Macron Calls Snap Election

His party got destroyed in EU elections, so he's doubling down.

POLITICO (“Macron gambles on snap election to fight far-right surge“):

European elections are meant to be worthy but boring exercises in centrist coalition building. Not this time.

A surge in far-right populism in France provoked President Emmanuel Macron into calling a high-risk national election that could determine the future not only of his country but of the European Union itself.

Across the Continent it was a good if unspectacular night for center-right and far-right parties and a terrible one for liberals and especially greens.

But in France, the far-right National Rally, led by Euroskeptic and NATO-skeptic firebrands, completely crushed Macron’s liberal Renaissance and all other contenders.

The National Rally is on course to win 31.5 percent of the vote — more than twice the 14.7 percent projected for Macron’s liberal Renaissance party.

In a high-risk gamble to regain the political initiative, Macron bet that voters will turn back the far-right tide and show Marine Le Pen’s National Rally cannot win at a national level.

“France needs a clear majority in serenity and harmony. To be French, at heart, is about choosing to write history, not being driven by it,” Macron said.

Mujtaba Rahman, Europe head at Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy, reckoned the bet would pay off. “It will almost certainly put a brake on Le Pen,” he said.

Le Pen declared her party “ready to exercise power,” and told her ecstatic followers: “I can only welcome this decision.”

The far-right surge in France was replicated elsewhere in Europe on a dramatic night of upheaval in EU politics. In Berlin, Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition parties were beaten by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which came second to the conservatives. Far-right parties were also on course to make gains in Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, according to early estimates.

In France, the National Rally’s performance in the upcoming snap election on June 30 and July 7 will be closely watched as a harbinger of whether Le Pen — long the also-ran of French politics — can ride her party’s momentum into the presidency in 2027.

As president of the world’s seventh largest economy, Le Pen would almost certainly rock the EU to its foundations, prioritising patriotic interests over international collaboration. Celebrating her party’s win in Sunday’s EU vote, she said the result should send a message to Brussels and “put an end to this painful epoch of globalism.”

This is a hell of a gambit, in that it’s clear that the mood of France and much of the West has shifted in a nativist direction. In the short term, Macron is not risking the presidency, having just been re-elected in 2022. But a National Assembly led by the National Front/Rally party would mean Le Pen as prime minister and considerable check on Macron’s power.

PBS NewsHour (“Macron dissolves France’s National Assembly, calls snap election after defeat in EU vote“):

[Macron] said the decision was “serious” but showed his “confidence in our democracy, in letting the sovereign people have their say.”

“In the next few days, I’ll be saying what I think is the right direction for the nation. I’ve heard your message, your concerns, and I won’t leave them unanswered,” he said.

[…]

With Sunday’s decision, he is taking a big risk with a move that could backfire and increase the chances of Le Pen to eventually take power.

A scenario in which an opposition party would eventually win a parliament majority could lead to a fraught power-sharing situation called “cohabitation,” with Macron to name a prime minister with different views.

Le Pen, who head the National Rally group at the National Assembly, “welcomed” Macron’s move.

’We’re ready for it,” said Le Pen, who was the runner-up to Macron in the last two presidential elections. “We’re ready to exercise power if the French people place their trust in us in these future legislative elections. We’re ready to turn the country around, ready to defend the interests of the French, ready to put an end to mass immigration, ready to make the purchasing power of the French a priority.”

[…]

The National Rally’s lead candidate for the EU elections, Jordan Bardella, campaigned for limiting free movement of migrants by carrying out national border controls and dialing back EU climate rules. The party no longer wants to leave the EU and the euro, but aims to weaken it from within.

“Tonight, our compatriots have expressed a desire for change,” Bardella said. “Emmanuel Macron is tonight a weakened president.“

An official at Macron’s office said the decision to dissolve the National Assembly was justified by the “historic score of the far-right” that could not be ignored and the current “parliamentarian disorder.”

“You’re never wrong when you give the people a say,” said the official, who spoke anonymously in line with the practice of Macron’s office.

