Analysis. The French president, who has cast himself as pro-European, is playing a national game, hoping to call the bluff of the far right. However, it’s an extremely dangerous game.

Routed by Le Pen, Macron gambles the nation with snap elections

In a bombshell announcement, Emmanuel Macron called snap legislative elections, with the first round on June 30, the second on July 7. For the first time, a European election has had a disruptive effect at the national level, although there is no provision for such an outcome at the institutional level.

National Rally came out on top, with 31.5 percent of the vote, while the far-right Reconquête managed to clear the 5 percent threshold. Macron’s party, Renaissance, came in second but with less than half the number of votes for the far right, at below 15 percent. Just behind it was Raphaël Glucksmann’s PS with 14 percent. France Insoumise may end up above 10%. The Républicains were at slightly above 7 percent. The Ecologists narrowly managed to avoid falling under the 5% threshold. The PCF was out, however, getting even less than the 3% needed to get their expenses reimbursed.

Macron spoke about a “main lesson” from the vote: it was “not a good result for the parties who defend Europe.” He said that the far right was now at 40 percent in France, railing against the extreme right as “both the impoverishment of the French people and the downfall of our country” and calling the growth of nationalism “a danger to Europe”

The French president chose to make a surprise move and bring the showdown closer, one which would have come in the fall anyway, with political paralysis assured given that the president doesn’t have a majority and there are threats of confidence votes on the next budget. However, Macron is taking an enormous risk: there is war in Europe and the far right is ambivalent about Russia and defiant against climate measures, and now it’s possible that France could have a far-right prime minister as early as the Paris Olympics. “This decision is serious, heavy,” Macron said. “But it is, above all, an act of trust. Trust in you, my dear compatriots. In the capacity of the French people to make the most just decision.”

Stéphane Séjourné, foreign minister and secretary general of Renaissance, clarified that Macron’s party would not run candidates against outgoing MPs who belong to the “republican” area – that is, excluding extremists. It is not certain that the parties on the Republican part of the spectrum will follow his lead.

The political world was stunned by the announcement. The head of the RN list, Jordan Bardella, had just rhetorically called for an early election in light of the results. However, the far-right party is unprepared, and that is probably what Macron intends to bank on. Glucksmann strongly disagreed: according to him, Macron has “given in” to Bardella. “This is a very dangerous game to play with democracy and the institutions.”

The snap election finds the left divided and confrontational. On Sunday, immediately after the announcement of the dissolution of the Assemblée Nationale, Florence Guetté for France Insoumise said that early elections are “logical” after the European elections result and hinted that the Nupes alliance, which fell apart some time ago, could be back on the table.

According to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Macron “is right” to call for elections after suffering “an absolute defeat.” “We are not afraid of the people,” said the France Insoumise leader. “We won the first round of the legislative elections in 2022, we can win again.” Mélenchon’s only complaint was that Macron “did not put his mandate” as president on the line. François Ruffin, Mélenchon’s competitor, called for the formation of “a popular front of the left.” Olivier Faure, PS secretary, spoke of a possible “useful union.” The Ecologists also called for unity on the left.

France is going its own way; meanwhile, even though there has been growth by the far right, Europe remains more or less within the red lines of the past. The alliance that has supported the European leadership for the last five years remains the same: EPP, S&D and Renew (EPP gained 5 seats, S&D lost 4, Renew lost 20). While Macron was announcing the dissolution of the French Parliament, in Brussels Ursula von der Leyen was celebrating that the EPP had “won the European elections.”

The French president, who has cast himself as pro-European, is playing a national game, hoping to call the bluff of the far right. However, it’s an extremely dangerous game, with only three weeks to change a situation marked by discontent, resentment and dissatisfaction. In the European elections, the Renaissance list lost half of its votes compared to Macron’s result in the first round of the 2022 presidential election, while National Rally retained 90 percent of those that voted for Marine Le Pen back then.

François Bayrou, a prominent figure of the majority, said the vote for the Europeans was “very significant” and called for a “refounding” and a “reconstruction.” Before Macron’s announcement, Renaissance had called the result of the vote a “national tragedy for France,” which will make National Rally the largest far-right party in the European Parliament.

On Sunday evening, French citizens were very puzzled by the decision to call early elections. A new election campaign is starting after the one that just ended; and the memory of 1997 still lingers, with then-President Jacques Chirac losing the early election he called and having to settle for a period of cohabitation with the Socialist Lionel Jospin as prime minister. Now, “cohabitation” with Jordan Bardella of the RN would be a different beast altogether.

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