French elections 'could spell the end of the EU as we know it'

Mr Macron's dissolution of parliament is either brave or stupid - and the latter is far the more likely, says political commentator Simon Heffer 

Emmanuel Macron dissolved the assembly following the results of the European elections, pictured here at a press conference a couple of days after that decision
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In 2022, after his second victory in a presidential election, Emmanuel Macron found himself confronted by an Assemblée nationale at odds with his programme.

His then prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, could impose policies using section 49.3 of the Fifth Republic’s constitution; but whenever this occurred the dislike in which the people held the regime grew.

Some speculated that, should matters improve for Mr Macron even briefly, he might dissolve the assembly and hold new elections to potentially bolster his support.

However, to call such elections after a categorical display of profound democratic opposition to him, his Renaissance party and his plans to improve France, was astonishing.

An 'act of bravado'

After the massive vote of no confidence his electorate passed on him and his record in the European elections on June 9, Mr Macron could have shrugged his shoulders and dared his rivals to do their worst; but he chose not to.

To dissolve the assembly and dare, instead, the French electorate to do their worst might appear an act of bravery and defiance; or it might be downright stupid. We shall know which definitively on July 7, if not after the first round of voting on June 30. As things stand, the second outcome is by far the more likely.

What did the President think he could achieve by this act of bravado? He seems to have been calling upon his chers compatriotes to decide once and for all whether France was content with government by the traditional mainstream that has run the country since 1944; or whether it would write the obituary of such rule, and take a gamble on something radically different.

That radically different option is the Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen and her dauphin, Jordan Bardella. The European elections made it clear that the RN, which ended up with more than twice the support of Renaissance, is now the most popular party in France.

Read more: What could change for foreigners in France if far right win election?  

That was what Mr Macron could not tolerate, and what he felt he had to confront. That confrontation could have a variety of outcomes.

The President’s gamble appears to be based on this calculation: that offering the RN the chance to govern France would be sufficient to mobilise a coalition against them to prevent it from doing so, and that would be a fatal blow to the party’s credibility.

Ciotti 'knows which way the Seine is flowing'

However, exactly the reverse happened. The left, looking improbably to Jean-Luc Mélenchon for leadership and inspiration, simply went to an extreme in presenting its own ideas for governing France, and continued its implosion and drift to irrelevance.

The outpourings of celebrities, led by the footballer Kylian Mbappé, against the RN just made things worse.

Some on the right saw, in a way the President did not, that the game was up. This prompted the initiative by Eric Ciotti, the leader of Les Républicains, to form a pact with the RN. It would have been the ultimate sign that the legacy of Jean-Marie le Pen had been buried, and the RN was a legitimate candidate for office, had the Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld not come out and said he could envisage voting RN.

Although Mr Ciotti was execrated by his LR colleagues, told he would be expelled and generally sent to outer darkness, he has probably made the right call: he knows the way the Seine is flowing.

To make matters worse for Mr Macron, this massive strengthening of forces behind the RN persuaded Marine Le Pen’s politically estranged niece, Marion Maréchal, to ditch her dalliance with Eric Zemmour, now the most markedly hard-right figure in French politics, and hold out an olive branch to Tante Marine.

Read more: French parliamentary elections: What are the main parties’ policies?

Macronisme is not working 

Macronisme, if there be such a thing, has not radically improved France. French debt, at 112% of GDP, is higher than that of supposedly beleaguered Britain (98%), productivity has stalled, and agitation is rising about control of the French economy from outside France, namely by the European Central Bank: though the annual budget deficit, at almost 5%, has well and truly broken the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, which stipulates 3%.

The French public appear to have had enough of EU-dictated free movement, and a migration crisis they have felt powerless to solve.

(Admittedly Britain, outside the EU, has had no better luck in this respect, not least thanks to a lack of intervention against migrant smugglers by the French authorities).

The public also feels a growing gap between the political elite in Paris and their own everyday concerns.

Read more: French election voters driven by downturn in cost of living

Resignation no longer seems 'utterly ridiculous'

By July 7, Mr Macron could well be facing an Assemblée nationale not merely hostile to him and what now passes for his ideas, but determined to hold him prisoner until spring 2027 and the next presidential election.

In that situation he could be forgiven for asking himself an inevitable question: is it worth the candle any more to stay at the Elysée for nearly another three years, or would it be a far better idea to resign? That would force France into making a real world-historical decision: whether to have Ms Le Pen as President, and Mr Bardella in Matignon.

By the autumn that could be exactly what has happened; and only a few weeks ago such a prospect would have seemed utterly ridiculous.

And be in no doubt: should it happen, the effects would be felt far beyond France. It might be little short of a death blow for the EU as we understand it today.

Mr Macron might have strained relations with Germany in recent months, mainly over Ukraine, but this would be nothing compared with the impact an RN-led France would have on its neighbour and on Brussels.

The essential social liberalism of the European project, already questioned by minor irritants such as Hungary and Poland, would suddenly be in the path of a steamroller.

Thanks to Mr Macron’s fit of pique, all this becomes possible. The next few weeks could be the most significant in French history since the war.