July 16, 2024

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Will France fall to populism?

2 min read

Between the European parliament elections on June 9 and the forthcoming French parliamentary elections on June 30 and July 7, France seems to have returned to a traditional pattern: left against right or, more precisely, “progressives” against “fascists”. The liberal centre, President Emmanuel Macron’s electoral base, has apparently collapsed, as has the former Gaullist party Les Républicains.

On the left, although the moderate Parti Socialiste recovered some ground on June 9, the political scene is dominated by the radical and very vocal La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which just trailed them. The Greens, meanwhile, can provide no more than a marginal boost for the left.

The earthquake is the advance of the far right. The Rassemblement National (RN) of Marine Le Pen — formerly the Front National — won 31.5 per cent of the French votes for the European parliament, to which one should add the more radical Reconquête headed by Éric Zemmour, at 5.5 per cent.

What happened? Macron won the presidency in 2017 by uniting the centre-right and centre-left under his new party, En Marche (now called Renaissance), splitting the Socialists and Les Républicains. These two parties never really recovered from the hijacking of their moderate wings.

The far-right Rassemblement National’s Marine Le Pen shakes hands with President Emmanuel Macron in 2022 © Getty Images

The rise of Le Pen’s RN in polls and elections gave the impression that French society was drifting to the right, a pattern shared by many European countries. Consequently, instead of remaining firm at the centre, Macron turned to a more rightist policy on social benefits, immigration, Islam and public order; he also extolled patriotism and pledged to fight “wokism” in academia. He remained liberal only on feminist and gender issues, with the right to abortion added to the constitution. 

This shift squeezed Les Républicains between the RN and Macron’s…

2024-06-22 00:00:43

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