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Macron is trying to stop Le Pen before it’s too late

Madame President? Credit: Getty

June 10, 2024 - 2:30pm

With results in from the European elections, it’s clear that the populist Right has made significant advances — and nowhere more so than in France. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) has crushed Emmanuel Macron’s allies, winning close to a third of the vote.

In response, the French President has taken the extraordinary step of dissolving the National Assembly — just two years after the last legislative election in 2022 and three years before they’re next due.

On the face of it, it’s hard to see what Macron can gain by this. The 2022 result was bad enough; his centrist supporters lost their majority and the RN won 89 seats. With the populists going from strength to strength, Macron appears to be risking an even bigger Le Pen triumph, with the intention of panicking the French electorate into backing what’s left of his presidency.

The voting systems for the European Parliament and the National Assembly are different — the former uses proportional representation, the latter the French system of run-off voting. If Left-wing and centrist voters unite against the populist Right, then Le Pen could find most of her candidates losing out in the second round. Over the decades, it’s a phenomenon that has frustrated her — and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen — in numerous legislative and presidential elections.

In recent years, however, the power of this cordon sanitaire has weakened, which is why the RN broke through in 2022. This time round, a lot depends on who the voters of the Left decide they hate more: the neoliberal Macron or Jean-Marie’s daughter.

Macron may also be hoping to exploit fault lines on the Left. In 2022, four parties — Jean-Luc MĂ©lenchon’s LFI, the socialists, the greens and the communists — put aside their differences to form a common front called NUPES. Right now the socialists, who came a strong third in the European elections, are riding high, and may calculate that they’re not so reliant on their allies as they used to be.

The French President is nothing if not a taker of chances. This year alone, he’s appointed a prime minister in his early 30s and is attempting to replace Ursula von der Leyen at the European Commission with Mario Draghi. Nevertheless, in calling the bluff of the French electorate he’s playing a dangerous game. The populist Right, including Éric Zemmour’s Reconquest party (which won five MEPs last night), now commands almost 40% of the vote.

So to call a legislative election now, when he doesn’t need to, is quite the move. Macron probably didn’t get to chat long with Rishi Sunak last week, but the British PM’s example is far from encouraging.

Then again, Macron may fear that Le Pen is building up unstoppable momentum. In the 2022 presidential election he beat her by 59 to 41%. However, the progress made by the RN (and Reconquest) between the 2019 and 2024 European elections suggests that support for the populist Right is up by at least ten points.

He also knows that he can’t run for president again. Given what the French do with lame ducks, he’s opted — while he still can — for one last showdown with his old adversary. Having beaten her twice, it would be unwise to count him out just yet.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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AC Harper
AC Harper
14 days ago

I wonder if Macron is playing to the political class and hoping to pave the way for his later career in the EU Commission. Or he could be doing what he thinks is right for France, but he has a funny way of showing it.

Andrew F
Andrew F
13 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Highly unrealistic.
No new French president would agree to his predecessor to become Head of European Commission.
Usually, failed politician like Van der Lier gets selected.
Well, that is one attribute Macron has.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
14 days ago

Change has to come in France because the state has simply become too big for the productive economy to support and all efforts to scale it back have failed. Le Pen doesn’t have the solution to this any more than Macron did. It’s going to be a long, painful and probably violent process.

Andrew F
Andrew F
13 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

How is it different from uk?
Non productive (cost centers if you like) parts of society claim ever bigger slice of National cake.
Especially NHS and immigrants support (well over 100 billion a year for the last one).
While productive and inovating parts of economy decamp to USA.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
13 days ago
Reply to  Andrew F

The only difference is one of scale. In France the state will soon pass 60% of the economy. In Britain it’s around 40%.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

But she’ll sort the Islamic problem out which is what everyone wants.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
14 days ago

Who cares? The EU apparatchiks will win as always…until it collapses…

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
14 days ago

My suspicion is that Macron looked at the election results then looked in the mirror and asked himself the question “que ferait NapolĂ©on Bonaparte ?”

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
14 days ago

It’s time for the great-grandson of Johan Huizinga to write “The Autumn of the Educated Ages.” Because the rule of the educated class is reaching its sell-by date.

DenialARiverIn Islington
DenialARiverIn Islington
14 days ago

King Canute revisited

0 0
0 0
13 days ago

Actually, votes and seats for the French far right have not increased since the last EU elections five years ago. It’s just that those votes have largely hoovered up by the RN rather than spread across half a dozen far right factions.

The big fall in votes for the parties supporting Macron and the Greens have been matched by increases in votes for the left, especially the Socialists and Melenchon’s Insoumises, which however have little in common. The outcome of the French legislative election will depend most on whether those differences can be bridged.

The second round depends hugely on tactical voting. Disapproval of government is strong enough to attract non habitual support to either right or left candidates facing a government aligned one in the second round. While Macron would be happy to tarnish the innocence of the RN by some responsibilities of government before 2027; he’s not likely to get the chance. So, instead of ‘it’s me or chaos’ as he claimed when reelected , it’ll be ‘me and chaos.’. But one he can more easily blame on others, or on the electorate.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
13 days ago

I suspect his plan is to get RN into government so that they have two years in which to demonstrate they are no more competent than anyone else before the next presidential election.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
13 days ago

A plan that Mitterrand successfully implemented in the 1980s.

Chipoko
Chipoko
12 days ago

Bon chance, Marine Le Pen!