France election live: first-round results give far-right alliance 33% of vote, as PM warns Le Pen at ‘gates of power’

The far-right National Rally (RN) party and its allies reached 33% of the national popular vote in the first round of parliamentary elections, the interior ministry has said.

The leftwing New Popular Front (NFP) alliance came in second with 28% while President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Together coalition reached 20%, the ministry said.

The result marks the first time the RN has won more than 20% of the vote in a parliamentary election and puts the party within reach of forming the country’s first ever far-right elected government.

However the final results and the exact makeup of the 577-seat parliament are far from certain and the RN’s chances of winning power will depend on the political dealmaking made by its rivals over the coming days, ahead of Sunday’s second round.

In the past, the traditional right and leftwing parties have struck agreements to stand down candidates from the runoffs to avoid splitting the vote against the RN. But the tactical voting strategy known as the “republican front” to block the RN is less certain than ever.

The leader of the NFP, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said the leftist alliance would withdraw all its candidates who came third in the first round, saying: “Our guideline is simple and clear: not a single more vote for the National Rally.”

In a written statement, Macron called on voters to rally behind candidates who are “clearly republican and democratic”.

But based on his recent declarations while that would include candidates representing the NFP’s more moderate leftwing parties it would exclude candidates from Mélenchon’s France Unbowed.

France Unbowed’s Clémentine Autain said that the “neither nor” approach of some centrists who are opposed to voting both for the National Rally (RN) and France Unbowed (LFI) “has only one winner: the far right.”

Christelle Morançais, regional council president for the Pays de la Loire, has said that in case of a faceoff between the National Rally and the New Popular Front “my personal position is clear: blank vote.”

Clément Beaune, a Macron ally, has pointed to the upcoming British election in his plea for France not to turn to the far right.

“At a time when our British friends are about to turn the page from demagogic nationalism, let’s not dive into it. Coming out of it is long and painful,” he said.

Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, has issued a warning about the far right.

“They love Putin, money and power without control. And they are already in power or are reaching for it in the East or West of Europe,” he wrote on social media.

“They are joining ranks in the European Parliament. In Poland, we reversed this fatal tide at the very last moment. Let’s not waste it,” he added.

A big debate following the first round is the role of the controversial France Unbowed (LFI) party, which forms part of the left wing New Popular Front alliance.

Bruno Le Maire, the economy minister and Macron ally, said this morning that “for me, France Unbowed is a danger for the nation, just as the National Rally is a danger for the Republic.”

France’s Unbowed’s Eric Coquerel argued that “all those who continue in the former majority to put a line of equality between LFI [France Unbowed] and the RN [National Rally] affirm that for them, it is not a problem to give the majority to the RN.”

“Am I to understand that you don’t dare debate with me?” wrote Marine Tondelier, national secretary of Europe Ecology – The Greens, in response to the far right National Rally’s Jordan Bardella.

Bardella said he is ready to debate with France Unbowed’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, but Tondelier said it was her turn to represent the New Popular Front.

Le Monde’s front page today speaks volumes. Brown shows where the National Rally came first in the first round (many constituencies will now go to a second-round run-off).

Paul Taylor, a senior visiting fellow at the European Policy Centre, has just written this sobering opinion piece for the Guardian. In it, he looks at the national and international consequences of Macron’s gamble.

President Emmanuel Macron’s gamble of dissolving parliament and seeking a “clarification” from voters after an ultra-short three-week campaign backfired spectacularly on his own supporters …

The Macron era is over, even if the president stays in the Élysée palace until his term ends in 2027. The electorate overwhelmingly rejected him for the second time in a month. His hold on both domestic and European policy will be seriously diminished, whatever the outcome of next week’s run-offs.

France, a founder member and driving force in the European Union, a G7 economy, nuclear power and permanent member of the UN security council, is set to become a more awkward, inwardly focused partner in EU and Nato negotiations, a less enthusiastic supporter of Ukraine and a brake on further European integration.

Whether the RN wins an absolute majority in next Sunday’s second round and Jordan Bardella, Le Pen’s 28-year-old protege, becomes prime minister, or whether it falls short and France endures a period of instability with a hung parliament, it is only a matter of time now before the Eurosceptic France-first nationalists gets its day in government.

Le Figaro has published an opinion piece that puts the blame for Sunday’s results squarely on Emmanuel Macron and his flawed scheming.

The author of the piece, Alexis Brézet, also suggests that, to his mind, Jordan Bardella’s National Rally (RN) is preferable to Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his far-left colleagues in France Unbowed (LFI).

