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France enters election mode after far-right win in European Parliament vote

1 min

France began to gear up for elections on Monday, after President Emmanuel Macron called a shock snap legislative election following a bruising loss in the European Parliament vote to the far-right party of Marine Le Pen.

French President Emmanuel Macron stands in front of voting booths during the European Parliament election, at a polling station in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France, June 9, 2024. Reuters/Hannah McKay

France began to gear up for elections on Monday, after President Emmanuel Macron called a shock snap legislative election following a bruising loss in the European Parliament vote to the far-right party of Marine Le Pen.

Macron's unexpected decision, which amounts to a roll of the dice on his political future, could hand major political power to the far-right after years on the sidelines, and neuter his presidency three years before it ends.

"This will be the most consequential parliamentary election for France and for the French in the history of the Fifth Republic," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL radio.

The legislative vote will take place on June 30, less than a month before the start of the Paris Olympics, with a second round on July 7.

The result is hard to predict. The outcome will likely depend on how committed leftist and center-right voters are to the idea of blocking the far-right from power.

Analysts said Macron's decision aimed to make the best of his weak position, reclaiming the initiative and forcing Le Pen's National Rally (RN) into election mode faster than it would have liked.

Macron's surprise move appeared to have caught some far-right leaders off-guard.

"We didn't think it would be immediately after the European elections, even if we wanted it to be," the deputy chairman of the RN, Sebastien Chenu, said on RTL Radio, adding: "Elections are rarely a gift and in this context, they aren't."

He called for right-wing lawmakers from outside the RN to swell its ranks in its battle to beat Macron, and said the party's telegenic president, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, would be its candidate for prime minister.

Led by Bardella, the RN won about 32% of the vote on Sunday, more than double the Macron ticket's 15%, according to exit polls. The Socialists came within a whisker of Macron, with 14%.

Macron's Renaissance party currently has 169 lower house lawmakers, out of a total of 577. The RN has 88.

If the RN wins a majority, Macron would still direct defence and foreign policy, but would lose the power to set the domestic agenda, from economic policy to security.

"We’re going for the win," a source close to Macron said, adding that the president hoped to mobilise voters who had abstained from voting on Sunday.

"There’s audacity in this decision, risk-taking, which has always been part of our political DNA," the source added.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Tassilo Hummel, Blandine Henault and Benoit Van Overstraeten, Michel Rose

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