Macron calls snap election after EU setback: What’s at stake for France?

According to analysts, Emmanuel Macron might be trying to test the French public — and the far-right’s ability to govern.

Battered by a defeat in European Parliament elections, France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday dissolved the country’s parliament and called for legislative elections later this month.

Here is what you need to know about what’s next — and why it matters:

What happened in France?

Voters in France dealt a massive blow to Macron in elections on Sunday for the European Parliament.

Preliminary results showed that Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) secured more than 30 percent of the vote compared with 14.5 percent for the French president’s Renaissance (RE) party.

Renaissance narrowly escaped coming in third place, finishing neck and neck with the centre left, which garnered 14 percent of the vote.

The European elections offer nearly 370 million Europeans the chance to cast their votes and choose representatives for the European Parliament. At the same time, their choices are seen as reflecting their sentiments towards national political parties in a manner not dissimilar to a domestic vote.

Why did Macron dissolve the National Assembly?

The French leader has consistently backed the 27-nation European Union (EU), but with shifting political sentiments, many French citizens now seem less inclined towards the bloc.

According to analysts, much of this has to do with discontent over issues such as immigration, crime and the cost of living.

“For me, who has always considered that a united, strong and independent Europe is good for France, it’s a situation that I cannot come to terms with,” Macron said on Sunday.

“The rise of nationalists and demagogues is a danger to our nation. And also for France’s position in Europe and in the world,” he added.

According to Jacques Reland, a senior research fellow at the Global Policy Institute, Macron’s decision to seek a snap election is a call from him to French citizens to make a choice.

“‘Are you ready to vote for a party which will undermine Europe, or do you think that France is stronger in a stronger Europe?’ — That’s the message, that’s the point he is going to try to make to the French people,” Reland said.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks through a screen at the far-right National Rally
French President Emmanuel Macron, seen on a screen at the far-right National Rally party headquarters, speaks after the polls closed during the European Parliament elections on Sunday, June 9, 2024 [Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

Analysts say Macron might be gambling on giving Le Pen’s party a chance at partly governing the nation before the 2027 presidential election — hoping that it loses some of its lustre by then.

A defeat in the coming legislative election will not oust Macron from office. If his party loses, he would need to appoint a new prime minister from the opposition — including, possibly, from the National Rally.

“I think his bet is that Le Pen’s party will win these elections, and then [someone from her party] must become PM under his leadership until 2027,” said Olaf Bohnke, Berlin director of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, a non-profit organisation. “In a way, he hopes [they will wear out] … and be less favourable to the electorate.”

If Macron’s party loses the election, the new PM would be responsible for selecting cabinet ministers, leading to a situation known as cohabitation.

What is a cohabitation?

With three years remaining in Macron’s presidency, his influence over domestic affairs will diminish significantly in this scenario.

He will retain the lead role on defence as commander-in-chief and on foreign policy – the constitution says he negotiates international treaties – but he would lose the power to set domestic policy.

There have been three previous political cohabitations in France.

This last happened in 1997, when 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.

Socialist Lionel Jospin became prime minister for five years, during which time he passed a law on the 35-hour working week.

What could a cohabitation with Le Pen’s party look like?

Jordan Bardella, Marine Le Pen’s telegenic 28-year-old protege and leader of the National Rally, had previously been mooted as a possible prime minister should Le Pen become president in 2027.

Le Pen in her 2022 presidential manifesto advocated prioritising social housing access for French nationals, processing asylum requests outside of France and scrapping the inheritance tax for middle-class and low-income families.

Macron is a staunch Europhile whilst Le Pen and her party dream of dismantling the EU from within. A cohabitation between a pro-European president and a Eurosceptic nationalist party would be uncharted territory for France.

French Jordan Bardella, President of the French far-right National Rally
French politician Jordan Bardella addresses National Rally party members after the polls closed during the European Parliament elections [Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

What has been Le Pen’s reaction?

Le Pen celebrated the victory and hailed Macron’s response to it.

’We’re ready for it,” she said.

“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,” Le Pen added.

Marine Le Pen, President of the French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National - RN) party parliamentary group, addresses party members after the polls closed during the European Parliament elections
Marine Le Pen addresses party members [Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

When are France’s snap elections taking place?

Parliamentary elections are conducted over two rounds. These will be held on June 30 and July 7.

Candidates will run for 577 seats in France’s parliament or National Assembly.

Any number of candidates can participate in the first round in each district, but there are specific thresholds to advance to the second round. Typically, the run-off includes the top two candidates. The candidate who receives the most votes in the run-off is elected.

If a candidate receives an absolute majority and a vote total greater than 25 percent in the first round, they are elected without a second round.

Paris is also scheduled to host the upcoming Olympic Games starting in late July. The political upheaval in France won’t affect preparations for the sporting spectacle, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies