2020 elections in France: what do you need to know?

2020 elections in France: what do you need to know?

The next round of French local elections takes place in March 2020, with the county and regional elections following in 2021, and finally the next presidential and legislative elections in 2022

As well as different timings, there are different processes for the various types of elections, however, election day in France always takes place on a Sunday. Here’s a basic guide to what’s what.

MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS (Sunday 15 and 22 March 2020)

– Local elections take place every six years.

– Prospective councillors (including mayor hopefuls) come together to stand collectively for elections as a complete list, comprised equally of women and men.

– Each list (there’s no limit) has to be submitted ahead of an election deadline and a set of objectives published in a manifesto-style document known as a profession de foi. This document is distributed by the local postal service to every inhabitant.

– Voters are required to vote for a complete list. (Non-French EU nationals in France have the right to vote in local elections and European elections as long as they are registered on the electoral roll.) Under proportional representation rules, the list that wins more than 50% of the vote in the first round, or if no list gains more than 50% of the vote in the first then the list with the majority vote in the second round, takes the positions of maire and adjoint(s) au maire plus the lion’s share of seats in the conseil municipal. The other seats are then allocated proportionally, according to the percentage of votes won, among all the lists that had obtained more than 5% of the votes cast.

– If there is no majority winner in the first round, only lists with over 10% of the votes can compete in the second round. At this point, lists can make slight changes, notably teaming up with another list.

– The number of seats in the conseil municipal ranges from seven for communes with fewer than 100 residents up to 69 for larger territories with up to 300,000 residents, while major city conurbations may have more than 100.

– In communities with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, voters can cross out and even add names to a list and the conseil municipal is made up of the people winning the most votes from across the lists. The mayor is subsequently elected by a majority vote in a secret ballot of council members at the first council meeting after the elections.

TERRITORIAL ELECTIONS (les élections communautaires)

Since changes introduced in 2013, representatives for the territorial (or inter-community) councils are effectively elected via the same process as the municipal elections. In effect, the heads of each elected municipal list automatically take their place on the territorial council. This system was established to guarantee that the inter-community assemblies are made up exclusively of elected municipal officials.

COUNTY ELECTIONS (les élections départementales)

County councillors are also elected for a six-year term. Previously, the system operated on a three-year rotational basis, with half the councillors finishing their six-year term as another half were starting theirs – presumably for the benefit of continuity. This model of partial renewal was scrapped in 2013, however, and now all councillors are elected afresh at the same time.

The selection process is again on a two-round majority basis, however it’s slightly different:

– Candidates must stand for election as a pair made up of one man and one woman. If a successful pair gains an absolute majority and a quarter of the registered voters, they are elected. If not…

– … A second round is held, and the pair with the most votes is elected. Only pairs that have gained a minimum 12.5% share of the votes in the first round can go forward into the second round. If no pair achieves this percentage, then the two pairs with the highest number of votes contest the second round.


Members of regional councils in France are elected on a renewable six-year mandate. As with municipal and territorial councils, prospective councillors stand as a list, this time made up of representatives from each county in that region. The election process is again a two-round affair, combining the rules of proportional representation and majority votes. Candidate lists must have achieved a minimum of 10% of the votes to go through to the second round.

However, council seats are subsequently allocated on a more balanced proportional basis due to the different nature of regional authorities. In effect, the majority bonus of seats given to the winning list (either in the first or second round) is equal to a quarter of the councillor positions available (as opposed to half in municipal elections).


Since 2002, the president of France holds office for five years, known as the quinquennat, as opposed to the previous seven-year mandate. He or she is allowed to run for a second term but no more. The national elections are generally held in the spring, with the first and second round held two weeks apart. Only French nationals, aged 18 or over, registered on the electoral roll are eligible to vote.

Premier tour (8-23 April 2022)

Again, under proportional representation rules, all eligible candidates battle out the first round of voting. The two candidates with the most votes at the end of this first round go on to compete against each other for the presidency in the second round. It is possible for a candidate to be elected president after the first round if they receive 50% of the vote. However, the French political system is dynamic and diverse, with new parties forming regularly to challenge traditional norms, so it is unlikely that this would occur.

Deuxième tour

The second round of voting is held two weeks later, during which time the two candidates enter into a period of intense promotional campaigning and usually a televised head-to-head public debate. Unsuccessful candidates and their parties also use this period to express their support for one or other of the remaining two. As many of the political parties have existing strong allegiances, it is often fairly straightforward who they will support. In the second round, the candidate with the most votes wins.


Legislative elections are held shortly after the presidential elections to elect members of France’s National Assembly (effectively parliament, therefore effectively ministers). There are 577 members of the assembly. Prospective candidates stand as individuals, usually affiliated to a political party, and the voting process is similar to that operated for county council elections. Voter eligibility is the same as for the presidential elections, so only French nationals over 18 years old on the electoral role.


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