Non to Le Pen — so who will govern France?

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Non to Le Pen — so who will govern France?

Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon (image created in Shutterstock)

Perhaps France’s extreme right party, the National Rally (the adjective “extreme” is what almost all French media use), was too clever by half.

Like Nigel Farage’s UKIP and later Brexit Party, the RN did very well in the European Parliament elections. These are protest votes and rarely tell us what would happen in an election to choose national lawmakers.

In the June elections to Strasbourg, the RN came top. The party promptly proclaimed it was now the main party in power and  Macron and elected deputies should stand aside to let the extreme Right take over.

This triumphalism was reflected on the BBC and much of the British press, which announced that Marine Le Pen was soon to reduce Emmanuel Macron to a lame duck president. The prediction was that her young, inexperienced acolyte, Jordan Bardella — the son of Italians and with Algerian ancestry, despite his obsession with immigration — would duly become Prime Minister.

Macron decided to ask the people of France if they agreed. They emphatically did not.

When faced with the idea of handing over government and law-making to the pro-Putin Le Pen or the hate demagogy of Bardella to children of immigrants born in France (as some of his forebears were), the French people said a clear “Non merci.”

The RN were pushed into third place, a major humiliation for Le Pen. Her estranged father, the anti-Semitic French demagogue Jean Marie Le Pen, is still alive. She had hoped to surpass him by entering the Elysée. Now that prospect has receded yet again.

It is the first time in a decade that her support has fallen, not increased. French voters were happy to send her candidates to Strasbourg, but were not ready to risk giving her or her young protégé full government power. As in Britain, it seems that voters are tired of the fake promises of ultra-nationalist, frontier-closing protectionist economics and  rabid 1930s-type demagogy.

After the first round a week ago, the other parties agreed to stand down in many districts to support the best placed candidate to beat the extreme Right candidate. The Left won 180 seats with more than 7 million votes, the Centre 159 seats with 6 million votes, while the RN ended with just 142 seats despite 10 million votes. It was tactical voting, such as we saw in Britain to oust Conservatives last week, but raised to a higher level in France. This has left Le Pen fuming and spluttering on French media about being robbed of her victory.

But it has not given France a government. The so-called New Popular Front includes a Corbyn-style ultra-left party led by an ex-Trotskyist George Galloway-like loudmouth, Jean Luc Mèlenchon. But it also includes Greens, the rump communist party, and the social democratic Parti Socialiste, closer to Labour.

In the European Parliament election, the  leading social democratic candidate, Raphaël Glucksmann, made clear he wanted nothing to do with the extremist hatred of Israel and barely disguised anti-Semitism of Mélenchon and his fan-base.

The Ensemblecalliance created by Macron also beat Le Pen’s National Rally — in seats, if not in votes. So there is a handsome majority of French voters who rejected Le Pen. In that sense, Macron’s decision to call an early parliamentary election, in contrast to Rishi Sunak’s same decision, has paid off.

But unlike British voters, French voters have refused to give any party an alternative.  This is not unknown in Europe. In Belgium and the Netherlands, voters spread their votes in such a way that  it was impossible to form a government for up to 18 months.

François Hollande, the veteran and shrewd Socialist party leader and President of France a decade ago has been elected to the National Assembly.  There will now be intense discussions about whether a majority can be found from the 577 deputies to govern France.

Alternatively Macron may call in a technocrat as in Italy in recent years who becomes prime minister and create a cabinet of all the talents until 2027 when the next presidential elections are due. Macron cannot dissolve the National Assembly a second time so France and Europe is condemned to live with the deputies elected this weekend.

Historians are invoking the 4th Republic France 1945-58 when shifting, changing parliamentary majorities were found, all based in excluding the French Communist Party. In the three decades after 1945, the Communists usually won the biggest number of National Assembly seats but never a majority.

France has made clear it wants none of the above, from Macron to Marine to Mélenchon. The Socialist Party was the only non-RN party to increase its vote and perhaps under a leader like  Glucksmann can come back into play.

Macron as President has supreme power on foreign policy and defence. So France’s commitment to the democratic alliance to defend Europe against Putin is not in question — at least until the next presidential election in 2027.

French voters know who they don’t want to govern them, but — unlike their British counterparts — have not yet worked out who they do want to run their country.

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Member ratings
  • Well argued: 65%
  • Interesting points: 74%
  • Agree with arguments: 62%
35 ratings - view all

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