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By deciding to rename itself “Renaissance”, President Emmanuel Macron’s party is part of a trend that is becoming widespread in the French political landscape: the renewal of the labels of the main parties. For political scientist Christophe Sente, the acceleration of this phenomenon is symptomatic of a period of political transition where form now counts more than substance.
“En Marche”, “La République en Marche” and now… “Renaissance”. Emmanuel Macron’s political party changed its name again on Thursday 5 May. A decision presented by its general delegate, Stanislas Guerini, as a “refoundation movement” of the presidential party, to “expand” it.
Other French political formations have recently taken the same path. On the far right, the National Front was renamed National Rally (RN) in 2018 – its president, Marine Le Pen, wishing to mark a break with her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had preceded her as head party. On the left, during the last elections, Jean-Luc Mélenchon was in turn the candidate of the Left Party in 2012, of La France insoumise (LFI) in 2017, and of the Popular Union in 2022.
For its part, the Gaullist right, today gathered under the label “Les Républicains”, has known no less than six names in seventy years of political life, since the birth of the Rassemblement du peuple français (RPF) in 1947 How can these increasingly regular changes in the names of the main French political forces be explained? Insight with Christophe Sente, doctor in social and political sciences and scientific collaborator of the Center for the Study of Political Life (Cevipol) of the Free University of Brussels, specialized in the history of ideas and political parties.
France 24: By presenting the new name “Renaissance”, Stanislas Guerini defended a “popular party which is intended to be open” to “always make the choice of the Enlightenment against obscurantism”. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment are European historical movements; with its new name, the presidential party therefore seems to retain the showcase of “enlightened” and Europhile liberalism advocated by Emmanuel Macron in 2017. Is this a good electoral bet, in the light of the scores obtained by LFI and the RN in the first round? of the presidential election ?
Christophe Sente: The historical parallel is indeed correct, but we can look there for an even deeper meaning: there is a desire in Emmanuel Macron and his supporters to split on issues such as that of Europe. Its most publicized competitors, the National Rally and the Popular Union, are to varying degrees opposed to Europe as it is constructed today.
We therefore have the symptom of a semantic difficulty in Renaissance: succeeding in asserting oneself in a cleavage opposing modernity and Europhilia on the one hand, and nationalism or populism on the other. And this while the concept of populism is beginning to be hackneyed, and the European flag no longer really allows you to win an election in France.
This new denomination is symptomatic of a party that seeks to identify its position vis-à-vis a political landscape that is no longer shaped by the opposition between left and right.
From the Rassemblement du peuple français to the Republicans, the Gaullist right has known six different party names since 1947. When we consider the stability of the names of political parties among our British or German neighbours, should we see in this regular renewal of political labels a French passion ?
It is true that Germany remains one of the countries where the denominations are the most stable and where the political parties are more or less those born after 1945, with a few exceptions.
But this renewal of the names of political parties, which may appear to be a very French passion in 2022, is in fact very shared, and very European. It dates back to 1989, with the collapse of the USSR, and can thus be seen in the Czechoslovakia of that time. In Western Europe, Italy was the first affected by this phenomenon. Silvio Berlusconi, to name only him, has repeatedly changed the name of the political structures representing him.
In France, the renewal of denominations in recent years is symptomatic of political programs that are less widely read than in the past. The name has become more important for positioning, just like for a company. This is not an easy exercise: the challenge for political parties is to free themselves from the old labels of communism, socialism or liberalism.
While the presidential party opts for the concept of “Renaissance”, Marine Le Pen is now looking for the “Rassemblement” (national) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon the “Union” (popular). Political parties would therefore seek more than ever to bring together ?
The rally is a permanent objective of politics, logical: electoral mathematics is not to be reinvented. These new denominations are the reflection of three formations which marry the concept come from across the Atlantic of the “catch-all parties” – the “parties catches-all” -, which are no longer intended to represent social classes but rather aggregates of individuals. Their goal: to seduce, if not the entire electorate, at least the greatest number, by positioning themselves less on socio-professional fractures.
Even Jean-Luc Mélenchon is no stranger to this trend, and the evolution of his terminological choices proves it. Twenty years ago, a radical like him would have talked about the class struggle. Today, he prefers the term “people”. These denominational evolutions are carried by a transition: to the slogan of “neither-nor”, the political offer prefers a posture which could be translated as “and-and”.
But when a party like the PS decides to merge into a larger People’s Union during the legislative elections, there is a risk that the disappearance of the label will also lead to that of its traditional electoral capital.