Recent elections in France indicate that French President Francois Hollande is losing popularity among voters. Given the current policy of Paris towards Russia, the Kremlin might use this split in French politics to its advantage in the debate over Ukraine.

French far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, center, gestures as she arrives for an electoral visit at a market in Avignon, southern France, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. French voters are choosing local officials in elections to be held on March 22 and March 29 that are expected to bring even more power to the increasingly popular far right National Front party, amid concerns about immigration and security and disillusionment with traditional parties. Photo: AP

Even if the final results of the Departmental Elections in France will only be known after the second round (which take place on March 29), the first round of voting on March 22 has confirmed the trend of the weakening political position of the current French government. In the elections of 2014 (Municipal, European, Senate) the Socialists came out the losers, indicating dissatisfaction of the French voters with the socioeconomic policies pursued by President Francois Hollande and his government. The voting on March 22 can be considered another setback for the current leadership.

In the first round, the Socialist Party (SP) received only 21 percent of the votes, which means that in a week, the Socialists will likely lose their controlling positions in many Departments, which are territorial divisions that have existed in France since the end of the 18th century. Their governing councils are responsible for energy issues, housing, education, culture, child protection and many other issues. To date, most of the Departments are under the control of leftist forces, and mostly by the main governing party – the Socialists.

On the other hand, according to the Paris press, “These elections will place [former French President] Nicolas Sarkozy into a position of strength.” The fact is that, overall, the right wing forces are in the lead in most of the one hundred departments, receiving the support of 37 percent of the voters. At the same time, the leading center-right party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), won the most seats in the first round.

The voting on March 22 has also shown that at the local level, the far-right National Front (NF) is clearly gaining ground – having received support from one-quarter of the active voters (only half of all eligible voters took part in the first round). It is unlikely that the NF will be able to win a majority, even in one department (French elections have majoritarian character, which puts the right radicals at a disadvantage), but there is no doubt that there has been an overall trend by the voters towards the right.

Over the past year, the “Russian agenda” has been driving the foreign policy strategies of the leading French parties. Of course, the main reason for this was Crimea joining Russia in 2014 and the mutual “sanctions war” between Russia and the European Union (EU), which began one year ago. It is interesting that in the right and in the left camps of the French Republic, there is no unity when it comes to France’s foreign policy towards Russia.

Two of the most influential left-wing parties in France – the ruling SP and the coalition Europe Ecology – The Greens support the policy of EU sanctions against Russia. Both of these parties in 2014 blamed Russian leaders for the annexation of Crimea, and later said that Russia bears the primary responsibility for the escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Socialists and Greens supported the government’s decision to suspend the delivery of two Mistral ships to Russia. Today, these parties claim the need for “a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.” Recognizing the abnormal current state of commercial relations between France and Russia, the moderate leftist parties insist that efforts should be made to reduce the energy dependence of France and the EU on Russia.

Meanwhile, the opposition Left Front (LF) and, in particular, the National Coordinator and National Secretary of the French Communist Party Pierre Laurent believe that, “It is impossible to imagine Europe without Russia.” Being critical of the internal political evolution of Russia in recent years, the leaders of the LF are at the same time in favor of progressive development of political dialogue with Moscow. As one of the leaders of the Left Front, MEP Jean-Luc Mélenchon, wrote recently, “My goal is to fight against preparations for war with Russia.”

On the opposite wing of French politics, the toughest stance against Russia comes from the liberal Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI). The Centrists unequivocally criticized Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, considering it an aggressive violation of international law. As the Deputy Chairman of the UDI Rama Yade noted, “Countries such as Russia understand only the language of strength.”

Nevertheless, the leading right-wing party, the UMP, is forced to maneuver, “to filter” its Russian policy. On the one hand, it tries to maintain loyalty to the European People’s Party, in which it is actively involved (this party, on the level of the EU, was among the first to push for sanctions against the Kremlin's policy in Ukraine). On the other hand, it has to come to terms with ambiguous statements of its party leaders as to the need to restore normal relations with Moscow, which have been ruffled by the sanctions regime.

Visits to Russia by the ex-president of France and the current chairman of UMP Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon are telling in this regard. Sarkozy, speaking to his party, recently stated that, “The division between Europe and Russia is a drama.” The fact is that, in the UMP, they are taking into account that the Russian embargo on European agricultural products poses a great danger to the interests of French agriculture.

Vocally against the sanctions is the far-right party currently growing in political weight – the National Front (NF). The party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, believes that today Russia is a bigger defender of Christian values ​​than the West. As Jean-Marie Le Pen recently stated, “The set of values ​​that Putin is defending today, is the same as ours.”

The current NF leader Marine Le Pen, for her part, has confirmed that she sees in Russia a friend and partner, with whom she can “fight for the freedom of Europe and nations.” Naturally, the NF wants France to drop the sanctions against Russia as soon as possible, and is in favor of a future Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, independent of the U.S.

It seems that the positions of the UMP and the NF must be “kept in mind” – for no other reason, perhaps, than because in 2017 France will be holding general elections, and as things stand today, Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy (or another representative of the UMP) have strong chances of making it to the second round of the presidential elections.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.