Case Study: La République en Marche, France

En Marche! (later renamed La Republique en Marche, or LREM, "The Republic on the Move") was founded in April 2016 by Emmanuel Macron just 12 months before he led the party to victory in the French presidential election. In order to mount an effective election campaign, a formal party organization needed to be put in place quickly. LREM achieved this in part by developing "local committees." In lieu of typical local party meetings, they instituted a bottom-up, low-threshold membership structure that let anybody sign up and establish their own branch.


LREM lacked both the basic infrastructure of its established rivals and grassroots members to fight their campaign on the ground. The party was founded just a year before the 2017 elections and did not have procedures in place for membership recruitment and selection of candidates. It needed to quickly build mechanisms to reach prospective voters. 


LREM enabled supporters to shape the electoral campaign according to local issues by adopting a “local committee” structure. Individuals interested in establishing a local committee in their neighborhood, county, or state, were able to do so by filling out a short online form on the LREM website. In contrast with the majority of political parties, En Marche! decided not to charge for membership. Prospective members were expected to subscribe to the party's charter of values, but were not obliged to resign from any other political organizations.

The local committees were envisioned as a crucial source of ideas for the party's policy. The "Grande Marche," a door-to-door poll conducted by 25,000 LREM members, was performed in 2016 to examine the primary problems and priorities of voters around the country. Based on the results from the "Grande Marche," the members were allowed to focus their campaigns on topics from Macron's platform that resonated with priorities in their own neighborhoods.


Two major issues arose from the decentralized fashion of the committees. First, while concept of openness was essential to the committees' success, it resulted in a lack of control over party organs. By giving everyone the opportunity to start a committee, this resulted in the formation of many committees in the same location. LREM also had little control over who was representing it at the local leve. Such groups eventually merged, and the party has since introduced procedures to prevent overlap and ensure that local officials represent the party’s values. Secondly, while local committees were viewed as an important source of policy ideas, there were fewer formal lines of communication between the grassroots members and the party's headquarters than in most traditional parties. Members responded positively to the open, dialogue-based format of the committees, yet there is evidence of frustration that they played a less central role after the election, at which point a more traditional, top-down party structure took hold. 

However, despite these difficulties, the open membership model allowed a network of committees to grow spontaneously, with minimal resources and top-down involvement. There were already more than 2,600 local committees by the beginning of 2017. This number continued to grow following Macron's election victory, with 3,200 committees and a total membership of 350,000 people by mid 2017, illustrating the power of their local strategy. 
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