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Is Macron’s gamble actually working? He has sacrificed France to stay in the game

(LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)


July 4, 2024   4 mins

A 10-second clip from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi has been doing the rounds on French social media. In it, a hooded, decaying Emperor Palpatine arrives on the “fully operational” Second Death Star, cackling “Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen”. It’s meant used to illustrate the destruction Macron has wrought on France, her institutions and her politics — and his hubris.

After an accelerated three-week national campaign, the first round of voting saw National Rally candidates polling 33% of the overall vote. The hastily cobbled together New Popular Front Left-wing Alliance managed to capture 28% of the vote, and Macron’s Ensemble party only took 21.5%. In a British election, this would seem to herald an easy win. Not so in the two-round French system, in which the two losers could decide to gang up on the leader for the second round of voting.

And that’s what Emmanuel Macron decided he, le grand virtuose, could achieve. He wanted to ensure a clear two-way contest, constituency by constituency, between the evil National Rally representative on one side, and on the other, all those brave members of the Front Républicain stepping up to bar the way to Fascism. So, anticipating this shotgun marriage of sorts, he urged anyone coming in last to pull out.

This is why, as news of his incumbents’ dismal performances landed through the night of the first round, Le Président kept smiling, convinced that he could clip the Rally’s wings and come through as the Great Saviour of Democracy. “I have been proven right,” the well-informed Canard Enchaîné quoted him as telling shell-shocked aides. “The abscess had to be lanced. We shall build a very large coalition of government with every party from the New Popular Front alliance, except [Trotskyite Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s] France Insoumise.” A few days later, he amended this to include F.I., even though, three weeks before, he had (accurately) described our version of the Corbynite sect as “anti-democratic, anti-parliamentarian, anti-Semitic, anti-nuclear power and pro-Russian”.

Then, in keeping with the urgent pace of the entire election, all names of candidates fighting the second round had to be registered by Tuesday evening. When the dust settled yesterday, the 306 constituencies where a “triangulaire” three-way battle would have almost automatically favoured the Rally had fallen to 89. Hence the clip of the Elysée Palace Palpatine: he feels his cunning plan has been validated.

It’s classic Macron. He approaches every problem by dissecting it coldly into abstract components. When plucked by President Hollande from his super-SpAd job in 2015 to be made Minister for the Economy (you don’t need to be an MP in France to be in the Cabinet), he complained about the “messiness” and “pointlessness” of politics, the “needless negotiations over trivia” and the “waste of time” it entailed. The ultimate mandarin, he treats his Cabinet like subordinates and his MPs like employees. Unimpressed by pollsters, he has made his own calculations, and believes he can reshape whatever National Assembly will come out of next Sunday’s vote into a body of legislators he can work with. After all, the reasoning goes, he already did not have a full majority in the previous House.

This infuriates not only his ministers, and all those MPs whose careers he sacrificed with his throw of the dice, but also the electorate. After all, in today’s times of mistrust and suspicions of stitch-ups, the only question is: will voters also go along with his cunning plan? In France, you pick your favourites in the first round, and arbitrate for the least bad in the second. So it’s not just politicians who feel betrayed at having to yield to adversaries: will Républicain voters agree to cast their ballot for politicians who, with a gun to their head, signed up for a Manifesto more radical than François Mitterrand’s in 1981?

“The only question is: will voters also go along with the cunnning plan?”

The New Popular Front, that uneasy alliance of Socialist, Greens, Communists and Mélenchonista Trots thrown together in three days after Macron dissolved the House, advocates for high taxes, including 100% on all inheritances above a cap to be determined later; import taxes, export taxes, green taxes, Social Security taxes in addition to huge payroll taxes, and an exit tax in addition to a re-introduced wealth tax for anyone trying to leave France’s new paradise. There’s more Net Zero, no pesticides ever, Sri-Lankan style; fast-tracking of any migrants qualifying as “climate refugees” (that would be most of sub-Saharan Africa, a chunk of Oceania, and many Indian Ocean islands); union representatives holding one third of seats in companies’ boards. The EU should sever treaties with Israel; no fossil fuel-powered cars should be on the roads by 2040; building more nuclear plants should be subject to referendums… and on and on it goes. An indigestible smorgasbord of the kind of policies people who spent a good chunk of their adult lives sniping at one another will only agree to when they have to produce a text before 5am, with the printers hollering for copy.

