What was behind the Green wave at the French municipal elections?

In June 2020, the French Greens (Europe Ecologie/Les Verts) swept to power in a number of large cities and towns in France on a wave of public support for climate and environmental action. Charlotte Soulary, European Secretary of Europe Ecologie/Les Verts, looks at some of the reasons for the Greens’ success and what comes next.

Bruno Bernard - Lyon mayor
Bruno Bernard - Lyon mayor

Image: Renaud Alouche

Bruno Bernard, the new President of Greater Lyon, one of a swathe of new Green mayors across France.

Charlotte Soulary

What happened in June 2020 in France was historic. Lyon, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Marseille, Poitiers, Besancon, Tours, Annecy, Colombes: several large cities from now on will be run by Green Mayors. 

The local elections in France happened during an extraordinary period. In March, the first round of the elections was organized a few days before a national lockdown due to Covid-19. It resulted in a high rate of abstention and a pause in the campaign, but still led to the great results we had on 29 June, when the second round confirmed the election of many Green mayors. 

Green mayors Michele Rubirola, Grégory Doucet, Pierre Hurmic and Jeanne Barseghian will take charge respectively in Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg. Eric Piolle was confirmed as mayor of Grenoble and started his second mandate. Bruno Bernard was elected President of Greater Lyon. We also have new Green mayors in Besançon, Tours, Annecy and Poitiers. In Paris, Anne Hidalgo was re-elected with the Greens’ endorsement and several Greens have been appointed deputy mayors with key portfolios. Green mayors will also take charge of or are confirmed in smaller towns, such as Schiltigheim, Bègles, Arcueil or Savigny sur Orge, and we can also count many rural mayors. 

The centrality of ecology 

French media called it ‘the Green tsunami’. Well, we don’t plan for the reflux that you usually have after a wave. We see this result as a shift. After the good results our candidates list had at the European elections last year, this one confirms that ecology has become central in the French political landscape, as the alternative to the destructive liberalism of the current president Emmanuel Macron and to the national populism of the far-right party.

What provided the basis for the Green success at the municipal elections? We could say that this is the result of a patient and long-term engagement of Greens over the last 30 years. We can also mention the successes of locally-owned campaigns, led by people engaged in civil society and local communities. We could also mention the recent social movements in France. The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ (Yellow Vests) movement, Youth for Climate, Me Too and Black Lives Matter: they all show how much French citizens yearn for social, environmental justice and democracy. The Civic Convention for Climate, organised in France as a result of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ movement, shared its recommendations a week before the second round of the elections, many of which, such as the development of non-polluting modes of transport, organic food in school canteens or the fight against the artificialisation of soils have been supported by the French Greens for decades. 

The power to change the lives of millions of people 

This is our challenge: to show that a small party of 10,000 members has competent personalities able to lead large executives like the metropolis of Lyon, which has 1.3 million inhabitants. To meet the challenge, we have a generation of elected officials who are solid and ready. Eric Piolle, who was just re-elected after a first mandate of six years as Mayor of Grenoble, showed the way to a municipal ecology and showed what is – what could be – an ecological society. 

It is the beginning of a new age for us in France: we now have the power to put our programme in place to concretely change the lives of millions of French people. And we must show what ecology can do. We will be able to anticipate future health crises, give more room to nature and reduce that of the car, insulate thousands of buildings, develop local distribution channels and local shops, support local and organic agriculture, stop polluting projects, guarantee solidarity and health for all, and much more

New mayors began already. Strasbourg has declared a climate emergency, ensuring that all the municipality's decisions, projects, and activities will be taken in response to the climate, social and democratic challenge. Marseille has opened its port to the rescue ship Louise Michel. Lyon has committed to making school meals 100 per cent organic, with 50 per cent of all ingredients coming from the surrounding region. 

The road towards the general elections

These municipal elections are an important step along the long road to offer the French people a positive alternative in 2022. Each election is an election for social and climate justice. The next ones are the regional elections in 2021 and the Parliamentary and Presidential elections in 2022. To be able to do this, we have the collective responsibility to transform ourselves into a large civic movement for ecology capable of exercising power at all levels. We must respond to an aspiration that has become the majority in the country and fundamentally transform the territories to build a just, ecological and united society. One way we will do this is by working closely with our European partners, because only together will we be able to drive the Green transformation of Europe. 

Charlotte Soulary is the European Secretary of Europe Ecologie/Les Verts (EELV).