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France faces 'most consequential election in decades'

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
France faces 'most consequential election in decades'
Several hundred people demonstrate at Republique in central Paris against the victory of French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) in the European elections. Photo by Arnaud FINISTRE / AFP

President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he was confident the French would make the "right choice" in the snap elections which have been described as the "most consequential since 1958".

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Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who hails from Macron's party, warned the polls would have "the most serious consequences in the history of the Fifth Republic", which began in 1958.

"It's an election with consequences of unprecedented gravity for our nation," he told the RTL radio broadcaster.

Macron's surprise move came after mainstream centrist parties kept an overall majority in the European Parliament in Sunday's poll, but the far right notched up a string of high-profile victories in Italy, Austria and France.

OPINION Macron's election gamble is an invitation to calamity

In Germany, where the three ruling coalition parties also performed dismally, centre-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz's spokesman on Monday ruled out a snap poll.

Analysts say the French leader has taken the extremely risky gamble of calling for snap polls in a bid to keep the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) out of power when his second term ends in 2027.

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"I am confident in the capacity of the French people to make the right choice for themselves and for future generations," Macron wrote on X on Monday morning.

You can listen to John discuss Macron's election gamble in the latest Talking France podcast.

 

"My sole ambition is to be useful to our country that I love so much."

Macron's announcement of elections for a new National Assembly on June 30th, with a second round on July 7th in France, has sparked widespread alarm, even from within the ranks of his own party.

READ ALSO What happens next in France's snap elections?

"By playing with fire, the head of state could end up by burning himself and dragging the entire country into the fire," Le Monde wrote in an editorial.

Lower house speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, a senior figure within Macron's party, on Monday morning appeared to express some dissent, indicating that forming a coalition with other parties could have been a better "path".

"The president believed that this path did not exist... I take note of the decision," she told the France 2 television channel.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist, described the prospect of elections just weeks before the start of the Paris Olympics as "extremely unsettling".

But the International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach played down any direct impact on the event.

In a televised address late on Sunday, Macron warned of the danger of "the rise of nationalists and demagogues" for France and its place in Europe.

Macron noted that, including the RN, far-right parties in France had managed to take almost 40 percent of the EU vote.

He hopes to win back the majority he lost in the lower house after winning a second term in 2022 legislative elections.

But some fear the anti-immigration RN could instead win, forcing Macron to work in an uncomfortable coalition with a far-right prime minister.

RN vice-president Sebastien Chenu on Monday said the party's 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella would be its contender for the post.

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His mentor Marine Le Pen, who was runner-up in the last two presidential elections, has remained party leader in parliament and is largely expected to run again in 2027.

The far right scored big in France, Italy and Austria, and also came second in Germany and the Netherlands.

The RN came in first with more than 31 percent of votes in France - its score was more than double that of Macron's list with 14 percent. Parti Socialiste and the far-left La France Insoumise came third and fourth respectively on 13 percent and nine percent.

Foreign Minister Stephane Séjourné, who is also secretary general of Macron's Renaissance party, said he would be "fully engaged" in the battle for parliament seats as well as his job as minister.

On the left, Parti Socialiste party chief Olivier Faure called for the setting up of "a popular front against the far right".

"The far right is not just at the gates of power, but has a foot in the door," he told France Info radio, after the RN's score in the EU elections.

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Analyst Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, said Macron had taken an "enormous gamble".

The most likely outcome, he said, was of "another hung parliament" that would lead Macron to "form a wider alliance with the centre right or centre left".

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