This is a bold move that have many of Macron’s backers shaking their heads. But it’s also in the spirit of democracy as it’s understood in most of Europe, which does not have the fixed terms Americans take for granted. The EU elections were something of a no-confidence vote for the direction in which Macron is leading, so it’s right to give the citizenry a chance to weigh in again.

NYT (“Battered by Far Right in E.U. Vote, Macron Calls for New Elections in France“):

“The rise of nationalists and demagogues is a danger for our nation and for Europe,” Mr. Macron said. “After this day, I cannot go on as though nothing has happened.”

The French leader has always been a passionate supporter of the 27-nation European Union, seeing in it the sole means for Europe to count in the world and calling on it to achieve “strategic autonomy” through ever greater integration. But the political winds have turned and many French people appear to favor Europe less, not more.

Mr. Macron’s decision, on the eve of the summer Olympic Games that begin in Paris in July, ushered in a period of deep political uncertainty in France. If the National Rally repeats its performance in national elections, the country could become nearly ungovernable, with Mr. Macron confronting a Parliament hostile to everything he believes in.

“It’s a serious, weighty decision,” he acknowledged. “But above all, it’s an act of trust” in French voters, he said.

[…]

He was under no obligation to dissolve Parliament, even if the European vote left him a reduced figure with three years of his presidential term still to run.

But he has often taken risks, rolling the dice to see if France awakens at last to what he perceives as a dire nationalist and xenophobic threat to the country’s liberty, democracy, openness and rule of law.

He called the far right nationalist wave a danger “to the place of France in Europe and the world” and noted that he was saying this “as we have just celebrated with the entire world the landings in Normandy and will in a few weeks welcome the world for the Olympics and Paralympics.”

Again, a huge risk. But it’s the right thing to do and I hope it pays off. There is precedent for that: the far-right has traditionally done considerably better in EU elections than national ones. It may well be that French voters see the former as a way of sending a message and the latter as more important in their daily lives.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. drj says:

    But a National Assembly led by the National Front/Rally party would mean Le Pen as prime minister and considerable check on Macron’s power.

    I doubt it.

    In France, the president appoints the prime minister. I can’t see Macron appointing Le Pen.

    Regardless, although Le Pen’s RN could very well end up as the largest party in the National Assembly, it is unlikely that the RN would be able to command a majority. At present, the largest political group (RE) holds 171 out 577 seats. Le Pen’s RN currently holds 88. The road to 289 is long…

    Moreover, the French executive is quite powerful compared to the legislative. Macron is currently being backed by 249 out of 577 seats. In other words, parliament is already hung. A larger RN wouldn’t change that very much.

    I’m sure that Macron’s thinking is that it’s better to have the RN surge now rather than in 2027, when both the next presidential and National Assembly elections were supposed to be held. (The next presidential elections will still be held in 2027.)

    And – assuming RN does become the largest parliamentary group – nativist parties generally to fail to deliver. Hating on brown people is easily done, but doesn’t necessarily get you good policy outcomes. So it’s not inconceivable that the French electorate will be disabused of its current fondness for Le Pen before the next presidential elections arrive.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @drj: Oh, I’m aware of the structure. But Macron would be under considerable pressure to appoint a premier from the dominant coalition in the Assembly. And, while the President is far more powerful in their system than ours, he still needs parliamentary approval to fund his agenda.

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  3. JohnSF says:

    A key point is that RN did well in the European Parliament elections; but the electoral method is different in French parliamentary elections, using a two-round system.
    This often brings most third party votes behind the leading non-RN candidate.

    Also, though parliamentary elections were not required till 2027, the current minority government is facing a likely crisis this autumn over passing a budget, and could be forced to resign.
    It was widely expected Macron might go for an election then, rather than be obliged to beg favours from the UDC centre/right, or try to split the left and bring the Socialists/Social Democrats onboard.

    After the Euro-elections, RN would be spending all summer posturing as the “the true democratic leaders of France” and trying to peel off slices from the populist left and scared conservatives.
    Macros seems to have calculated, better to roll the dice now, and not give Le Pen six months to play games.

