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Emmanuel Macron is gambling with France’s future – and Europe’s

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Emmanuel Macron, the man who likes to talk about Europe, left no time for talking about Europe. His political stunt yesterday to dissolve France’s parliament has deflected all attention back to national politics. The French political parties now have three weeks to prepare for these legislative elections.

To us it looks like a Machiavellian move for Macron to stay in power, with not much consideration given to what this means for Europe. For Macron’s list led by Valérie Hayer, it was a proper defeat, in line with what the polls predicted. Jordan Bardella’s list got 30 seats with 31.5% of the votes. Macron’s alliance got less than half of that, 13 seats with 14.5%. This is the same number of seats won the Rafaël Glucksmann’s list from the left, who got 14%. With a blink of an eye, Macron turned the page on these results, seemingly conceding to the demand of the Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, the clear winner, which has been calling for a dissolution of the National Assembly.

But Macron aims to win this bet. Let’s go through the scenarios of this dissolution, which we already discussed in our briefing on Friday. Risk number one is the campaign itself. Macron puts all his faith in his ability to mobilise against the far-right. His theme will be either-me-or-chaos, which has been the same theme ever since 2017. The assumption is that people may protest against Macron in a European election, but surely they will come to their senses in a national elections. In his announcement last night, he warned against the nationalists as a danger for France and for France’s place in Europe. He said the right would impoverish and downgrade France. Will his firewall against the far-right work?

Giorgia Meloni in Italy proved to be a lesser threat once in government. Marine Le Pen and Bardella have been leading a professional discourse for years. They are no longer considered a threat by voters. Bardella even appeals to the centre-right Les Republicains with his discourse, while Le Pen has strengthened her support in small villages and towns. Macron’s expectation must be that RN is not ready to govern France as they said they are. Can the RN win the legislative elections? If so, can Bardella govern as prime minister? Maybe they will fail once in government, and that this failure would compromise their chances in the 2027 presidential elections. This must be the current assumption behind Macron’s move.
But what if this is wrong? All who have seen the TV duel between Gabriel Attal and Bardella would concede that Attal won, but still the votes increased for Bardella after this duel. He is the anti-hero who got the sympathy points. How can Macron’s team compete with someone like him? For RN to wins these legislative elections, they have to gain 200 more seats than the 88 they currently have. This is a tall order, but not impossible, according to some polls. If RN comes first, France would be in a co-habitation scenario. Macron would have to nominate a new prime minister, most likely Bardella. Even under this scenario, Macron could hope to gain.

Co-habitation has worked in the past for Jacques Chirac when he nominated Lionel Jospin for the premiership in 1997, and for Francois Mitterand’s second co-habitation appointment with Édouard Balladur. But back then, co-habitation was between traditional parties in the Fifth Republic, not between two new parties that had never been in power before 2017. Can Macron’s party win with just two weeks to go? Or can they at least enlarge their majority? Eric Ciotti, the leader Les Républicains already signalled that he is under no circumstances considering forming an alliance with Renaissance. This position may not be shared throughout his party, as the rumblings from Nicolas Sarkozy and Gérald Larcher suggested.

Macron’s calculation may well be that he could win over those in LR who want to prevent by all means a Le Pen presidency. Macron may even pick up some from the left for the same reason. But the gravitational force Macron once had in the centre is no more. His discourse no longer electrifies, while polarisation towards the left and right is thriving. If the RN were to succeed at getting into power and claiming the prime minister’s job, a rift between Bardella and Le Pen could also be a risk for its ascent to power. The two have differences, which may become more prominent once in power. Le Pen used to promise policies from the left while Bardella is strongly anchored on the right. If Bardella were to succeed as prime minister, how does this reflect on Le Pen?

Macron puts himself on the line too. If RN wins the elections, what does this mean for Macron as president, having just warned about the danger of a government run by the far-right? Would people not draw the logical conclusion that Macron would have to quit? This in itself may become a motivation for people to vote against Macron. Even if Macron were to stay and work with Bardella as his prime minister, it would weaken him as a leader at home and in Europe.

The timing of these elections could also reduce the chances of Ursula von der Leyen being confirmed for a second term. The European Council is to decide on the candidate for the European Commission presidency at their meeting on 27 June, three days ahead of the first round of the French legislative elections. If Macron does not want to express himself on this matter, her momentum may be lost. Macron could also make a bold move and suggest another candidate. For example he could put forward Mario Draghi, an offer that even Giorgia Meloni may not be able to refuse. Macron’s move may be bold, but it exposes vulnerabilities in his own camp and in Europe in times when leadership is most needed. That is the real failure of Macron’s second term.

This piece originally ran on Eurointelligence.

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