Macron en feu

Jeremy Harding

In last week’s elections, the European parliament withstood an energetic onslaught by the far right. The centre-right European People’s Party remains the largest group and resembles a large, inert object whose surface was scuffed, but not disfigured, by the vote. The Socialists and Democrats have held their shape with around 140 seats. Renew Europe, with which Emmanuel Macron’s party is associated, has taken a predictable hit, losing around twenty of its 102 seats. The gain for Identity and Democracy (ID), the main far-right alliance, will be fewer than ten seats bringing it to just under sixty. But the EPP, too, has increased its 176 seats by around eight and its champions, including Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, are technically correct to claim that their majority has prevailed against new ‘populist’ right-wing ideologies pressing hard on the European political imagination, even among younger voters.

As things stand, in an assembly of 720 seats, the far-right bloc remains a destabilising presence whose gains would have been higher if the head of Germany’s AfD list, Maximilian Krah, hadn’t been turfed out of the ID group – mostly on the say-so of Marine Le Pen – for a faux pas in May, which the BBC described as a ‘Nazi remark’. To continue projecting her Rassemblement National as a fully pasteurised product, Sainte Marine and her new front man, Jordan Bardella, have had to cancel some of the unsavoury fellow travellers who carry the taint of her father’s legacy. ID’s closest relatives in the parliament are the eurosceptic, anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformists, brought together by David Cameron fifteen years ago: the largest ECR component currently is Poland’s Law and Justice, though its most prominent – and powerful – figure may be Italy’s far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. Between them ID and ECR have around 130 seats in the chamber. The unaffiliated AfD has 15, a gain of four.

Von der Leyen’s upbeat take on the overall result does nothing to assuage anxieties in France, where the RN took 31.4 per cent of the vote, more than double the figure for Macron’s alliance (14.6) or the pairing of the Parti Socialiste and Place Publique, led by Raphaël Glucksmann (13.8). In terms of seats, of which France has 81, the RN will get thirty; the fanatical Reconquête! (Eric Zemmour and Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal) will get five, and sit with the ECR; Macron’s party and the Socialists 13 apiece; La France Insoumise (Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Manon Aubry) nine; Les Républicains (EPP) six; and Les Ecologistes five.

These figures seem to spell the end of Macron’s seven-year attempt to dissolve ideological and class differences in a jacuzzi of national wellbeing, fizzing with liberal economic reforms meant to bolster the country’s shaky finances. The national debt stands at roughly 112 per cent of GDP (it’s roughly 98 per cent in Britain and 125 per cent in the US); more important, the annual budget deficit is running close to 5 per cent, in breach of the Stability and Growth Pact’s 3 per cent ceiling. Last month, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the quality of French sovereign debt. Le Pen used the occasion to round on Macron for his ‘catastrophic management of public finances’.

The president’s announcement a few hours after the polling stations closed on Sunday night that he would dissolve the National Assembly left his opponents – and many followers – wondering what the point could be in calling a snap election for the end of this month, with a second round, where necessary, on 7 July. Macron pitched his decision to the electorate as a way of bringing the recent ‘fever that has taken hold of public and parliamentary debate’ to a head – and presumably nursing the patient back from delirium after the crisis. But his chances of success are low, while his approach, which hasn’t changed since 2017, is still to engage in a running conflict with the RN leadership, which he’s happy to protract – though in this campaign there won’t be another head-to-head debate – perhaps in the hope that he can reclaim some of the political ground he has ceded to Le Pen since he entered the Elysée. This can only be done, it seems, by fomenting a sense of panic among elected officials and building a new coalition overnight to prevent an RN prime minister from entering Matignon on thumping returns for the party.

That would be Bardella: 28, presentable and circumspect, and currently president of the RN. Le Pen runs the parliamentary side, although she remains the châtelaine of the entire edifice and Bardella’s éminence blanche. He won’t be contesting a seat in the elections but if the RN does as well as expected, it can insist on his appointment as prime minister. Already the pollsters are giving it a whirl, based not on the 2022 legislatives in France, but on last Sunday’s vote. (French polling is eerily reliable: not long before 9 June, Macron was assuring people – ‘you’ll see’ – that his European list would win ‘between 20 and 22 per cent’; on 7 June, Ifop had it at 14.5 per cent, a tenth of a percentage point shy of the final result.)

