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Rise Of The Far-Right In France: Macron’s Call For Snap Elections May Signal The Downfall Of The State

National Assembly: illuminations for the French Presidency of the European Union

Staff writer Salomé Ichay scrutinises French President Macron’s dissolution of the National Assembly after the outcome of the EU elections.

Across the media, the weekend of the 8th of June was marked by the greatly anticipated European Union (EU) elections. With elections taking place every 5 years, EU citizens elect 720 MEPs to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, divided among the EU countries proportionate to their respective populations. For instance, France has 81 members whilst Greece only has 21. The European Parliament is divided among 9 political parties, with a wide array of groups spanning from the far-left to the far-right.

While observing the results of the 2024 EU elections, as a whole, does provide interesting insights into the growing prominence of right-wing groups, France’s results separately require further scrutiny. Indeed, many citizens in France and international media have been surprised by French President Emmanuel Macron’s unexpected announcement to dissolve the National Assembly, Assemblée Nationale in French, following the victory of the far-right party in the European elections. 

What do the results across the EU reveal?

In 2019, the most popular party in Parliament was the European People’s Party (EPP), which had 176 seats, having recently gained another 13 seats during this election cycle, thus increasing to 189 seats. In other words, right parties, such as the Christian democrats, across the EU remain ahead. The “European Conservatives and Reformists” group (ECR) currently have 83 seats. Moreover, the “Identity and Democracy” group (ID), a coalition of far-right parties, holds 58 seats. In fact, the Conservatives are in the lead in 14 EU member states, including Germany which has the most seats in parliament, Spain and Poland. 

The centrist party, “Renew Europe” currently hold 81 seats. Indeed, the group has become more unpopular over the years, considering it had 102 seats in the former composition. Lastly, the leftist coalition “Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats”, S&D, has 136 seats. Although the party has lost 4 seats since 2019, its presence is still significant in the overall composition of Parliament. Often supporting this group are the “Greens”, who managed to get 51 seats in this legislature, and the far-left party, “The Left”, with 39 seats.

Taken together, one can observe that right-oriented parties are the ones with the most influence in the European institution. From a global standpoint, even if centrist and left parties formed an alliance, which would be very unlikely, their number of seats would still be inferior to a coalition of right and far-right parties. This alliance would be very unlikely since there are many disparities among the different parties.

France: a worrying surge of the far-right party

France as a case study is particularly relevant as it demonstrates the worrying rise of the main far-right party the “National rally”, Rassemblement National (RN) in French, which was led by Marine Le Pen (2011-2021) followed by Jordan Bardella since September 2021. The RN has gotten close to 32% of the votes in the country, representing more than double the presidential majority having received close to 15% of the votes. This means that RN will hold 30 seats in the European Parliament whilst Macron’s party will only have 13 seats. Compared to 2019, Bardella’s party has gained 12 seats but Macron’s coalition of centrist parties lost 10 seats.

The rise of the far-right may be attributed to citizens’ increased insecurity surrounding rising immigration in the state. Furthermore, the far-right has openly encouraged policies which would put the needs of the French people first, especially regarding the energy crisis caused by significant inflation. Electricity bills have increased over the years and many French people blame and resent Macron for their difficulties keeping up. This frustration has fuelled a rise in populist sentiment across the country, illustrated by the greater support of ‘French people first’ policies, as seen through immigration to the energy crisis issues. In that context, the far-right has taken advantage of this growing feeling of the so-called ras-le-bol, or fed-upness, to promote populist changes.

The RN had advocated for a reduction of the VAT on energy bills to help relieve the loss of purchasing power expressed by many French citizens in multiple protests. In response to the nerve-wracking results of the European elections in France, Macron decided to dissolve the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and called for snap parliamentary elections that evening.

Why did Macron make such a risky decision?