When historians come to study this dissolution, only one word will suffice: disaster … Emmanuel Macron wanted to unify the central bloc, divide the left and isolate the RN – but all his calculations have proved false …

Who, in good conscience, would want to draw an equivalence between Bardella and Mélenchon? The RN’s programme is certainly worrying in many ways. But what’s on the other side? Antisemitism, Islamo-leftism, class hatred, tax hysteria … Under the dominance of LFI, the New Popular Front is, in fact, the vector of an ideology that would bring dishonour and ruin to the country …

Our columnist Nicolas Baverez recalled recently this sentence from Raymond Aron, a great figure in Le Figaro: ‘The choice in politics is not between good and bad, but between the preferable and the detestable.’ The troubled times we’re entering have shown themselves to be eminently Aronian.

Célia Belin, head of Paris office and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, has sent over some thoughts on Sunday’s results.

In short, the gamble has backfired. Massively.

Macron’s decision to call snap elections amounted to self-sabotage, accelerating the rise of the far-right in French politics by months or even years. Macron did not rise to his 2017 and 2022 promise that he will be a bulwark against the far right.

High turnout and fewer candidates led to an unprecedented number of three-way contests in the second round. The Nouveau Front Populaire unanimously announced they will systematically withdraw their candidates when in third position and endorse the non-RN alternative, aiming to prevent RN wins.

Macron’s camp has refused to do the same on a systematic basis due to the presence of La France Insoumise candidates in some cases, establishing a moral equivalency between Melenchon’s and Le Pen’s parties. This, in turn, may increase anti-RN voters’ confusion about the best course of action.

Even if there is a surge on the left and center between the first and second rounds, deep divisions and animosity between Macron’s camp, Les Républicains, and the Nouveau Front Populaire make an “alternative majority” governing from the center improbable.

In power, Macron has been unable to compromise or build a governing coalition with the right or negotiate on his platform. Instead, the far-right’s overwhelming surge, combined with a small but resilient grouping of Les Républicains, suggests the most likely majority will be in this camp.

Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and his cabinet are respecting the unofficial ban on commenting on foreign elections in the immediate aftermath of the RN’s bombshell success.

However other influential politicians have weighed in to express their shock, with Michael Roth of Scholz’s Social Democrats laying some of the blame for the far right’s triumph at the feet of the German government.

“We didn’t ask ourselves enough how we could better support the pro-European liberal president, Macron,” Roth, the chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the German edition of Politico.

“We don’t show enough consideration to the political debates and problems of other countries,” he added, noting that the alternative to Macron “is indeed no longer Sarkozy but rather a hard-right nationalist like Marine Le Pen”.

If she gains power, “that would have dramatic consequences for us. France is the heart of united Europe. If that heart doesn’t beat robustly, the EU could have a heart attack”.

Sebastian Fischer of news magazine Der Spiegel said Macron’s high-stakes gamble had clearly blown up in his face, comparing his attempt to call French voters’ bluff after the European parliament elections with the snap poll to the behaviour of a “child with a tantrum”.

“That is the situation our closest ally, friend and partner is in, without whom a united Europe as we know it can’t work. The bursts of shellfire are getting closer,” Fischer said with an eye to the rise of Germany’s leading far-right party, the Alternative für Deutschland.

Meanwhile, Die Zeit foreign affairs correspondent Jörg Lau compared Macron’s reckless roll of the dice to the Brexit gamble of David Cameron when he was UK prime minister.

Writing sarcastically on X, Lau joked: “Emmanuel #Macron to join ‘David Cameron Political Consulting’ strategy firm after French snap election backfired with massive win by Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National.”

Raphaël Glucksmann, who headed the Socialist party’s candidates in the European elections last month, has issued a full-throated plea for all the candidates who finished third on Sunday to withdraw in order to build a united barrier against the far right.

History is looking at us and judging us tonight, and each one of us must take responsibility. This is no longer just a legislative election: it’s a referendum. Do we – yes or no – want the far right to take power at the ballot box for the first time? That is the only question that matters. All political identities – left and right – melt away in the face of that dizzying question.

Are we ready to hand over our country – the country of Victor Hugo, of Voltaire, of Rabelais – to the Le Pen family? That’s the only question that matters. It’s become a referendum and that’s why we’re asking all the third-place candidates to withdraw immediately, and why we’re asking people to vote, unambiguously and unhesitatingly, for democratic republicans whether they be on the left or the right, in order to stop the National Rally. We have seven days to avoid a catastrophe the likes of which France has never known in its history.

