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The Lame Duck in France

City Journal – “Dishonorable alliances have thrown France into the arms of the radical left,” declared the disappointed 28-year-old leader of the National Rally party, Jordan Bardella, on Sunday evening as the results of the second and final round of the country’s parliamentary elections rolled in. Bardella and his allies did worse than predicted, but the final tally was not quite so dramatic. On Monday morning, France awoke to a hung parliament: the three mutually irreconcilable factions—Left, Right, and Center—had failed to gain anything close to the 289-seat majority necessary to govern the country.

President Emmanuel Macron, of the centrist Renaissance Party, had called snap parliamentary elections last month after the National Rally (RN) did surprisingly well in France’s elections for the European Union parliament. Macron has now asked Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to remain in charge of a de facto caretaker government, leaving the French people to wonder how—or if—a government enjoying majority support will be formed before the next presidential election in 2027.

The Left had the best night. The New Popular Front (NFP), an uneasy coalition combining about 50 leftist political parties, labor unions, and other organizations, was only created on June 10, after the RN’s impressive performance in the European Union elections. It placed first on Sunday, securing 182 seats (107 short of a majority), despite giving few indications that its disparate elements can form a coherent governing program, agree on a leader, or even outlast this latest setback for the RN. Next came Macron’s Together for the Republic (EPR) coalition, with 163 seats, down from 245 in the last elections in 2022 and the 361-seat absolute majority Macron’s supporters won when he was first elected president in 2017. The RN finished third with 143 seats, far worse than expected.

Bardella’s disappointment was understandable, even if the RN’s campaign failed to blunt the impact of its controversial past associations with fascism and deficiencies in coalition building, resource allocation, candidate selection, and public relations. After acing the EU elections on June 9 and the first round of parliamentary elections on June 30, the party, its opponents, and virtually all polls agreed that it would win a large plurality, if not an outright majority, in the second-round runoff. If that had happened, Macron would have been obliged by the political conventions of the Fifth Republic to call upon Bardella to form a government at odds with his presidency—an awkward arrangement known as cohabitation that the current Republic’s founders do not appear to have envisioned and which has not worked well in the past.

Instead, Macron’s distressed and unpopular coalition has formed a “tactical alliance” with the NFP. Under its terms, candidates who finished third or lower in the first round dropped out of the race before the second round, thus avoiding splitting the vote against RN candidates. Unlike virtually everything else in French politics, this process, put into action in 221 constituencies, proved highly effective, costing the RN dozens of seats it was favored to win.

Yet while the RN failed to meet expectations, it still added 54 seats to the 89 it won in 2022 and took 135 more than the mere eight seats it won just seven years ago in 2017. As Bardella acknowledged, even the numerically checked RN stands as the largest party in the National Assembly, once the coalitions are broken down into their component parts. Having won more than a third of the popular vote, the RN also outpolled all of its opponents, individually and en bloc. And with 30 of France’s 81 seats in the European Parliament, the RN is larger there than the next two French parties combined.

The biggest losers of the elections are Macron and his centrist coalition. Neither the RN’s success in the European elections nor anything else in French politics required him to call snap legislative elections. He appears to have done so out of a fit of pique, later explaining that he sought “clarity” in his country’s direction. He could have done his best to provide that clarity before the 2027 presidential elections, in which term limits prohibit him from participating. Instead, he needlessly squandered his parliamentary coalition’s sizeable plurality, threw his prime minister and political heir apparent under the bus, and almost certainly tarnished his legacy and reduced himself to three years of lame-duck status.

Macron has the additional humiliation of owing even his hobbled political survival to a shady and undemocratic backroom deal with the radical Left, which hates him about as much as it hates the RN, ran on reversing his pro-business economic program, and has already called for his resignation. As the Center and Left fight it out, the RN will be waiting in the wings.

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