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Resignation attempts, gloom as Macron camp weighs fallout of election gamble

3 min

When French President Emmanuel Macron told his young prime minister of his decision to call a snap election just hours before announcing it on television, Gabriel Attal tried to dissuade his boss, asking him to accept his resignation instead, two sources told Reuters.

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

When French President Emmanuel Macron told his young prime minister of his decision to call a snap election just hours before announcing it on television, Gabriel Attal tried to dissuade his boss, asking him to accept his resignation instead, two sources told Reuters.

"I can be the fall guy," Attal implored Macron, after his efforts at dissuasion went nowhere, according to a minister and another government source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Macron declined Attal's offer, and a few hours later, as exit polls showed Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN) trouncing his ticket, he dissolved parliament.

The resignation bid by Attal, initialy reported by Le Monde newspaper and other French media, underlines how Macron's shock decision to bet the house on snap elections was not universally applauded by his camp and threatened to prematurely curtail their political project. Attal's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The 34-year-old Attal, France's youngest ever prime minister when he took office in January, has been mooted as a potential Macron successor in 2027, but now risks losing his job to the RN's 28-year-old party president Jordan Bardella.

Attal was unaware of Macron's plans, which he had kept from all but a tiny circle of advisors, the sources said.

Among them was Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, another potential successor and snap vote advocate, and Bruno Roger-Petit, an ex-journalist-turned-strategist who has masterminded Macron's rightward shift over the last few years.

Macron's calculation, which he had arrived at with close advisors over several weeks before Sunday's announcement, was that it was better to blindside his opponents with an immediate election than wait for inevitable conservative no-confidence motions later in the year when he would be weaker.

At a hastily convened cabinet meeting on Sunday night, shortly after announcing the snap vote, stunned ministers listened in silence as Macron said he wanted to give the French people a chance to "take back control" of their parliament, and reinstate order in an increasingly chaotic chamber, sources said.

"There was surprise, a bit of perplexity, some combativeness from those who were favourable to the option, such as Gerald," one source present at the Elysee palace meeting said.

Attal, meanwhile, has been tasked by Macron with leading his ticket in the lightening, three-week campaign, the two sources said.

Attal has yet to make any public comment since tendering his resignation, although he told lawmakers behind closed doors on Tuesday that the "die was not cast" and that he would do everything to "avoid the worst."

There was also wide concern across Europe.

"The problem is what his decision will mean for the rest of us," one EU diplomat said.

NO CERTAINTY

Macron has long been frustrated by the fractious lower house that resulted from the previous parliamentary elections in 2022, when he lost his governing majority, with hard-left lawmakers in particular often using spectacular filibustering tactics.

His entourage said the president made his decision after last week's 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, when he met people out and about who said they were tired of endless political infighting in parliament. But the plan came into sharper focus as it became clear Le Pen would inflict a humiliating defeat in Sunday's vote.

One source with knowledge of Macron's battle plan said he is convinced he can win, betting that the short campaign - the minimum allowed by the constitution - will wrongfoot his foes.

The source said Macron also expects the left to fail to unite this time round, unlike in 2022 when Greens, Socialists and the radical left France Unbowed agreed on a common platform that did well in the two-round voting system.

Another source close to Macron said the possibility of giving the RN a platform to display incompetence ahead of the 2027 presidential election for which Le Pen is the frontrunner was also on his mind.

"He has no certainty, but he looks at probabilities," the source said. "The top one is that the RN doesn't win. And there is also the possibility the RN wins a simple majority, in which case yes...a show of incompetence."

However, among the Macronistas in the empty corridors of the now-dissolved National Assembly, there was little excitement.

"It's never pleasant to campaign," said Emmanuel Pellerin, a lawmaker in Macron's camp. "The times are tough. I can't say we're having fun."

By Michel Rose

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