A tentative stab at voting intentions on 30 June by a Harris Interactive affiliate doesn’t look promising for Macron’s domestic list. Le Pen’s party is predicted to win 34 per cent, with a revived left alliance coming in second on 22 per cent, the president’s party skulking at 19 per cent and Les Républicains (LR), the dishevelled inheritors of de Gaulle’s great party, taking only 9 per cent.

These numbers were published before the dramatic news broke on 11 June that Eric Ciotti, the leader of LR, had agreed to an electoral alliance with Le Pen’s party. On the face of it, that would put her in a stronger position than Macron imagined when he pressed delete. But traditionally LR regards Le Pen’s dynasty as a Vichy tendency, even if the two parties’ policy positions concur on immigration and law and order. Only three years ago, it was possible for a senior LR figure to describe RN as ‘the enemy of the Gaullist family for historical reasons, whose roots go very deep’. That figure, as it happens, was Ciotti.

Projecting from the Harris Interactive poll, you might think that a consensual alliance between LR and the RN would bring them in 40 per cent of the vote or more, but the consensus inside LR is being shredded as the party turns on its leader, accusing him of lies and treachery; some are calling for his head. Macron’s people may not have predicted this eventuality to the letter, but the ambient chaos that’s followed his announcement was surely part of the gamble. Alliance or no alliance, the explosive row inside LR will result in a debris of ballots landing in Macron’s camp as well as Le Pen’s. Ifop will inform us ahead of time how they might be distributed.

Le Pen has been waiting a long time for the extinction of the ‘Gaullist family’ and must be hoping this is the death rattle. She has ruled out an alliance with Reconquête! in a show of confidence and political hygiene, sensing perhaps that its share of the vote – 4.2 per cent in the first round of the 2022 legislative elections – would come her way in any contests outstanding on 7 July. According to Marion Maréchal, Bardella has told her that the RN wants no association, ‘direct or indirect’, with Zemmour. It isn’t clear that this new quarantine meets World Health Organisation standards.

Long before the European elections, a promising left-of-centre coalition had dissolved in a national parody of the ‘groupuscules’ which opted for internecine war in the nurseries of leftism during the late 1960s. Nupes, the new ecological and social union of the people, was formed in 2022. Its main components were Mélenchon’s LFI, the remnants of the Parti Socialiste broken by the presidential election of 2017, the Communist Party and Les Ecologistes. It failed to win a majority in the Assembly in 2022 but gained disruptive leverage over the parliamentary process in the absence of an absolute majority for Macron’s people.

For almost two years – they seem like an age – Nupes filibustered as Mélenchon blustered and patience within the alliance wore thin. Last year it fell apart. But its remains are now the basis of a new common programme for the upcoming vote. The proposal has come from the leader of the Communist Party, Fabien Roussel. The pledge from this embryonic alliance, a self-styled Popular Front, is to agree on a single candidate per constituency. There isn’t much time: candidates have until 16 June to register. For the moment, the single candidacy negotiations are making headway. LFI has agreed to field candidates in around a hundred fewer places than it did in 2022. Soon then there will have to be a figurehead for the movement who would also be the putative prime minister. That’s an unknown, although it doesn’t look as though it will be Mélenchon or Raphaël Glucksmann, son of André, the wearisome nouveau philosophe.

A bit like Macron in 2017, Glucksmann fils has little political experience, having built his career in the media, and has no enduring association with the Parti Socialiste. He was a co-founder in 2018 of the small centre-left party Place Publique, which went into alliance with the socialists to contest European elections the following year. Glucksmann is ambivalent about a unified left electoral campaign and extremely touchy about LFI, on policy grounds and – dangerous at this stage – points of principle. His vanity may not allow him to set these aside in the event of a tiff with Mélenchon, whose own amour-propre knows no bounds. The absence of Glucksmann, the bright pilot fish who led the PS to impressive gains in the European elections, would not be an insurmountable blow for the new Popular Front. And it will only need to hold until July. But if Harris-Interactive is anywhere close to the mark, voting intentions will have to shift dramatically between now and 30 June for any hope of success.

This morning, Ciotti ordered LR’s headquarters in Paris to be shut down on ‘security’ grounds. Ciotti’s job security, that’s to say. He had locked himself inside, determined to keep his colleagues out of the building and delay their plan to relieve him of his post. LR’s HQ may well be empty when the time comes to shoot the docudrama.

