What are the elections taking place on December 6 and 13?
The elections are to decide which party runs each region of France. It’s nothing to do with deciding which people will represent each region in the national parliament.
No party won an absolute majority in the first round of voting on December 6, so there will be a second round on December 13.
How important are these elections?
Arguably, they are not as important as presidential or parliamentary elections. But, this time around, they are significant for a couple of key reasons.
To start with, these are the first elections since the Paris terror attacks on November 13 and are likely to offer an indication of whether the country, as some analysts have suggested, will move to the right. The first round of results suggests it has.
Secondly, the elections provide both a mid-term poll on the performance of French President Francois Hollande and a launchpad for anyone who wants to run for presidency in 2017. If Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) do capture several regions, the authority associated with governing, albeit regionally, could give her vital legitimacy for future, more important elections.
They are also the first elections since France slashed the number of regions in the country from 22 to just 13.
French regions are not able to pass their own laws, but have large budgets and are responsibile for areas such as economic development, tourism and public transport.
Front National always hit the headlines at election time, what are they up to?
As ever, the party is at the forefront of the election story.
In the first round of voting, on December 6, it came first in six of 13 regions.
FN leader Marine Le Pen triumphed in the far north of France, while her niece, Marion Marechal Le Pen won in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the south-east.
Will tactical voting now come into play?
France’s governing socialists, after a strong showing by FN in the first round of voting on December 6, have pulled out of some regions where they have performed badly, calling on them to vote for LR, in a bid to keep the far-right out of power.
However, Sarkozy’s LR party have refused to do the same thing, claiming the move is undemocratic and counter-productive.
For all the talk about FN, how much power do they hold?
In the 2012 parliamentary elections, FN succeeded in getting two of its MPs elected to France’s National Assembly, including Marion Marechal Le Pen. There are 577 MPs in France’s lower house.
The anti-immigration, anti-EU party also has two senators in France’s upper house of parliament and around a third of France’s 75 MEPs.
What’s happened to Jean-Marie Le Pen?
Jean-Marie Le Pen, FN founder, was expelled from the party in August this year after a feud with his successor and daughter, Marine.
His expulsion came after he was suspended over remarks that the Holocaust was “a detail of history”.
The move is seemingly part of his daughter’s attempts to detoxify the FN brand and appeal to a larger number of voters.
In a leader column, The Economist said of this rebranding: “That is deeply worrying. For all the softening of its image, the FN remains an extremist party. It is fiercely anti-immigrant. The overt anti-Semitism has been toned down, but its xenophobia continues under the theme of warnings against Islamism. That is one reason why the FN continued to gain ground after the Charlie Hebdo murders in January.”
Are there any other talking points around these elections?
Yes, Nicolas Sarkozy. The former French president has returned to politics and rebranded the party he leads, from the UMP to The Republicans (LR).
A strong performance by his party in these elections would have cemented his power and provided a springboard to run for the presidency in 2017.
However LR and its centre-right allies took 27 percent of the vote and won just four of 13 regions.