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OPINION: Macron's election gamble is an invitation to calamity

John Lichfield
John Lichfield - [email protected]
OPINION: Macron's election gamble is an invitation to calamity
A screen broadcast an address to the nation by France's President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday night, in which he announced snap elections. Photo by Arnaud FINISTRE / AFP

Emmanuel Macron's own camp admit that his decision to call snap elections is a gamble - but will it pay off? John Lichfield looks at the chances of success for the president's party, and the chance of failure for Marine Le Pen's candidates.


President Emmanuel Macron has called the nation’s bluff. On June 30th and July 7th, the nation may call his bluff in return.

Macron believes that France, confronted with the prospect of a Far Right, anti-European, muddle-headed government, will recoil in distaste. He may be right about that.

But the results of Sunday’s European elections show that the nation has little stomach to continue with Macronism either.

READ ALSO What happens next with France's snap election?

The remainder of the French political landscape is a field of ruins. The centre-right scarcely exists; the Left is poisonously divided.


With 32 percent of the vote - the highest ever national score for Lepennism in anything other than a two-candidate run-off - the Rassemblement National has become the dominant force in French politics. On the pattern of past parliamentary elections, it should scoop up scores of seats in four weeks’ time.

It should do so. It may not.

There are many reasons to believe that the RN will perform outrageously well; there are also reasons to believe that they will fall short of winning a majority (289 seats) and that Macron will be spared an unnatural cohabitation with the glib, intellectually limited, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella as Prime Minister.

READ ALSO What is a French 'cohabitation' between politicians?

The economic and European policies of Marine Le Pen are as dishonest, mendacious and incoherent as they were in 2017 and 2022. The RN has limited financial resources and a feeble pool of candidates, many of whom have scarcely visited the constituencies that they will contest.

Voting RN to punish Macron in a European election with no apparent, direct consequences for French lives is one thing. Voting to put the RN into power is another thing entirely.

That was presumably Macron’s calculation when he called the lightning parliamentary election after his humiliating drubbing for his camp - 17 points behind the Far Right - in the European elections on Sunday.

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


Le Pen and Bardella had successfully made that election a referendum on him; he would turn the tables and make the legislative elections a referendum on them.

He would make the June 30th - July 7th election a vote on the survival of the European Union; he would ask the French people whether they really wanted to entrust power to a party with ideological and financial links with Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban; he would expose – as he did in 2017 and 2022 – the charlatanry of Lepennist policies (more spending, lower taxes, destroying the EU single market).


The problem is that Macron and Macron’s camp have already tried and failed to do all those things in the last two months. One in three French adults (out of the one in two adults who voted) persisted all the same in their determination to kick Macron after his seven years in power.

The nation might baulk at electing a Bardella or a Le Pen; it would probably seize gratefully a plausible centre-right or centre-left alternative if such an alternative existed.; it is not in the mood to give a new lease of power to Emmanuel Macron.

The President faced the prospect of having to call a parliamentary election in the Autumn in any case. Opposition parties, including the pivotal centre-right Les Républicains, were queueing up to censure the government for its deficit-cutting 2025 budget.

Macron calculated that he might gain from the surprise and audacity (or fool-hardiness) of a snap election. He also hoped to reap advantage from the divisions and weakness of the Left and the continued feebleness of the old Gaullist centre-right.

His strategy will be to try to make the second round of the parliamentary elections a direct choice between Lepennism and Macronism, on the pattern of his presidential triumphs in 2017 and 2022.


The problem is that parliamentary elections are not presidential elections. They are fought in 577 disparate constituencies, not in one constituency for the whole country. The second round is not necessarily a run-off between two candidates. Depending on the first-round scores, two, three or occasionally four candidates can compete in Round Two.

In these circumstances, it may be difficult for an already deeply unpopular Macron to make the election the kind of white v black, good v evil, existential contest that he craves.

The same difficulties apply to Le Pen and Bardella. There will be many conflicting and fluctuating polls and seat estimations in the days ahead. It is my guess that they will start with high projected numbers for the Far Right which will gradually but not completely erode.

Much will depend on the performance of the young Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, 35. He wiped the floor with Bardella in his one-on-on TV debate last month but the Macron camp gained no benefit. It even lost ground.


That may be different in the next three or four weeks. Bardella is no longer just the fresh-faced, anti-Macron boy-next-door. He is, at 28, the potential Prime Minister of a nuclear power and one of the world’s leading economies.

He will have to up his game. It is doubtful whether he can. The same applies to Marine Le Pen, who has made it clear that she doesn’t fancy being PM (too politically exposed, too much work).

They will feed the country’s exaggerated psychosis about immigration and crime; Macron and Attal will dissect the RN’s lazy programme for government and Le Pen’s admiration for Putin.

To have any hope of winning, Macron must also put aside some of his own shibboleths and obsessions and construct a new, positive message. Is the government really going to campaign on no tax increases for the super-rich and reductions in entitlements for the unemployed?

This could be the most important election in France’s post-war history. With a war of conquest raging in eastern Europe and the prospect of a second Trump presidency in the US from November, a Far Right government in France could finally bury what remains of the post-1945 liberal, pan-European consensus.

Will the RN win? I doubt it. They may get disturbingly close. The most likely outcome is another much-splintered National Assembly with no majority for any party or any political philosophy.

The remaining three years of Macron’s second and final mandate will, most likely, be either a humiliation or muddle.

The President had no good choices on Sunday. He made a bold decision but to bluff with a weak hand is always an invitation to calamity.


Comments (3)

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Francoise 2024/06/18 15:58
Isn't the local supposed to be impartial?
Mog Ball 2024/06/10 16:04
I am interested in the way John Lichfield often claims access to Emmanuel Macron's intentions without much evidence of how he gets to know what the President of the Republic is thinking. Are they friends? If RN does get a majority it this coming election it strikes me that it will be a clever thing to let Jordan Bardella have a go at addressing all these issues - immigration, security, the cost of living - about which the extreme right it always banging on. They never get tested in the real world - and when they do, they often just shrivel and die. Remember Sebastian Kurz in Austria? Very like Bardella, actually, perhaps they both went on training courses with Bannon's Breitbart? Not much sign of Sebastian these days.
Iain 2024/06/10 14:14
At least he didn't stand outside in the pouring rain without an umbrella to do it.

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