The elections will be conducted over two rounds on June 30th and July 7th. According to Article 12 of the French Constitution, the president can dissolve the National Assembly before the end of his term should he feel frustrated by the difficulty of passing legislation when presiding over a minority government. Considered a power move by some while a rash decision by others, no one can question the critical impact of the European elections on the national political scene.

It is the first time in the history of the country that a president has not only addressed the public on television following the announcement of the results of the European elections but also let the former influence national politics. This dissolution, therefore, is not a trivial reaction and must be analysed closely. 

Since making this announcement, Macron is desperately trying to convince French citizens that the power is in their hands not to let the far-right come into power, stating that he fully trusts that they will “make the right choice”. There are two ways of looking at this. Either, the French president is blindly trusting the French citizens to vote for his party, despite the indisputable, crushing results of his party in the European elections. Or, he is playing a strategic move to empower the RN for the next three years to expose their ineptitude to govern to voters, thereby undermining their appeal.

The French president is aware that the far-right main party has gained a lot of popularity in the country, especially since his controversial pension reform. Backed into a corner, he resorts to a bold yet risky strategy to give the French people what they want for a temporary period to prove them wrong ahead of the next presidential elections in 2027.

Although Macron is one of the most unpopular presidents of the 5th Republic, it would be too quick to assess him as naïve. Indeed, Macron has understood the message sent by the voters in the European elections regarding his government: they are not satisfied with the country’s current political situation. This is why calling for snap elections, where the RN is most likely to win according to the current polls, may not be so far-fetched after all.

However, his whole plan relies on the supposed incompetence of the far-right party. In other words, Emmanuel Macron is playing a dangerous game by almost handing the power to Bardella for at least the next year, since Parliament can not be dissolved again for at least one year. All of this is done for the small and risky hope that the RN fails to lead a successful government. 

RN in power: what would it mean for French society?

If the RN were to gain a majority in the upcoming legislative elections, Macron would be forced to pick Jordan Bardella as a prime minister, thus entering a phase of cohabitation. Bardella would most likely then constitute a new government with ministers following the far-right party line. Whether the RN wins an outright majority: 289 seats in the National Assembly, or a relative one: becoming the majority party, the French president must appoint a prime minister of the dominant party.

This gamble, regardless of whether it works out in his favour or not, implies having a government whose ideals are not compatible with gender equality, any form of anti-discrimination measures or policies promoting the protection of the environment. For instance, the RN abstained in May 2023 on the “European Directive on transparency and equal pay” which aims to apply equal pay between women and men for equal work or of the same value.

Markets and experts in the field fear that a far-right leadership in France may trigger a financial crisis in the state. Economists at the Berenberg Bank have argued that public spending would increase if Bardella’s party were to pursue its protectionist ‘France first’ agenda. This is worrisome because France has already piled up a massive debt whilst being one of the EU’s three most indebted countries.

Raising public spending while maintaining tax reductions would force the French government to borrow heavily from investors by selling bonds. This chain of events is what caused the financial crisis in the UK under former Prime Minister Liz Truss, for instance. Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, fears the country may undergo a similar process where the RN will be put in charge of the economy

Final reflections

The results of the European elections have exposed the growing tendency to support right-wing groups, including nationalist far-right parties. The EPP has kept its majority in the European Parliament at the expense of the centrist bloc which lost a significant number of seats. Regarding France, Emmanuel Macron has taken a risky gamble by dissolving the National Assembly following the disastrous results of his party at the European elections. Indeed, the RN remains ahead in the polls despite his numerous attempts to discredit their far-right political campaign.

Macron’s decision is more guided by a self-centred strategy to uncover the potential incompetence of Bardella’s party at the expense of French citizens who will have to live under an extremist, anti-immigration group for at least a year. From an economic perspective, many experts have expressed their concerns related to a potential financial crisis in France and in the EU, to a certain extent. If Bardella were to pursue his economic agenda, it would trigger further debt accumulation and loss of confidence among investors in France. 

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