As a result, the Front Républicain may not hold: Les Républicains, already divided when a splinter group led by Eric Ciotti decided to support the National Rally in the first round, are now refusing to tell their voters who to vote for. Macron’s popular first PM, the former Le Havre Mayor Édouard Philippe, a moderate who since the dissolution of the National Assembly has been calling Macron “psychiatrically insane”, insists that the Republican Front cannot include the Mélenchonistas — who, better organised, are contesting the most seats on the Left. And Emperor Palpatine’s youthful Darth Vader, PM Gabriel Attal, who nearly came to blows with Macron the evening he decided to “throw a live grenade” into the French political scene by calling a snap election without telling him, is now considering a presidential run in three years’ time — or sooner should the President’s grand gamble fail.

Judging by Macron’s walkabout last Sunday in the streets of Le Touquet, the Channel coast resort where he owns a holiday home, dressed in a leather biker jacket, a baseball cap and a big smile, he still believes he will be the winner. The Elysée is currently fast-tracking a series of nominations in the top civil service which will ensure Macron-compatible people will head the security services, the police, and other key posts. Should Jordan Bardella accept the job of cohabitation PM without a full majority in Parliament, everything is in place to give him a hard time. And should voters up-end Macron’s plans by deciding on Sunday that no-one will tell them which candidate represents democracy and which represents pure evil, the president has threatened to continue the Palpatine chaos, declaring that “constitutionally, I can dissolve the National Assembly in exactly a year”. Macron has sacrificed all to his vainglorious desire to stay in the game. Everything is proceeding as he has foreseen — and to hell with France.


Anne-Elisabeth Moutet is a Paris-based journalist and political commentator.

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ERIC PERBET
ERIC PERBET
3 days ago

Well, Macron is certainly unhinged! In the last four weeks he has been the champion of a sort of “anything can happen as long as I wish it to happen” stance that has left many people worried and highly suspicious of his mental sanity (really).
I definitely hope that his strategy will backfire…

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
7 days ago

One would think that in France of all countries heads of state would be more aware of the dangers of defying the common people for too long. But there’s probably nothing to worry about; they are, after all, only an “abscess”.

David McKee
David McKee
7 days ago

Macron thinks he holds all the cards. But then, so did Charles I, right up to the morning of January 30th, 1649.

It’s hard to see how this can end well.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 days ago

(ignore) new user test comment

Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Best comment so far! I’m going to get that printed on a t-shirt!

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
7 days ago

The great defenders of democracy are being exposed as nothing more than narcissistic clowns – willing to do anything and sacrifice everyone – simply to stay in power.

I hope voters understand what is happening here and crush this joker. I can’t imagine the chaos that will ensue if a coalition with the New Popular Front gains power – more immigration, more net zero, more taxes. This will create a powder keg just waiting to blow.

The reaction from the technocratic ruling elite is becoming increasingly unhinged. Macron is deranged. For the good of everyone in France, I hope his tactics backfire horribly.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

“This will create a powder keg just waiting to blow.”

My thoughts exactly.

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Actually the mood is very moderate apart from a few frantic Insoumises. Like Starmer in Britain, Le Pen has disciplined her party and moderated her message to capture the centre ground.

And, as in Britain, there’s a widespread sense that the way things are currently set up is not fair. Opportunity is too restricted at the top and underlined below by aggressive global market forces, symbolised by ‘Immigration’ . But literally controlling immigration more will make insecurity and austerity worse rather than better.

In both Brirain and France, what can those who’d take power actually do to deal with the underlying problems?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
6 days ago
Reply to  0 0

France is run by about 14 Lycees located in the affluent parts of cities and the Grandes Ecoles. Most top jobs require an education at a Grande Ecole. Macron’s education is typical of those who run France,largely from professional upper middle class backgrounds. Theoretically any one enter, Sciences PO and ENA but without an education of the Lycees of the calibre of Henry IV but the chances of making it from an immigrant background in the banlieus is very remote.
Lycée Henri-IV – Wikipedia
Emmanuel Macron – Wikipedia

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
6 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Macron is unhinged. What I wonder is why he is so nonchalant about the Hard Left.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
6 days ago

Coz if he can’t have power he’d rather it all went to Hell in a handcraft.