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  4. Modulo Myself says:

    And – assuming RN does become the largest parliamentary group – nativist parties generally to fail to deliver. Hating on brown people is easily done, but doesn’t necessarily get you good policy outcomes. So it’s not inconceivable that the French electorate will be disabused of its current fondness for Le Pen before the next presidential elections arrive.

    Yeah, existential fears are very hard to put into political play. Getting angry about France being less French every day because of Muslims in a banlieue covering their faces is easy to do while sitting around. But your president is still Emmanuel Macron, who is 185% French. Nothing’s really going to change. France will still be France. All that is happening is global entropy, and hysterics.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    Macron is a ballsy little dude, I like him. He’s right, and he’s been right for a long time, that Europe needs some strategic weight of its own, especially if the US fails and elects Trumputin.

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  6. DK says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    France will still be France. All that is happening is global entropy, and hysterics.

    Hysterics are happening in the ignorant, hyperventilating way American outlets report on European politics.

    European concerns about migration seem more rational US xenophobia. The USA is a far flug, relatively young nation. Much of American identity is based on assimilating immigrants, appropriating from their cultures, throwing it in a blender, forcing it to speak English, and slapping our flag and a price tag on it: French fries, hamburger, Tex-Mex, creole, cowboy culture (stolen from our indigenous), The Mafia, margarita/cantina culture etc.

    Right now, immigration is still more American than a threat to it.

    But Europe is more compact and within it are several old cultures with distinct languages. Concerns about preserving that heritage are not unreasonable, especially when Europe is not great at turning newcomers into Europeans.

    Like the US, Europe can’t halt immigration when people are no longer having 5+ kids, if any. But even more than the US, there is a cultural and economic imperative to control migration — especially given the robust European welfare state.

    This is what preoccupies the so-called “far right” in mainland Europe. Unlike American conservatives, they’re not focused on banning books or blocking public healthcare, free college, Gay Pride, and paid leave. The Italian prime ministsr’s scary “far right” abortion position is limiting it…by paying pregnant women to carry to term. This would make her a dirty commie to US Republicans.

    Yes, Le Pen’s party and the German Afd do have questionable fascist roots and members. But the votes of Euro neo-Nazis have nowhere else to go, really.

    So fearmongering about Europe’s “far right” might be a bit overblown. They’re usually not as awful as Trumpers; big whoop if they end up with ~20% of the EU parliament. Orban, the most MAGA-like EU leader, lost seats yesterday.

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  7. Modulo Myself says:

    But Europe is more compact and within it are several 500-1,000+ year-old cultures with distinct languages. Concerns about preserving that heritage are not unreasonable, especially when Europe needs to get better at helping newcomers become European.

    Immigrants and refugees are far less of a threat than trade agreements, the existence of Drake, and the Chinese buying up Bourdeaux vineyards to whatever we (or tourists) think true French culture is.

    And there’s never been a pure culture of anything. Cultures eat up the new and change and produce holograms of the old and economics and power does the rest. People believed the true Paris died because of what Haussmann did in the 1850s and 1860s.

    There’s definitely political capital in blaming marginal outsiders and new arrivals for a loss of alleged purity. It just isn’t that potent against reality.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @DK: I read a lot of English-language sources and there’s just not much discord on this.

    France 24 (“Far right surges in EU elections, dealing blows to leaders of France and Germany“):

    While the centre, liberal and green parties are set to retain the balance of power in the 720-seat parliament, the vote dealt a domestic blow to the leaders of both France and Germany, raising questions about how the European Union’s major powers can drive policy in the bloc.

    Making a risky gamble in a bid to seek to re-establish his authority, Macron called a parliamentary election, with the first round on June 30.

    Like Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also endured a painful night where his Social Democrats scored their worst result ever, suffering at the hands of the mainstream conservatives and hard right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

    BBC (“A night of drama in Europe as EU parliament moves to right“):

    While much of the European election reaction has focussed on French President Emmanuel Macron’s bombshell snap election announcement after the far-right National Rally won there, parties in other countries across the EU have been considering their gains and losses.

    Although far-right and nationalist parties have made gains, the centre-right also performed well, holding its position as the largest grouping and managing to gain seats.

