(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron isn’t finished with the French establishment.
The 41-year-old swept aside the country’s two main parties when he was elected president in 2017. Further losses in last month’s European elections left the Republicans and the Socalists in tatters. Now Macron wants to evict them from town halls across France.
Voters won’t get their say until next year’s municipal elections. But ministers and lawmakers who abandoned the establishment to join Macron’s centrist movement have been making public appeals for local officials to follow their lead. The Republicans have proved the most responsive, with 72 of their mayors and city council members signing a pledge of allegiance to Macron.
One of those is Luc Brouard, mayor of La Roche-sur-Yon, a town of 55,000 in western France.
“The Republicans are no longer in a position to give this country what it needs,” Brouard said in an interview. “This government is. And it needs to be supported.”
Town halls may not decide national policy, but there’s still a lot at stake for Macron’s party in its first local vote.
The Republic on the Move was created as a personal vehicle for Macron’s presidential campaign and its lack of a grassroots support means it has no local power base or information networks. That helps to explain why Macron was blindsided by the anger over gasoline taxes and speed limits that triggered the Yellow Vests protest late last year.
Macron’s response to that was a shift of gear, cutting taxes for the middle classes, threatening to shut down the elite finishing school for French officials, and embarking on weeks of public debate with voters. Building up his municipal power would also help to stabilize his project.
Polls routinely show mayors are the elected officials the French trust most. And there’s also the question of their sheer numbers. There are about 35,000 municipalities in France, compared with 8,000 in Italy and 6,000 in Germany.
“The French love their mayors, and that’s where parties earn their legitimacy,” said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who teaches a course on Macron at Paris’ Sciences Po institute.
Republic on the Move, known as LREM in French, has named a 16-person panel to vet its candidates for the municipal elections, which are expected in the spring of 2020. Consistent with its neither left-nor-right mantra, the panel has two co-presidents, one a former Republican and one ex-Socialist.
Those two groups dominated French politics for half a century until Macron came along. But they failed to make the presidential runoff in 2017 and each took less than 9% of the vote in last month’s Europeans. Both are now in the midst of messy leadership battles.
LREM campaign organizers say the party isn’t making any behind-the-scenes approaches to mayors, relying on public appeals from former Republicans such as Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Culture Minister Franck Riester. LREM won’t put up candidates to challenge mayors who leave other parties and express support for the government, they said.
Brouard said he’s had no contact with LREM and will run for re-election as independent in his town, where Macron’s party took 28% of the vote in the EU elections. The Greens got 18%, while his former colleagues, the Republicans, were fifth with just 8%.
Other mayors who have recently quit the Republicans include those of Quimper in Brittany and Villejuif next to Paris.
“It took us 72 hours to get 72 names," Brouard said. "So I assure you there are plenty more willing to make the move."
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