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French Politics in Flux: Early Elections Amid Right-Wing Surge

With France's political landscape shifting, President Macron called for early elections. As the right-wing gains strength, what does this mean for France and the world?

Photo by Rodrigo Kugnharski / Unsplash

In the past two decades, the right wing has steadily gained ground in international politics. And when it started pounding on French doors, Emmanuel Macron decided it was time to call for early elections. To be honest, it’s impossible to understand the reasoning behind such a choice. Some contend that Macron is willing to take a chance in order to give his Renaissance party a better position in the parliament before the right-wing wave really swept any additional ground. Others claim he has been pushed to exhaustion by the current parliament’s three-party situation and the President’s inability to pull actual strings. Any outcome, if this is the case, might sound promising for Macron. But the fact that his party’s balance in the parliament might be skewed further, with the right-wing National Rally coming first and the left-wing alliance Nouveau Front Populaire coming second, cannot spell bounties for him.

The Mechanics of French Elections: How the Process Unfolds

In France, elections are often conducted over two rounds. The first round started this morning, and at 8 p.m. GMT, the first figures should start to arrive. It is less likely that there will be unambiguous winners in every constituency in the first round as each candidate must obtain an absolute majority. In this year’s election, it can turn trickier. For this reason, in constituencies where no candidate has received more than 50% of the vote, a second round of voting is conducted. To advance to the next round, candidates must have secured a minimum of 12.5% of the total votes. The second round will be held on July 7.

Economic Challenges and Political Shifts: France's Current Landscape

Populist positioning is at the heart of all gains being made by the right wing. This is especially true with regard to France. Macron has been perceived as an elitist – even exclusionist – leader, and rightfully so, given his aloof demeanour. The status of the economy has been dire. GDP growth is a pitiful 0.7%, inflation hit a startling 5.7% last year, and any rebound is unlikely to materialise until the next year, when the EU predicts the country’s economy will expand by 1.3%. The EU also adds that by 2025, the public deficit may decrease to 5% of the GDP (which is a 0.3% drop). France's S&P rating has also dropped. Public opinion against Macron has been stoked by the country's economic issues alone. The legislation passed last year to alter pensions may have been the final nail in the coffin. It raised the retirement age to 64 and included a requirement that the employee must have worked for at least 43 years.

Although Macron's handling of the economy has drawn criticism from France's left and right wing parties, their own proposals have not shown much promise. With their assured populist measures, both extremes are betting on the already fragile economy being overstretched. This might deter foreign investors from entering the nation. The Euro could suffer and EU may also begin further restricting France if the National Rally wins power. While running for president in 2022, Marine Le Pen made a commitment to try and lower living expenses by allocating over 100 billion euros. Despite his less ambitious proposals, Jordan Bardella's ideas will nonetheless come at a high cost to the country. RN suggests reducing France's EU budget contributions in order to fund their ambitions. However, this would imply stringent controls on France's access to EU resources.

Global Implications of France’s Political Changes

While the first estimates from Ipsos will be known at 8 pm this evening, the figures may not be all that accurate, according to Le Monde. The article notes that the system tallies the numbers and observations gathered from polling stations that close at 6pm and 7pm. Ipsos then uses these observations to predict the results of the polling stations that close at 8pm (and are still open at the time of preparing estimates). Voter behaviour inconsistencies might not be immediately reflected.

Anything short of a clear majority in the 577-seat National Assembly will surely deter the National Rally from staking claim to government formation. Thus, for the time being, all sides can enjoy a political Schrödinger's cat-like situation until the real results confirm or contradict earlier patterns indicated by the European Parliamentary elections.

However, France’s domestic political and diplomatic landscape will fundamentally shift should the RN win power. The Prime Minister and his party will have most of the decision-making authority, even when Macron keeps his position as President. Previous cases of cohabitation in France have not had comparable ramifications. The RN might sour relations with the EU. This aligns with most of the treaty pullouts that Donald Trump implemented during his term. And for precisely that reason, RN’s unlikely-but-possible victory in the National Assembly may also validate a similar pattern in the US elections that are scheduled for November. This could push ever important participant in international alliances to become increasingly exclusive and inward-looking. France, which is essential to the sustenance of organisations like EU and NATO, might then begin to exploit a feeling that appears to be ‘nation first’ but is actually a compartmentalised rule.

Even if the results indicate that RN has gained more seats but not a majority, this should still be taken as a serious warning about what could happen if centrist politicians keep playing it safe. Subsequently, leaders like Macron should consider fighting the narratives of right-wing populism with concrete reform initiatives and not out-of-the-blue policy announcements that distance the government from the general public.

Update by the team from 22:00 French Time, Sunday Evening:

* Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN) leads with an estimated 34% of the vote
* New left-wing coalition (New Popular Front) in second place with about 28.1%
* President Macron's centrist alliance trails in third with approximately 20.3%
* RN could potentially win 230-280 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly
* Macron's coalition may only secure 70-100 seats
* Most seats will be decided in a second round on July 7
* Voter turnout was high, with a significant increase compared to previous elections
* Results could lead to a major shift in French politics, potentially ending Macron's centrist experiment
* This could bring the far-right to power for the first time since World War II
* Final outcome remains uncertain due to France's complex electoral system



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