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France snap elections: Why Macron is gambling with France and Europe?

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Macron lost his absolute majority in parliament in 2022 and has had to negotiate support from opposition parties on a case-by-case basis.

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French President Emmanuel Macron set off a political earthquake after he announced on Sunday he was dissolving the National Assembly and calling early legislative elections. A risky move that could either make it or break it for the presidential camp.

The shock announcement came shortly after the far-right National Rally (RN) inflicted a stinging defeat on Macron’s Renaissance party in European parliamentary elections.

French voters will now have to return to the ballot boxes, this time to elect 577 MPs, on June 30 for the first round and July 7 for the second one. 

Why now?

Macron argued on Sunday evening he was pushed to dissolve the assembly and call snap elections because he could not “pretend nothing had happened”.

The RN scored 31.37% in the EU elections while his centrist coalition came a very distant second with 14.60%.

This is the second major electoral rebuke for Macron, who lost his absolute majority in parliament weeks after being re-elected for a second term in 2022, with the RN scoring its best-ever score and becoming the main opposition party with 80 seats.

Since then, Macron and his government have had to negotiate support for bills on a case-by-case basis and have had to resort to using Article 49.3 to force the passage of a law without a vote a record number of times.

“France needs a clear majority in order to act with serenity and harmony,” he said in televised speech aired shortly after the elections’ results came out at 20:00 CET.

“The president had no choice but to acknowledge the fact that his own party had just witnessed a major loss. He had to seize the momentum to regain control of the story,” Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU law at HEC Paris, explained.

“And the only way to regain control of this story is to become this story yourself,” he added.

By calling snap elections, Macron is not giving much time for opposition parties to organise themselves. 

The move has been criticised by some of Macron’s opponents such as the president of the Île-de-France region Valérie Pécresse, whose traditional right-wing party Les Républicains (LR), just suffered a massive defeat in the EU elections, scoring only 6.9%. 

“Dissolving without giving anyone time to organise or without any campaigning is playing Russian roulette with the destiny of the country,” she said on X, formerly Twitter. 

Another possibility is that the snap elections will force the right-wing party LR to form a coalition with the presidential camp in order to block the rise of the far right – which Les Républicains had previously refused to do. 

Simon Hix, chair in comparative politics at the European University Institute, put that scenario in doubt on X, writing: “What is he expecting, that every other party except RN joins a “save the Republic” coalition?”

“I seriously doubt that would be possible in just three weeks,” he added.

A more Machiavellian tactic mentioned by political experts is that Macron wants the far right to gain power and become unpopular before the 2027 presidential election. 

Although he cannot run for re-election, Macron wants to ensure the survival of his political party on the national and EU level, according to Alemanno. 

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“Macron has very little to lose and a lot to gain in creating the conditions for the far right to win the national elections in France to then try to govern the country by showing some possible limitations and failure. This could mean Macron’s party regain control of the next presidential cycle,” said the EU law professor. 

The French president seems to be banking on the supposed fear of the far right within certain parts of the French electorate.

“The presidential majority is trying to play this card in order to bring everybody against the far right. I’m not sure that it’s going to play out this time. I don’t think the presidential majority is strong enough to actually prompt such a reaction of unification in order to protect the system against the National Rally,” said Alemanno.

But For Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia consultancy, this possible strategy could pay off. He explained on X that the RN’s good EU score “won’t necessarily translate into a majority in a national election” due in part to turnout being lower for EU elections than domestic ballots.

What happens if Macron’s party loses the snap elections?

If RN, or another party, wins a majority in parliament, Macron would be forced to name someone from their ranks as prime minister. The new prime minister will then choose their cabinet ministers. This is what the French call a “cohabitation.”

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If Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old RN leader, was to become Prime Minister, the sharp divisions could have a great impact on national policy issues. 

The last time a cohabitation took place was in 1997, when centre-right president Jacques Chirac dissolved parliament thinking he would win a stronger majority but unexpectedly lost to a left-wing coalition led by the Socialist party. 

Lionel Jospin was named Prime minister and led the government until 2002. 

For Rahman, the implications of a Renaissance-RN cohabitation for France and the EU “would be profound”, notably because “there have been three previous cohabitations between presidents and governments of different political persuasions – but none between politicians so ideologically opposed as Macron & Le Pen”.

Macron is a staunch believer in the EU while the RN is eurosceptic. 

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Paradoxically, the EU elections have never had such an impact on French national politics.

Alemanno also believes the upcoming snap elections in France will deeply affect politics on the EU level. 

“I think Bardella will be too distracted by national politics to actually play a role in the EU like in the choice of the top appointments,” he said. 

“Are we going to be able to see France calling the shots? The liberals are not scoring very well. So certainly these dynamics will weaken the French voice around the table.”

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