Macron meanwhile spoke (at length) about new projects, new strategies, recent regrets and the dissolution of the National Assembly. No second thoughts on that last point. He is being praised for his foresight: let the RN have a crack at government and see what voters make of it before the presidential elections in 2027. He is also accused of committing political suicide. It can’t be both, and in any case it’s more a matter of symbolic self-immolation. The paradox of the monarch’s sacrificial gesture is that it keeps him on the throne as a heap of glowing ash and serves, to his mind, as a call to the electorate for clarity. But there’s already smoke in the air, the temperature is rising and the smouldering presidential body is becoming a fire hazard for the country as a whole. This morning he urged voters to rally to a ‘centrist’ position. Where is that on Google maps?


  • 13 June 2024 at 9:43am
    XopherO says:
    In my village on a just short of 50% turnout Le Pen's RN got 44%, and niece Marechal's party takes that up to 47% for the far, far right. Just three days after the commemorations of the beginning of the defeat of the Nazis and liberation of France from the jackboot (though the massive contribution of the Russians on the Eastern front was more or less forgotten, no doubt deliberately) people voted fascist in their droves - let us not mince words. I don't understand at all. Frightening. I have learned not to talk about it.

    • 13 June 2024 at 10:40am
      Graucho says: @ XopherO
      “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
      The upcoming generations haven't, including all too many baby boomers. Farage, Trump, Orban, Le Penn, all Putin's fellow travellers, useful fools as Lenin would have called them, are profiting from it seducing voters with their faux patriotism.

    • 13 June 2024 at 10:41pm
      whatnot says: @ XopherO
      Soviets, not 'Russians' on the Eastern front, same Soviets who cut a land grab deal with Hitler in 1939, then ran for cover and waited for Lend-Lease after the latter went rogue in an unexpected twist.

    • 19 June 2024 at 10:07pm
      fbkun says: @ whatnot
      Soviets indeed, although the vast majority of those Soviet soldiers who fought Nazi Germany were indeed Russians. Their sacrifice was trampled on by Macron in this year's commemoration. Instead, Zelensky was there --- shame nobody cared to ask him if he was also present to celebrate the legacy of those many Ukrainians who fought with Nazi Germany, worked as auxiliaries in concentration and extermination camps,... At the end of the Stalingrad siege, an estimated one third of Paulus's 6th army was made of non-German volunteers (the so-called 'Hiwis'), most of them Ukrainians. In current Ukraine, those are celebrated as patriots.

    • 21 June 2024 at 1:51am
      whatnot says: @ fbkun
      'trampled on'? oh dear.

    • 21 June 2024 at 11:49am
      whatnot says: @ fbkun
      if anyone tramples on whatever 'sacrifices' cutting a deal with Hitler entails, it's the chekist rat in Kremlin, so save your 'Ukrainian nazis' dead cat strategy for after the current bout of 'denazification' (honestly, what was the victory even for, if after all this time Ukraine is still chock-full of baby-eating Banderite sympathisers).

      but speaking of parades, there's archival footage from 1941, of Nazi delegates in uniform admiring sunny Mayday celebrations in the Red Square, probably thinking 'this Judeo-Bolshevik shower won't spoil our parade'. and so it proved to be a few months later, when 'Russians' scattered like rats from the Baltics and the rest of the newly-Soviet lands - what better way to start the 'great patriotic war' (NB - partitioning Poland with Hitler two years prior does not an act of war make).

      you'll also find that Ukrainians, nearly 2m of whom died fighting on the Soviet side, weren't as collaborative as their Crimean Tatar colleagues, who came back from the frontlines to find their entire nation deported to assorted -stans for - you guessed it - 'collaborating' with occupying Nazis, or whatever Stalin's excuse was. did your snubbed megalomaniac leader perhaps facilitate the return of hundreds of thousands of Tatars remaining in exile after recently 'liberating' Crimea? no, he shut down their last remaining TV and banned commemorative marches instead.

      anyhow, your dear leader's great patriotic begging-for-bullets tour in the East is going spectacularly well (I read a certain hereditary Gulag overseer was particularly generous), so do cheer up, all is not lost.

  • 14 June 2024 at 9:12am
    UncleShoutingSmut says:
    The La France insoumise list was headed by Manon Aubry, not Martine Aubry, and no relation. Martine Aubry is the Socialist mayor of Lille, and has in the past been a government minister for that party. She is also the daughter of Jacques Delors - so there is a European connection of sorts.

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