In French Alps, Macron's party struggles to hold conservative heartland

French President Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris

By Cecile Mantovani and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

ANNECY, France (Reuters) - Paul Guigue, an entrepreneur from the French Alps, twice voted for Emmanuel Macron's party but now plans to cast his ballot for the far-right National Rally in protest at the French president's liberal economic policies.

The 72-year-old was among the inhabitants of Annecy, known for its pristine lake and picturesque Alpine scenery, who helped RN prevail in the Haute-Savoie region in a historic win at European elections this month.

Macron's centrist party is now struggling to preserve its seats in the two-round parliamentary election on June 30 and July 7 in Haute-Savoie, which borders Switzerland and relies on tourism, agriculture and industries such as metallurgy.

"I'm going to cast a protest vote against Macron," said Guigue, who said he had voted for conservative parties for most of his life.

"We pay lots of taxes but don't get anything in return ... And I'm worried for the children growing up because we will leave them with huge debts."

Residents of Haute-Savoie have traditionally voted for ring-wing parties but without swaying towards the far-right. The trend persisted until 2017, when candidates from Macron's party won seats in four of the region's six constituencies. In 2022, they won three seats.

Antoine Armand, running for re-election in Haute-Savoie's second constituency for Macron's Renaissance party, said voters wanted to "punish" Macron over low salaries, the cost of living and security.

"It's often daily issues that have not been resolved for years and, after a while, people give in and vote for an extreme party," he told Reuters at a bustling market in Annecy, sometimes known as the Little Venice of the Alps.


For decades, the RN's reputation for antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism kept millions of French voters away.

But Marine Le Pen's efforts to revamp the image of the party her father established in the 1970s as the National Front, pitching it more broadly as a defender of family incomes, jobs and French identity, have helped broaden its appeal.

Opinion polls show the RN winning the two-round election, but perhaps without an absolute majority. That would likely force Macron, a centrist, europhile, to share power with an anti-immigrant, eurosceptic government.

Anis Bouvard, the RN candidate for Haute-Savoie's second constituency, said Paris had become disconnected from France's regions and Macron was neglecting rural areas.

"Emmanuel Macron does federal politics, and all that matters is the European Union," Bouvard said. "He doesn't care about France."

Macron called the snap election after RN came out top in France in this month's European Union elections, with about 32% against the 15% secured by Macron's centrist alliance.

Armand, the candidate from Macron's party, said it had to highlight its achievements to bring back disaffected conservative voters.

"We have had the lowest unemployment in rate in France in 40 years," he said.

Guillaume Tatu is standing for the New Popular Front, a new left-wing alliance that has said its first measures would include reversing Macron's pension reforms and scrapping an increase in the retirement age announced last year.

"The campaign is difficult because the anger is palpable," he said at a public market in Seynod outside Annecy, expressing concern that a far-right win might fuel racist sentiment.

"Emmanuel Macron's policies have not worked," he continued.

Ophélie Plantier, a 28-year-old shopkeeper in Annecy, said discontent had been brewing for years. She was so disillusioned that she planned to leave her ballot blank.

(Reporting by Cécile Mantovani and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Richard Lough and Kevin Liffey)