    Centre-right parties came out top in Germany, Greece, Poland and Spain, and made significant advances in Hungary.

    Reuters (“French parties scramble to prepare for snap ballot, weigh prospect of far-right rule“):

    French political parties were racing on Monday to field candidates and discuss possible alliances following President Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision to call a snap election after a bruising loss in Sunday’s vote for the European Parliament.

    They have little time to do so, and to convince voters to back them, with the first round scheduled for June 30, less than three weeks away, and the run-off on July 7.

    There is no certainty Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally will end up with enough seats to run the government, after trouncing Macron’s party in Sunday’s EU vote. Other scenarios include a wide-ranging coalition of mainstream parties.

    But Macron’s shock decision does offer the increasingly popular far right a real shot at power. Amounting to a roll of the dice on his political future, this immediately sent the euro down, while French stocks and government bonds tumbled.

    “We’re still in shock,” Emmanuel Pellerin, a lawmaker from Macron’s Renaissance party, told Reuters. “Everything points to the RN winning a relative or absolute majority. But that forces the French to think about what is at stake.”

    RN leaders were holding talks with Marion Marechal, of the smaller far-right party Reconquete party, for a possible deal that could see her join them back in some form.

    The Economist (“As the French hard right triumphs in EU elections, Macron calls snap vote“):

    The elections to the European Parliament held on June 6th-9th have delivered a stinging rebuke from voters to some incumbents, most clearly in Germany and above all in France, where President Emmanuel Macron responded to his party’s routing at the hands of the hard right by dissolving the French parliament and calling a risky snap election.

    The continued rise of populist parties in the eu’s two biggest countries, even though it was not matched in the rest of the bloc, will make it harder for centrist parties to run the union’s powerful institutions in Brussels without courting the support of nationalist politicians once considered beyond the pale.

    In France the surge of the populist right was so strong that, to widespread surprise, Mr Macron announced that fresh elections to the National Assembly will be held on June 30th and July 7th. At the vote for the European Parliament, which had been expected to be the last nationwide ballot ahead of the presidential election of 2027, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (rn) was projected to have scored nearly 32% of the vote—more than double the share secured by Mr Macron’s party, which it had beaten only narrowly five years ago.

    Add to that another 5% or so for Reconquest, a migrant-bashing far-right outfit whose lead candidate is Ms Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal, and the hard right now looks like the country’s dominant political force. Even before the result, opposition parties had demanded a dissolution of the parliament in the event of a defeat for the president’s centrist alliance. Mr Macron will now wager the rest of his political credibility on a gamble that could well leave him with a reduced minority and a thumping vote for the rn.

    In Germany the ruling coalition also fared abysmally. All three of its component parties were beaten by the nationalist Alternative for Germany (afd)—despite a slew of scandals enveloping the party and its top candidate during the campaign. (It was even, shortly before the election, kicked out of its eu-level alliance with the National Rally and others.) The Social Democrats of Olaf Scholz, the chancellor, fell to their worst score in a national election in almost 150 years of existence. The liberal fdp, a junior coalition partner, barely exceeded 5%. If the party falls below that threshold at next year’s general election it will fall out of parliament. The centre-right Christian Democratic Union, the main opposition, had a good night, especially for embattled centrists, topping the poll easily.

    It’s true that this wasn’t a complete victory for the far-right. But that would be damned near inconceivable with so many options on the ballot.

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  9. DK says:

    @James Joyner:

    While much of the European election reaction has focussed on French President Emmanuel Macron’s bombshell snap election announcement after the far-right National Rally won there, parties in other countries across the EU have been considering their gains and losses.

    Although far-right and nationalist parties have made gains, the centre-right also performed well, holding its position as the largest grouping and managing to gain seats.

    Centre-right parties came out top in Germany, Greece, Poland and Spain, and made significant advances in Hungary.

    I read (and watch) a lot of sources too. And this from from the BBC is far more balanced than the screeching FAR RIGHT SURGES agggghhhhh hysterics I saw in the American media yesterday.

