KNOW YOUR ENEMY: FRENCH ELECTIONS

 

by Drakoulis Goudis

Background:

In the evening of June 6th, while Europe was following the results of the European Parliament elections, the decision of French President Emmanuel Macron to call for snap legislative elections as a reaction to his party’s heavy defeat and the triumph of the far-right Rassemblement National sent shockwaves across France and all the way to Brussels. The (unfathomable a few years ago) scenario of an RN majority in the French Parliament, given the momentum Marine Lepen’s party had after winning 30 seats and 31.37% in the European Parliament election, sent the democratic forces of France into a frenzy, rushing to devise an optimal strategy of limiting the far-right growth and rallying their own (quite dissatisfied in the case of Macron’s Ensemble) voter base.

2024 EU Parliament elections results

The groups:

The political forces left of center, set their (often significant) differences aside and form the Nouveau Front Populaire: social democrat PS, green EELV, left/far-left LFI and communist PCF alongside minor allies agreed on a common program and a single candidate for each constituency.

Ensemble, the presidential coalition which was since 2022 relying in LR (usually) and other opposition MPs supporting their legislation or abstaining, quickly rallied behind charismatic Prime Minister Gabriel Attal in an effort to recover from the abysmal 14.6% European Parliament election result and salvage their parliamentary power.

Les Republicains, the traditional center-right/right-wing party of France, descended into civil war. President Eric Ciotti took an unprecedented decision to support RN and suggested an electoral pact with RN, breaking the decades-old cordon sanitaire against the far-right. The party rebelled which resulted in absolute comedy with Ciotti locking himself in the party’s HQ, a war over the LR twitter account, attempts to oust him from president, and in the end LR de facto split in two: the Ciotti-backed candidates with RN’s endorsement and the rest of LR candidates rejecting any coalition with RN.

With Eric Zemmour’s far-right Reconquête party imploding and RN sweeping their voters, the eve of the 1st round had the French asked to choose among 4 main options: RN, NFP, Ensemble and LR.

 

Left to right: Jordan Bardella (RN), PM Gabriel Attal (ENS) and Manuel Bompard (NFP)

A brief explanation of French legislative elections system:

The country is split into constituencies, and the candidate who gets 50% in each constituency wins the seat. If no candidate wins 50%, the top 2 candidates advance to the 2nd round. But there is a catch: if the 3rd and even 4th candidate surpass a certain percentage (dependent on turnout), they also advance to the 2nd round, and the duel becomes a triangulaire, in which a candidate doesn’t need 50% to win the seat!

1st round:

After a heated campaign in which the presidential camp attacked both the far-right and Mélenchon’s LFI while NFP promoted their coalition as the only alternative to a far-right majority, the results of June 28th were:

With RN emerging as the largest party and having the 1st place candidate in most constituencies, the democratic forces were at a crossroads: with 314 seats (an almost unprecedented number historically) heading to 2nd round with 3 or more candidates, the danger of RN winning them because the anti-RN vote was split between multiple candidates was looming closer than ever.

 

And now?

The question posed to the political leaders of France was simple: who is your enemy?

For NFP, the answer was clear: Marine Lepen’s far-right. NFP withdrew all their candidates from 3-way runoffs where the RN candidate was leading in the 1st round and urged their voters to vote for the candidate of Ensemble or LR facing the RN candidate in these constituencies.

For Ensemble, the answer given was basically the same: no seats should go to RN. The message of Prime Minister Attal and most Ensemble ministers was that despite the political chasm separating them from LFI; they prefer it over RN. Ensemble also withdrew all their candidates from 3-way runoffs where the RN candidate was leading in the 1st round, just like NFP (with 2 exceptions where the candidates refused to withdraw). But Horizons (a faction of Ensemble) leader Édouard Philippe as well as Bruno Le Maire and Gérald Darmamin went against the coalition’s official policy and irresponsibly stated that they consider LFI just as bad as RN.

LR, on the other hand, refused to withdraw most of their candidates, letting them play spoiler from 3rd place. Ideologically, the question “who is your enemy” is tougher for LR because their more right-wing electorate despises Melenchon’s LFI perhaps more than Lepen’s RN. Interestingly, several LR senior politicians seem to respect the communist PCF more and urge voters to vote for PCF over RN but draw the line at LFI.

Withdrawals

Opinion:

The position of LR, Philippe, Le Maire etc. is irresponsible and dangerous for French democracy and everything France stands for in Europe. Even if the statement that LFI is as extreme as RN was true, LFI has no chance of a majority. NFP as a whole has no chance to gain a majority, much less LFI by itself. It’s RN which is within striking distance from ascending to power, and politicians who care about the future of their country and the prospects of their voters should know better than to open the door to the far-right by refusing to take a stand against them. That’s not leadership, that’s cowardice and opportunism.

Decision time:

RN has risen from obscurity over the years (1 out of 3 voters voting for RN is a shocking result) alongside other far-right parties in Europe for a multitude of reasons (which need a separate article to be analyzed), but so far, the French voters have firmly stood against them when it matters the most. The polls are already reflecting the first results of the 3rd candidates’ withdrawals in regions like Brittany, where RN is projected to lose all the seats they contest. As Sunday approaches, the left, center and center-right voters of France are called to defend everything France stands for and prevent a catastrophe. How France reached this point of having to fight to prevent the admirers of Petain, the party of Jean-Marie Lepen to govern the country, is a huge discussion which needs to take place, but not tomorrow.

Tomorrow, with the party leaders and candidates having made their priorities clear, it’s the voters’ turn to answer the question and for the world to see the democratic reflexes of the French people:

Can they put ideological differences aside and vote against the far-right?

Can left-wing voters and center-right voters vote for each other when needed to protect their country from the black threat ante portas?

We hope, and we firmly believe, that they can, and they will.