The French electorate is likely feeling déjà vu about the upcoming run-off election this Sunday. An election which is an exact repeat of the race in 2017. The centrist Emmanuel Macron faces the far-right leader of National Rally (which you might recognise by its former name the National Front) Marine Le Pen. There are some differences this time; both candidates increased their shares of the vote compared to 2017, as the realignment of French politics which started in 2017 deepens.
Both the traditional mainstream parties: Les Republicans and the Socialists performed worse than five years ago, gaining a measly 4.7% and 1.8% respectively. In their place, radical parties have filled the void. The extreme-far-right candidate Eric Zemmour gained 7% of the vote, the biggest shock was the impressive performance of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon who came within a point of beating Le Pen .
Sustainable transport and wider environmental concerns have risen up the agenda for the electorate and presidential hopefuls, in part due to the looming aftershocks of the Gilet Jaunes protests which came to define Macron’s first term.
With this in mind, what are the two front-runners’ sustainable transport policies?
Macron has been touting his green credentials, speaking in Marseille, Macron vowed to turn France into a ‘great environmental nation’. Macron pledged to create a Minister directly responsible for ecological planning; which will include improvements to railways, electric cars and public transport. Macron vowed to reduce air pollution across Europe by fighting for a European carbon tax .
Away from these announcements, Macron has also taken action to encourage commuters to use sustainable transport. The French parliament introduced a new law in March where car manufacturers must include sustainable-mobility messaging in car adverts. Manufacturers are obliged to include messaging such as ‘In daily life, take public transport’ along with a clear display of the vehicle’s CO2 emissions. The proposal is designed to allow citizens to consider greener transport alternatives and comes from the Citizen’s Convention on Climate set up in the aftermath of Gilet Jaunes. The convention has been used by climate activists to ramp up efforts to tackle climate change .
Le Pen has, and continues to, focus her campaign on the cost of living crisis, in fact her campaign makes no mention of sustainable transport directly. Le Pen does not plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and supports the lowering of emissions in practice. The only environmental policy Le Pen seems passionate about is the removal of wind turbines which she describes as a ‘blight upon the beauty of the French countryside’. To tackle cost of living concerns Le Pen has pledged to reduce VAT on consumer goods, including fuel.
The candidate who prioritised environmental concerns was neither of the two top contenders but in fact Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Mélenchon has called for what he calls ‘long-time ecological planning’ as the best means to counter climate change . Positioned on the far-left, Mélenchon has also suggested equally radical sustainable transport policies such as cutting flight routes in France .
What could be called ‘the Mélenchon factor’ has heavily impacted the second round campaign trial, as both Macron and Le Pen attempt to tempt his voters into their respective camps. Mélenchon’s voters were mostly younger climate-conscious voters. This goes some way towards explaining why sustainable transport and environmentalism has risen up the talking points. 41% of Mélenchon voters are expected to back Macron according to a Politico poll; that still leaves a further 59% who are either undecided or plan to vote for Le Pen .
In no uncertain terms, Mélenchon voters wield a great amount of influence in the second round. Whose sustainable transport policies are more desirable compared to the Mélenchon? Let’s start with Le Pen, as stated above Marine Le Pen’s campaign has not mentioned much at all. It is likely this has been a deliberate move by her team, it’s a policy area she hasn’t had much reason to discuss. In fact, being vague might have helped Le Pen in the first round.
Le Pen’s electoral interests were best aided by focusing on populist talking points such as concerns over fuel prices, where Le Pen attempted to gain support from members of the Gilet Jaunes. Her strategy appears to have worked; one of the regions where Le Pen saw the most gains was in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, a region in which the Gilet Jaunes movement was strong . In the second round Le Pen’s vagueness could be her undoing because of the climate conscious nature of Mélenchon’s voters.
The certainty that Macron will gain Mélenchon’s voters isn’t definite; there still remains a high possibility a sizable chunk of supporters will stay at home choosing neither of the above. Despite describing himself as a climate leader his record over the past 5 years is far from perfect. The environmental low-point of his first term was the 2018 high profile resignation of Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot in a live radio interview, citing his frustration that the climate crisis was ‘relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities’ .
This is what frustrates voters about Macron’s environmental policy, he says all the right words. When it comes to acting on his words, Macron does not. Macron hasn’t proved the green credentials he’s so proud of.
As is often the case in French elections, the electorate will pinch their nose and vote for the candidate they view as the lesser of two evils. The wider world will have to hope the climate isn’t a loser and that the next five years see more climate action and better sustainable transport policies.