0 0
0 0
6 days ago

Macron is not a friend of the left, hard or soft. He has played a major part in presenting LFI and Melenchon as more of a menace than the RN and Le Pen. ( It has to be said that Mélenchon has been only to happy to play the Devil.) Now that voters have abandoned the Macron ‘centre’ he’ll defend the rentier interest by making the far right respectable enough to share power. The Republican Front has been redefined as a general barrier to ‘extremism’ that is any radical social or economic policies.

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  0 0

That’s not to say Macron’s party won’t withdraw its candidate where they come third, to leave a straight left- right fight. They have in my consrituency even though lless than 1% separated the three parties in the first round.. But many more NFP candidates have been withdrawn so they’re taking barring Le Pen more seriously. And Les Républicains are more aligned with her now than with Macron. So much for the ‘Republican’ front!

Josh Woods
Josh Woods
6 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

“I hope his tactics backfire horribly.”
This gave me a chuckle as I recall how Macron has been way too successful in his mission to “piss off the unvaccinated” that it’s blowing up in his face, and of course it isn’t only the unvaccinated that he has managed to piss off. I guess he keeps reaping what he’s sown!

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  Josh Woods

One of the few good things Macron did is get people vaccinated by making that or frequentl testing a ticket to escape restrictions. And it worked!

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  0 0

And than goodness it did work. France had a more authoritarian and bureaucrztic system of control but one that was smarter, tech savvy and tied to a more differentizted abd variable set of controls. Much less health and economic damage and less time wasted in unnecessary restrictions. Only a dogmatic libertarian would object. If there are any who’ve survived COVID.

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The powder keg is not stacked as you imagine. Current levels of immigration in France, legal and other, are low, very low compared to Britain. When people talk about ‘immigration’ here it means two things: first, discontent around how previous immigrants have been assimilated where groups remain too insular. And second, a broad, diffuse sense of vulnerability to global market forces (discussed in a good article in Le Monde yesterday.) So, policy responses are not obvious which is one reason the RN says less about it.

Second, French people across the spectrum are more science aware than in Britain and take responsibility for acting to limit climate change. Net Zero is not a whipping boy here. What’s objected to is recent hikes in energy prices not because of net zero but sanctions on Russia which effectively mean extra energy taxation. French people revolted against energy taxes in 2017 and could do so again. But it won’t be a revolt against net Zero. It will be a revolt against cutting trade with Russia and ramping up a war machine against it instead.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
6 days ago
Reply to  0 0

France is what 70% nuclear energy. Big big difference. It is very much insulated from the worst impacts of net zero.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
4 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

That’s ok I suppose if they actually work, but at the height of the energy crisis in 2022, 28 of 56 EDF reactors in France were offline for one reason or another, and Macron was calling for blackouts and restrictions while trying to buy energy on the European markets. Nuclear isn’t the baseload security magic people claim.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
3 days ago

It is, but only if you have a sufficient number of reactors in production which, as you said, the French didn’t have.

Though, unlike the UK and Germany, at least the French have some they can mend! 🙂

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
6 days ago

Palpatine and Darth Vader? I prefer to think of Macron and Gabriel Attal as Dr. Evil and Mini-Me.
As always, Madame Moutet gives us an analysis that is insightful and entertaining. Macron’s gamble now makes some sort of sense.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
6 days ago

Pedantry alert:
Amiens is Macron’s hometown but it is not on the Channel coast, its about 80km inland.
The holiday home is in Le Touquet.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
6 days ago

Assuming that the alliance of Ensemble and the NPF deny the RN a majority, Bardella and Le Pen have the perfect excuse to let their opponents form a government. If their tactical alliance wasn’t enough, Macron’s threat to call another election in a year is an abuse of the constitution. The RN can wait and see France collapse into chaos, before taking power in 2027.

0 0
0 0
6 days ago

That’s Macron’s job to prevent. And he probably will, thank goodness.

Richard C
Richard C
6 days ago

“Everything is proceeding as he has foreseen — and to hell with France.”
Hasn’t this always been Macron’s style? Everything is about him and his games, very little is about the sane conduct of public policy. Throwing support behind the agenda of the New Popular Front is an act of irresponsibility that beggars belief.

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  Richard C

Macron’s done no such thing. No chance he’d do a deal to govern with the NPF..

