The state of play ahead of France’s key election

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Welcome back to the special French election edition of Europe Express.

A day before France goes to the polls in a first-round vote to elect a new National Assembly — followed by a second round on July 7 — voters seem more interested in radical politics than ever.

We are devoting this and the next two editions of Europe Express to French politics after President Emmanuel Macron decided on June 9 to call a snap election that threatens to crush the political mainstream. This is the English version, but you can also read it en français here. I can be reached at [email protected].

Where are we now?

Poll this week Around 36.5 percent of the vote in the first round supported the far-right Rassemblement National party, which wants to bar dual nationals from certain public positions and has declared a culture war on Islam, as revealed in our interview with its leader, Jordan. Bartella. That score is up from the party’s unprecedented 31 percent in European elections earlier this month.

In second place with 29 percent is still the new Popular Front, a weak alliance of the main party Socialist with the far-left and staunchly anti-capitalist La France Insoumise.

So after tomorrow’s first round of voting, a run between the extremes is likely in most places, with the moderate center relegated to a bit-part player in French parliamentary politics.

Blocks to the right

Still . . . A voter turnout of 64 percent or more is predicted, the highest in 20 years for assembly elections. So many French citizens abroad rushed to register proxy votes this week that the government website was temporarily suspended to cope with the demand. On Thursday, the home ministry announced that 2.1 million benamis have been registered so far, more than double the number of the previous assembly polls.

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Some see it as a sign that the French are heeding calls to unite across party lines, or a “fair barrage” to vote against the far-right in the first round. They hope voters will once again reject the government more forcefully, as they did three times before (2002, 2017 and 2022) when the RN and its predecessor Front National lost second-round presidential elections to the centre-right. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said In this interview He told France’s BFM business channel that he was “happy with this start. I see it as an awareness that the future of France is really at stake.

But not everyone is optimistic. A senior centrist deputy fighting for his seat this week told me that the depth of voter animosity toward Macron and his authoritarian style of governance have undermined the center he sought to lead and shocked even government ministers on the campaign trail. “Someone called me last week saying we’re going to be swept away,” he said. The candidate has removed any reference to Macron or his group coalition from his campaign brochures, but that hasn’t stopped voters from berating him on the street or on social media.

The Macron era — which began with the promise of a dynamically revitalized France and went on to deliver record employment with waves of new business startups — appears to be ending in a haze of anger and frustration. Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s former chief economist, breaks down four acts of the Macron tragedy here.

But not all the blame can be placed on the current president, says political scientist Olivier Roy in this think piece. While French society did not see its reflection in the institutions and practices of the Fifth Republic, the story was built over decades.

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Roy says that when the left rallied in support of center-right Jacques Chirac against FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 presidential election, people across political divides were ready to defend the state and its institutions.

But the different parties saw themselves rooted in a common history and had deep ties to local politics, where compromises and personal relationships with opponents were essential. Not so anymore.

Then, following a trend started by Nicolas Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, Macron tried to bypass France’s institutions, Roy says.

“This disdain for the ‘deep state’ is accompanied by disdain for traditional politics,” he writes. “The arrival of the RN in government may not be a complete rupture, but rather an intensification of trends already evident.

Economics homework

Back to the campaign, and polls this week suggested voters trusted the untested RN more than the centrists or the left to manage the economy. While the party’s economic policies are fundamental and potentially confusing, Le Pen’s strategy of portraying the RN as a champion of small businesses and ordinary working people (her words) is a sign that it is succeeding. Continued legal challenges in Brussels.

On Monday, Bartella, the 28-year-old party leader who will become prime minister if the RN wins a majority, unveiled his economic plan. He rolled back some of the most expensive policies, for example postponing changes to pension reforms. But most of the proposals are still unfunded. Les Echos columnist Étienne Lefebvre He described it Little more than “budgetary hypocrisy,” though Bardella says he wants to be fiscally responsible.

Meanwhile, business leaders are wrestling with how to respond if the RN wins a majority or wins the largest seats in the National Assembly. Despite years of careful news management, the RN has not entirely shed its reputation for toxic nationalism. The election of dozens of untried delegates will reveal some more unsavory currents in the populist movement. “We’re trying to decide how to approach them, who to meet with, whether or not to ask them to defend some of our policies,” an executive said this week.

Nevertheless, some business leaders have already begun suing the party, saying the RN’s new economic plan is still more susceptible to influence than that of the left-wing coalition led by the anti-capitalist La France Insoumise.

“It’s a choice between two evils,” opines the head of a French blue-chip company. “The fanatical policies of NFP [alliance] In fact the RN would appear to be quite the opposite. But some of the RN’s proposals would put us in a head-to-head collision with Europe. Business fears, and consequences for French credit rates. It costs us more. “

Some business leaders may go even further. Two French media outlets, Le Monde and Mediapart, have described the RN views and the exposure given to the candidates on stations owned by media mogul Vincent Bolero. On Thursday, France’s media watchdog flagged Bolloré’s Europe 1 for “measurement and dishonesty” in its election commentary by pro-RN anchor Cyril Hanouna.

So what now?

Marine Le Pen, the architect of the RN’s “normalisation”, has been adept at reining in the party’s image in the 13 years since she took over from her father, Jean-Marie. However, in the final days of the campaign, her grip – even on herself – could be slipping. Le Pen spoke to regional news agency Le Télegramme He described the role of the President As the Chief of the Armed Forces, “honorary title as the Prime Minister holds the purse”. In that short sentence, Le Pen challenged not only France’s powerful executive system, but the constitution itself. His comments, which he later partially retracted, gave the RN’s opponents in Thursday’s televised debate an opportunity to attack the party’s willingness to work with the executive in any shared government.

Her slip reminded me of an interview I did with Le Pen in 2011, a month after she took over the leadership of the RN, then called the National Front. He was well prepared for questions about the party’s reputation for bigotry and racism. However, not so much the sudden question of whether she would approve of her daughter marrying a Muslim. Instinctively, she replied — “I’ll warn her …” — and then stopped, quickly, retrieving the message and changing the subject. It was a short moment, but enough.

I also asked her about her work as the new leader of the far right. “I am here to come to power for the National Front,” he told me with absolute conviction.

In the next week, she may well realize that ambition.

More on this topic

The BBC’s Hugh Schofield Marine delves into Le Pen’s family life and influences In an attempt to understand the “nature” of France’s largest far-right party. It may have been written in 2017, when Le Pen was challenging Macron for the presidency, but it is one of the best dissections of RN’s “normalization” I’ve read.

Becky’s Picks of the Week

  • Thanks Simon Cuper for explaining why France is not as lost as the French think!

  • If France, America and England are to retire from elections This article An entertaining read on Dean Slang by Canadian columnist Stephen Marsay. You can begin to understand your own offspring.

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