The 2022 French legislative elections have seen a slight decrease in diversity in the new National Assembly following a historic high in the 2017 polls, which swept a record number of lawmakers from diverse ethnic backgrounds into the lower house of parliament.
According to FRANCE 24’s count, at least 32 of the 550 deputies, or 5.8 percent of the National Assembly elected in the June vote, are from diverse ethnic backgrounds, compared to 35 lawmakers elected five years ago. These figures exclude France’s overseas territories.
Since gathering demographic data based on ethnicity is forbidden in France, official statistics on minorities do not exist. FRANCE 24 figures are based on tabulations adopted five years ago: We identified elected officials who have at least one parent whose background is from either French overseas territories or from a non-European country.
For deputies who trace their origins to the French overseas territories, we only included the ones elected in constituencies in mainland France. So, for instance, Maud Petit – a centrist MoDem deputy from the Val-de-Marne constituency near Paris who is originally from Martinique – is included in our count.
Following the method adopted five years ago, descendants of pieds noirs – or people of French or European ancestry born in colonial Algeria – are not included.
Five years after French voters elected a record number of minority lawmakers, the 2022 race may have yielded a slight drop. But it’s a “stagnation” that “hides progress”, according to Patrick Lozès, president and founder of Representative Council of Black Associations of France (CRAN), an umbrella association of anti-discrimination groups.
“In 2017, it was a windfall effect,” said Lozès, noting that the newly elected President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en marche (LREM) party did not expect to have so many elected officials and nominations were distributed in a hurry. “In fact, there is a huge drop in the ranks of their deputies this year. Things seem to be stabilising,” he added, referring to the ruling party’s failure to win an outright majority in the National Assembly.
Lozès, who was a candidate in the 2002 legislative elections, acknowledges the progress made over the past 20 years, when he was one of just a handful of candidates from diverse backgrounds to be nominated by a major French party. “Since that time, things have totally evolved,” he noted.
As a founder of a group working for greater diversity, Lozès regrets the ban on ethnic statistics in France. Far from condemning the country’s track record on minority representation, as some believe, Lozès maintains that diversity-specific statistics “would make it possible to measure progress in this area. We could have quantified the progress of 2017 compared to 2012, when the number of elected officials from diverse backgrounds tripled. The National Assembly is gradually reflecting the diversity of the French street,” he noted.
According to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), 7.3 million people, or 11 percent of the population in France had at least one immigrant parent.
High profile far-left lawmakers
Parsing the numbers on a party-wide basis, this year, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left France Unbowed (La France Insoumise or LFI party) has the largest number of minority deputies, comprising 14.6 percent – or 11 out of 77 LFI lawmakers – in the new National Assembly.
Some of the better known LFI lawmakers, all elected from the Paris area, include Danièle Obono, a Franco-Gabonese parliamentarian retaining the seat she won in 2017.
Others include Sophia Chikirou, Mélenchon’s communications director who is of Algerian descent, Congo Brazzaville-born Nadège Abomangoli and Rachel Keke, who made headlines in the 2022 legislative race.
Born in Ivory Coast, Keke arrived in France aged 26 in 2000. She was one of around 20 chambermaids who won a gruelling labour struggle against a Paris hotel.
Raquel Garrido, an LFI powerhouse who arrived in France aged 14 after her parents fled the Chilean dictatorship in the 1970s, was also elected to the National Assembly, along with Rodrigo Arenas, another lawmaker of Chilean origins.
“Some parties are paying much more attention to the issue of diversity, starting with LFI. The movement is very interested in working-class neighbourhoods and has made itself the bearer of their demands,” said Sébastien Michon, a sociologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).
Drop in diversity figures from ruling party
On the other hand, Macron’s ruling party saw a drop in diversity figures this year.
After sending a record 23 deputies from diverse backgrounds to the Assembly five years ago, the LREM – now called the Renaissance party – has only 11 deputies of ethnically diverse origins following the 2022 vote.
Some of the LREM’s high-profile candidates in the 2017 race, such as Mounir Mahjoubi, a former junior minister of digital affairs who was a symbol of diversity five years ago, chose not to run in the 2022 legislative elections.
Others, such as Laetitia Avia, who ran from Paris’s eighth district, were defeated this year.
From zero diversity to ‘can do better’
On the right of the political spectrum, centre-right Les Républicains (LR) and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN or National Front) had a poor diversity showing.
While LR – the party of former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy – did field some candidates from diverse backgrounds, none of their deputies (62 for LR, 89 for RN) met FRANCE 24’s tabulation criteria.
In the case of Le Pen’s National Front, however, the finding is not surprising, since immigration control is one of the pillars of the party’s programme.
Between these good and bad diversity scores, a number of parties can be placed on the “can do better” list. These include France’s once mighty Socialist Party, the Greens, the centrist MoDem, the Communist Party and the leftist Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI).
In the racially diverse district of Seine-Saint-Denis north of Paris, Soumya Bourouaha, the daughter of Algerian immigrant parents, won a seat for the Communist Party thereby saving the party a repeat of its 2017 zero diversity score.
Risk of ‘ethnicisation’ of candidates
While the formation of an alliance of France’s largest leftist parties added spark to the 2022 legislative campaign, the NUPES (New Ecological and Social Popular Union) bloc was not spared a diversity swipe in the lead-up to the June polls.
In early June, when the left alliance released a photo of its candidates in Seine-Saint-Denis, one of France’s most diverse districts, it sparked snide criticisms from comedians and competing politicians. “When I saw the list of the extreme left (sic) in Seine-Saint-Denis, I thought we were in the Vosges!” said humorist Yassine Belattar, referring to France’s predominantly white eastern Vosges region.
“The controversy erupted because of the choice to place career politicians rather than local activists in constituencies ultra-favorable to the NUPES,” explained Michon. “This is due to the very structure of the parties: senior party members who have political careers claim places where they can be elected. Now, among them, there is a certain homogeneity: many white men from the upper classes. There is a friction between factionalism and political branding.”
Tous élus, a nonpartisan French NGO working on democracy issues, even wrote a column in the leading French daily, Le Monde to warn the left-wing coalition.
“Our aim was not to target just the NUPES. We addressed the left because they are parties that espouse diversity, meritocracy, ecology and, as a nonpartisan association, it seemed important for us to highlight this gap,” said Tous Élus director general Audrey Fortassin, adding that the other parties are not above criticism for their lack of representativeness.
“Citizens today think it is important to have diversity among their representatives to defend their voice. However, the harsh reality is that it’s difficult for novices to get party nominations,” explained Fortassin. “There is of course a desire to do some political marketing by putting forward a Rachel Keke. However, it must be said that without media coverage, it’s very difficult for them to be elected.”
Lozès agrees with this observation, but warns of another danger. “There is also a risk of ethnicisation of minority deputies, who can be elected only in ‘pockets of diversity’ such as Seine-Saint-Denis or the constituencies of French abroad,” he warned. “The parties must pass the test to present candidates of diversity everywhere. Voters vote first and foremost for the party.”
Nevertheless Lozès is optimistic about the diversity representation in the new National Assembly, noting that “beyond those elected, we must also welcome the unprecedented number of candidates who ran for these elections”.
A crucial next step, according to him, is to improve the situation. “Ideally, people from diverse backgrounds should be included in the nomination committees of the parties,” he noted. “It is there, in these opaque places where decisions are made without transparency, that everything is played out.”
This article has been translated from the original in French.
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