The other thing you have to remember is that apart from immigration the social economic programme of the NPF has more in common with the far right than it does with Macron or the centre right. People have twigged that neo liberalism is ruining their lives.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
6 days ago

A coalition of the incompatibles Macron and Melenchon (the latter the head of an already fractious alliance) keeping the largest party out of government… ensuing chaos not attributable to National Rally… the perfect run up to the presidential election for Le Pen. What a cunning plan…

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Macron will get the RN into the fire before 27;to sort it out and dash populist hopes.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
6 days ago
Reply to  0 0

How?

0 0
0 0
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Financial discipline. Macron’s already talking with them about a responsible programme and what he’d veto if needed. But there are always interesting choices. Letting them do something irresponsible and letting the consequences sink in is a choice, just think of MizTrusst. Or letting people find out their promises aren’t worth much in practice, remember BoJo.
There are some clues as to which way it may go and the electorate will have a say Sunday of course. Watch Bruno LeMaire, he’s Mr. Responsibility.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
6 days ago
Reply to  0 0

It’s the way you tell ’em!

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 days ago

Further pedantry alert: in the UK it is not necessary to be a member of either house of Parliament to be a minister. It is very rare though, I think the last was Frank Cousins under H Wislon, though he was soon sent to the Lords

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
5 days ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

The previous contender was the 14th Earl of Home in 1963 who renounced his peerage, became Prime Minister, and then won a by-election. For 3 weeks he was PM without being a member of either house!

0 0
0 0
6 days ago

I’m one of those who thinks Macron was sent into the fray nearly ten years ago to look after the rentier interest. That was supposed to be the safe, reasonable center ground. And that in calling this snap election he’s acting for them again. The agenda is to get the RN into nominating the prime minister which they’ll be entitled to do if they can assemble a majority. But as they’d have to work with Macron as President he believes he could discipline them into fiscal and constitutional responsibility. Otherwise in 27 the populist revolt could elect President and PM both and sweep the board.
Anyway the French stock and gilt markets perked up on the results so fa, though no one was prepared to say why……

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
6 days ago

“It was the worst of times, it was the best of times….”

Plus ça change…

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
6 days ago

It has long been clear that Macron is a globalist who happens to also live in France, hence can and does use France to advance globalism.
Just like, in their respective “countries,” Biden/Obama, Sunak/Johnson/May/Cameron/Brown/Blair (don’t know enough about Truss to say), Scholz/Merkel/Schroeder, Draghi, Tusk, Trudeau, and probably a bunch I am missing.

All of them show commitment to globalism and its highest value, The Grift, and reluctantly pretend to care about their polities only as elections approach.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
3 days ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

Truss pushed fraccing and signs of Hope, but was ambushed by the BoE, an organisation that has pushed Climate Alarmism and, in the fairly recent past, LDIs.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
6 days ago

At least our simple electoral system doesn’t give rise to conspiracies quite like this.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 days ago

Am i being over conspiratorial in noticing some weird coincidences between Sunak and macton. Both have talked about conscription/national service. Both are having early elections. Also strong rumours of an autumn election here in ireland which doesnt feel natural and than of course the american elections. When you consider the scale of global coordination on covid etc. E.g the BIS ( bank of internation settlement ) meet every two months, i am wondering if something rather globalist is on the cards once they get the elections out of the way

Matt B
Matt B
6 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Some may prefer to schedule elections before the US poll, to avoid any possible impacts of its results on Europeans’ choices. Beyond that, Macron and Sunak assess that delaying will be to their cost – regardless of impacts on their nations.

Stewart Cazier
Stewart Cazier
6 days ago

It is in Le Pen’s interest to avoid a majority else her brand will be compromised by the inevitable disappointments of actual government. Her dream scenario is a leftist coalition- couldn’t be a better launchpad for her presidential bid.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
3 days ago
Reply to  Stewart Cazier

Successful national political leadership depends on being in the right place, at the right time, with your policies: they being the right policies, because it’s the right place and right time.

Coincidence, or not, it looks like its likely to happen in the UK, Germany and the US, and hopefully Canada. And very hopefully, elsewhere.

James P
James P
3 days ago

He’s just like Canada’s Justin Turdo, who is despised by some 70% of the population: a dictator wannabe.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 days ago

A-E M, who has egg on their storntroooer helmet visor now? Yet unlike a politician, no one will write an article detailing your asinine Star Wars misdirection