The president of the far-right National Rally (RN), Jordan Bardella, has published a letter to the French people in which he sets out the party’s strategy for mobilising voters in the second round: focusing on spending power and making ends meet, while warning against the left — who it will face in numerous run-offs.

Most of the letter is given over to what Bardella calls the dangers of leftwing figure Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Mélenchon is a divisive personality in France, but other key figures on the left said on Monday morning that Mélenchon was not a candidate for prime minister and was not the focus of the final round.

Bardella, who will be prime minister if the RN gains an absolute majority, said the left were “agents of chaos” who must be stopped and who pose an “existential threat to the French nation”. He said that, by contrast, the RN would bring “order to the streets” and to the public purse. He said the focus of the campaign would be the cost of living, security, health, school and immigration.

Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has described Sunday’s French election results as a warning. In an interview with the Cadena Ser radio network on Monday morning, he said:

The advance of the far right in France isn’t unconnected with what’s happening in other parts of the world – including in Spain – where we’re seeing how, directly or indirectly … the far right is advancing institutionally and in the opinion polls.

But Sánchez added that his own government was proof that progressive politics can still win out (his socialist party and its leftwing allies managed to secure a new term in office after the conservative People’s party finished first in last summer’s general election but failed to win enough support to take office – even with the backing of the far-right Vox party).

Like Macron, Sánchez also gambled by calling a snap poll in response to his party’s poor electoral showing (in regional and municipal elections) and framing it as a choice between progressive politics and the regressive politics of the far right.

But Sánchez’s gamble paid off – albeit at the cost of offering Catalan separatist parties a deeply controversial amnesty

The Spanish PM added:

I don’t take the victory of the French far right as a given. I think everything will depend on the socialist party, on its strength and on the unity of the left. There’s also a lesson from Spain there … You always beat the far right by governing and bringing in progressive policies that, one-by-one, give the lie to all the fake news that it spreads.

France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, has ruled out calling on voters to choose a far-left candidate from the France Unbowed (LFI) party – even if that was the only realistic option to stop a candidate from the far-right National Rally (RN) party.

The RN scored historic gains to win the first round of France’s parliamentary election, but whether it can reach an absolute majority in the National Assembly will depend on days of alliance-building before next week’s run-off vote.

Leaders from the left and Macron’s centrist bloc said they would withdraw their own candidates in districts where another candidate was better placed to beat the far right.“LFI is a danger for the nation,” Le Maire told France Inter radio, adding that while he’d encourage voters to pick candidates from other leftwing parties in places where a centrist candidate pulled out of the race, he’d “never” call for voting LFI. (Via Reuters)

A bit here from Reuters on the financial reaction to the National Rally’s (RN) resounding win:

A longtime pariah for many in France, the RN is now closer to power than it has ever been. Le Pen has sought to clean up the image of a party known for racism and antisemitism, a tactic that has worked amid voter anger at Macron, the high cost of living and growing concerns over immigration.

An RN-led government would raise major questions over where the European Union was headed, given its resistance to further EU integration. Economists have also asked whether its spending plans are fully funded.

The euro touched a two-week high during Asian trading on Monday on market relief the RN had not done better.

I think it’s a slight ‘well, there were no surprises’, so there was a sense of relief there,” said Fiona Cincotta, senior markets analyst at City Index.

The gains by the far-right National Rally (RN) were described as staggering by pollsters and political analysts. The party is on track to become the dominant force in parliament, whether or not it reaches an absolute majority of 289 seats.

The party took more than 10m votes in the first round of parliament elections on Sunday night — more than double its 4.2m votes in the parliament elections only two years ago in 2022. It also considerably increased its showing from the 7.7m votes it took in European elections only a few weeks ago.

The RN’s vote share of 33% was even greater than the high score of Emmanuel Macron’s centrists in parliament in 2017 after Macron swept to power.

Meanwhile, Macron’s centrists are now facing what one pollster called “catastrophe”. They are relegated to third place – behind the left – and are set to lose more than half their seats, shrinking from 250 to less than 100. “It’s a defeat,” said Macron’s economy minister Bruno Le Maire, speaking of “a lot of sadness”.

A bit more – very bleak – analysis here from Mujtaba Rahman, managing director Europe of risk consultancy Eurasia Group. See his earlier comments here.

 

Updated: Juli 1, 2024 — 12:43 pm

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