The 1st round of the elections to the National Assembly of France proved that the liberal centre in a form of independent circles doesn’t stand a chance on political stage. One may assume that the situation became precarious after last elections to the lower house of the French Parliament in 2007. The Democratic Movement (the MoDem) that was founded by François Bayrou gained hardly any seats then. French electoral system requires that political parties divide into two groups which are likely to win many votes. Nobody will introduce proportional representation as long as the National Front is supported by more than 10% of the voters. Majority elections that consist of two rounds (politicians who win more than 12.5% of the votes take part in the second round) does not allow radical right-wingers to gain seats. It does not matter if 10% or 20% of the French vote for them. Proportional representations would allow the political party headed by Marine Le Pen to have seats.
An independent centrist political party made sense. Its leader received widespread support during the presidential elections in 2002, 2012, and especially in 2007. The situation was similar in case of proportional representations, such as the elections to the European Parliament in 2009. The political party won much support then in spite of the crisis. Nevertheless, the voters realized that the centrist politicians have no chance to gain seats in the National Assembly because of the electoral system. This is the reason why the political party won about 1.5% of the votes. It seems likely that the MoDem will have no seats in the National Assembly. Moreover, Bayrou may not become the member of the Parliament.
There were many centre-right political parties in France until 2002. The majority of them, however, did not compete with each other. They supported centre-right politicians in particular constituencies instead. The UDF was one of them. This political party consisted of several founding parties, some of which seemed rather liberal. But Jacques Chirac united centre-right politicians after his reelection in 2002. This is how the Union for a Popular Movement (the UMP) was established on the basis of a neo-Gaullist party, i.e. the RPR. The UMP took the majority of centre-right political parties over. The Liberal Democracy headed by Alain Madelin and the UDF serve as the examples. Many politicians became the members of the UMP. Others established satellite parties, such as the New Centre. François Bayrou decided to follow the idea of liberal centrists and established the MoDem, which consisted of the politicians that used to belong to the UDF previously.
It seemed inevitable because centrists, in spite of the compromises made by the New Centre, could not agree with numerous conservative politicians that belonged to the UMP (or socialists who entered into an electoral agreement, the so-called pluralistic left-wing). The problem increased when the new leader of the UMP, i.e. president Nicolas Sarkozy, started to use the rhetoric common to the supporters of Marine Le Pen more often than Chirac. But the most powerful argument against the MoDem concerned political efficiency. The leader of the New Centre, i.e. Hervé Morin, claimed that centrists would not win in single members constituencies if they did not reach an agreement with the UMP (or the Socialist Party). A great manifesto would not matter in this case.
It is beyond any doubt that Bayrou is more popular than Morin. Moreover, the MoDem has had more supporters than the New Centre until recently. Nevertheless, the New Centre gained seats thanks to the agreement with the UMP, while independent centrists were defeated.
The members of the MoDem intend to modify the strategy as a result of last elections. Independent political parties are not likely to achieve success. If nothing is changed, the members of the MoDem will become political commentators rather than active politicians. Independent centrists will not have seats as long as the French electoral system is not reformed. It seems more difficult than in Great Britain, where the Liberal Democrats encounter several problems. Nevertheless, they derive benefits from the disparity between the number of voters, which varies from district to district. The abovementioned phenomenon may not be observed in France. The disparity concerns only two main groups, i.e. right-wingers and left-wingers.
It seems obvious that the MoDem will become one of numerous completely uninfluential political parties if it did not unite with the UMP or the Socialist Party. This causes another problem because the politicians may not agree on the choice of a partner. Having taken into consideration than Bayrou is reputable, he would be an ideal partner for both powerful parties. But the idea of union with the Socialist Party, which has been common among the members of the MoDem recently, is rather bad. One cannot become a pragmatist and choose a particular partner in order to unite with those who are supported by many voters. The issue should be analyzed thoroughly. Which liberal ideas may be put into practice thanks to both partners? Which problems are priorities (the European Union? education? constitutional reform?) and which subjects are not urgent? The right choice can be made on the basis of such conclusions. The UMP may be a good partner because the party has been defeated this year. The members are likely to accept some centrist ideas as a result. On the other hand, the UMP competes with the National Front for right-wing voters. Having taken this into account, union with the socialists may be more profitable. It would allow to put the ideas followed by the MoDem into practice. But how can the party support the waste of budget?
Such problems are serious, but we can be sure that current way leads nowhere.
Translation: Aleksandra Kozłowska