5 French political parties you need to know
Published on April 14, 2022 / Updated on February 9, 2024
Let’s start with a little warning: to a layperson, French politics can be quite confusing. On top of a unique election system, the sheer number of parties in the French political landscape is enough to baffle you. Taken alone, the first round of the 2022 presidential election opposed no fewer than 12 candidates, from as many parties. Needless to say, it is a far cry from the two parties dominating the US presidential elections… Of course, not all of them stand equal. So, to avoid flooding you with a long list of names, we have decided to focus on the five major political parties in France.
Originally known under the shorter name of “En marche !” (“Let’s go!”), La République en marche (“Republic on the move” or “Republic underway”) was founded by Emmanuel Macron in 2016, ahead of his first presidential campaign. This makes it one of the youngest French political parties around. Self-proclaimed center-left, the new party has been able to recruit politicians (and voters!) traditionally from the center-right with its pro-European, neo-liberal stance. As customary, Macron resigned as its leader when he was elected president of France in 2017.
The most famous French party from the extreme right was created in 1972 under the name of “Front national” (“national front”). Jean-Marie Le Pen, its founder, led it until 2011 when he passed the baton to his daughter, Marine Le Pen. She changed its name to “Rassemblement national” (“National rally”) in 2018, after losing her presidential bid to Emmanuel Macron. While still keeping strong views on immigration and nationalism, she has strived to de-demonize the party by distancing herself from more controversial topics, thus gaining momentum in the polls.
As you may have guessed from its name, Les Républicains is the main conservative party in France. Following a long tradition of right-wing parties claiming the legacy of Charles de Gaulles, it was born in 2015 out of another party, l’Union pour un mouvement populaire (“Union for a popular movement”). In recent years, it has faced fierce competition from other rising political parties, both from the extreme right and from the center. To this day, Nicolas Sarkozy, its founder and former president of France, remains its most famous member.
If Les Républicains is traditionally the main party from the right, then the Parti socialiste is the main one from the left. In fact, for many decades, the two fought each other as the mainstream parties in France, though the political landscape has proven more treacherous in recent years.
A bit like de Gaulles for the right, François Mitterand remains its most iconic leader.
He also happens to be the longest-serving French president of the Fifth Republic, with two seven-year terms from 1981 to 1995.
Alongside La République en marche and the Rassemblement national, La France insoumise (“the rebellious France”) is yet another party that has shaken up the French political landscape since its creation in 2016. Being from the extreme left, it has challenged the conventional left, in particular the Parti socialiste. Its leader and founder, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is its most prominent political figure.
While there are many more, these big five parties give you a good idea of the political spectrum in France, from the radical left to the far right, and the recent evolution in French politics, showing more division than ever. In the end, after the plethora of candidates in the first round of the presidential election, the choice is narrowed to two contenders in the second round. Who wins the final duel is anybody’s guess.