    In France, the far right won yesterday’s elections. But vis a vis the EU Parliament, of course it’s not a total victory for the far right: they didn’t win the most seats. The center coalition parties won not just more seats than the far right, but an outright majority of the seats.

    If my bloc gets 20% of the vote and your bloc gets 55%, you won. Trump math does not apply. The imperative headline writers have to help generate revenue via sensationalism and clickbait does not mean we can’t count.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @DK: The American press, not without reason, mostly focuses on the UK, France, and Germany—probably in that order. The French snap election (the focus of this post) natural drew the most attention but the UK and Germany moved further right in the EU elections as well. Populism in Europe is of a different flavor than it is here but it certainly rhymes.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Europe’s right wing is largely motivated by immigration, legal as well as illegal, with the added complications of travel within Schengen, and internal EU migration. As is our right wing, though we add much more evangelical cultural panic. If Europe and the US could get a grip on immigration the ‘far right’ would dwindle. If the Left, here or there, had any sense they’d be pushing to get control of the borders. It’s going to happen, whether we like it or not, and when something is inevitable the best course is to try and bring as much humanity as possible to the issue.

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  12. drj says:

    @DK:

    So fearmongering about Europe’s “far right” might be a bit overblown. They’re usually not as awful as Trumpers

    This is a bit naive, IMO.

    The European far-right generally isn’t as awful as MAGA because it doesn’t operate in a two-party system. This means that Euro far-right parties (generally) cannot outright win an election and take control. Which, in turn, means that they are forced to play the respectability game – at least for a while.

    But these are still parties fundamentally based on permanent exclusion of the racially, culturally, and also ideologically impure. It’s not clear how that doesn’t end in one-party rule (or something very close to it) like Fidesz in Hungary or the PiS in Poland.

    And although the PiS couldn’t quite pull it off in the end, Fidesz really is MAGA’s shining example: a shameless kleptocracy in which there’s no lack of racism, misogyny, and homophobia.

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  13. gVOR10 says:

    Le Pen would almost certainly rock the EU to its foundations, prioritising patriotic interests over international collaboration.

    I wish POLITICO had phrased that differently. Nationalism =/= patriotism.

    (I know dictionaries list them as synonyms, but there are key differences. I love this country. I have little interest in preserving whatever MAGA think they mean by our “culture”. And certainly nationalistic fascism didn’t work to the long term benefit of Italy or Germany.)

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  14. DK says:

    @drj:

    The European far-right generally isn’t as awful as MAGA because it doesn’t operate in a two-party system.

    Many more reasons than this. Like most of Europe having fewer religious fanatics with slaveowners and Jim Crowers in their recent ancestry. And like Europe having the seen the consequences of fascist excess up close, in its recent ancestry and living history. And like much of Europe having seen for generations the positive benefits of universal healthcare and robust investment in education and welfare.

    But whatever the reason or reasons European “far right” populism is currently not as extreme as that practiced by American deplorables…it’s not as horrible. I don’t think parsing the reasons alters the outcome.

    Caveat that neo-Nazis, supremacists, and xenophobes exist everywhere in the West, and extremists everywhere in the world.

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  15. just nutha says:

    @James Joyner: Does the UK participate in the EU elections still? Asking because I don’t know.

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  16. JohnSF says:

    @just nutha:

    Does the UK participate in the EU elections still?

    No.
    Got to be a member of the EU to do so; we formally left on 31st January 2020.

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @just nutha: @JohnSF: Yes, right. The move far right was what led to Brexit and the incredibly foolish positions by May and Johnson that made it in the worst possible terms. Now Nigel Farange is back again, but in the domestic elections.

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  18. JohnSF says:

    As some others have pointed out, the “far right triumph in the EU” narrative is bit overblown
    Yes they did well in France.
    But in overall seats in the EU Parliament they have 58; the Socialist/Social Democrats have 136.
    The Liberals have 79, mainstream Conservatives and Christian Democrats 73, Greens 53, Left 36, others various/non-aligned/independents 100.

    So the populist right is the 5th largest faction in the Parliament, and about 10 more seats than in the last session, IIRC.

    Perhaps not so impressive, if you look at it that way.

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