumbent mayor to be the favourite, just before Benjamin Griveaux.
Her term has seen efforts to strive towards a “eco-friendlier” city, including battles to thin out car traffic as well as an array of construction projects throughout the city which have appraised a positive record on environmental transition.
La République En Marche (LREM) has indeed been characterized by an odd schism within its proposed candidates. The official name has been the one of Benjamin Griveaux, who won the seat in the fifth constituency of Paris during the 2017 legislative elections, with 56.27 percent of the vote. His campaign seems to be proactive and verts around urban planning pillars, like the pretentious project of a Parisian “Central Park”. Howbeit, during the summer another LREM affiliate decided to take a stand in the mayor race. Cédric Villani, French deputy and university professor but with an Italian heritage, is best known for being a mathematician rather than a political leader, winning in 2010 the Fields prize for a pioneering empirical work.
His growing consensus, despite Macron’s latent dissent, is probably due to his willingness to have a direct contact with citizens; within his proposals, the desire to create a parallel body to the parish council, composed by citizens and experts in the socio-economic realm. His attempt represents a forceful rupture and a quantum leap towards inclusiveness under the aegis of horizontal subsidiarity. Quite hazardously, it may appear a sui generis tentative co-governance.
From the part of the Republicans, the presented candidate is Rachida Dati; her proposals will focus primarily on the well-known rightist triad of security, health and family. At the moment, the polls attest her to be the fourth most favoured candidate.
The Green Party’s nominee has been for David Belliard, journalist and president of the group at the parish council. Given the fracture from the macronian side, the ecologists will be increasingly relevant and weighty during the campaign. Quite coherently with his party affiliation, the proposed plan for Paris, is to commute it into a ville nature, so a “city of nature”, with particular attention on climate change challenges, tourism and traffic spillovers (namely, limiting emissions).
The scenario seems to be quite scattered and fragmented in light of a large supply side. The Socialist candidate Hidalgo leads the polls, followed by Griveaux (LREM), Villani (Independent), Dati (LR) and Belliard (EELV), while leaving a marginal and insignificant role to the candidates Rassemblement National and France Insoumise.
After our considerations and suppositions around Paris municipal elections, candidates and their tailored programmes, we ought to ask whether the upcoming mayor will be a blessing or a curse for a city facing growing challenges in terms of security, migration, increasing costs and climate issues. Each candidate’s programme pinpoints on issues such as urban planning, measures for a “greener” Paris, more involvement form the part of the citizens and security, although the latter seems quite marginal. Will their tentative effort be enough or remain exclusively heuristic in value? Will he or she will be capable to restore the grandeur of la Ville-Lumière?
Featured image of Paris:
 More about Villani’s research interests and campaign: https://cedricvillani.org/article/c-dric-villani-paris-une-campagne-calcul-e