The Progressive Post

🇫🇷 A Social Democratic revival overshadowed by the Rassemblement National’s crushing victory

FRANCE

Professor of French and European politics at University College London
13/06/2024

In France, three electoral outcomes are worthy of consideration: first, the far-right Rassemblement National is now dominant in virtually all categories of French society; second, popular support for president Emanuel Macron is on the wane; and third, the European election has reshaped the balance on the left: the PS is for now the strongest left-wing party.

As expected, the Rassemblement National (RN) won the European elections in France, receiving a resounding 31.4 per cent of the share of the vote, and setting a new electoral high (up from 23.34 per cent). President Macron’s Renaissance party secured a paltry 14.6 per cent (down from 22.42 per cent). The surprise came from a rejuvenated Parti Socialiste (PS) which came in third position and topped all left-wing forces in the competition, with 13.8 per cent (up from 6.19 per cent). In fourth position came the left populist France Insoumise (LFI), 9.89 per cent (up from 6.31 per cent), then Les Républicains with 7.3 per cent (down from 8.48 per cent) and the Greens with 5.5 per cent (down from 13.48 per cent).

These three electoral outcomes are worthy of consideration. Firstly, RN is a political force which goes from strength to strength. Gone are the days when Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party was considered by the public a ‘fascist threat’.

Under the leadership of his daughter Marine, RN is now dominant in almost all categories of French society. It has strong support across all regions of France. Only big cities are still resisting this immense wave. The RN is the leading party in all age groups, bar the 18–24-year-olds, although it attracts considerable support from younger voters. It is strong amongst blue-collar/white-collar workers, employees and professionals. A novelty is that retired people, Macron’s most faithful constituency so far, voted en masse for the RN this time.

Secondly, Renaissance’s abysmal result shows that popular support for Macron is on the wane. This time, a significant fraction of former Socialist voters, whom Macron had lured to the centre-right in 2017 and 2022, came back to PS. Although opinion polls had long predicted a clear far-right victory, the sheer magnitude of it sent shockwaves through the French political system. Shortly after the results were released, Macron announced the dissolution of the National Assembly and the organisation of a snap parliamentary election. The announcement took everyone by surprise and completely overshadowed the European election night.

What does Macron hope for from this dissolution? We can imagine that he intends to win the election. This hypothesis seems far-fetched today: how could Renaissance win an absolute majority when it failed to do so in 2022 in the wake of Macron’s presidential re-election?

Thirdly, Raphaël Glucksmann (who is not a Socialist but runs a small party called Place Publique) led the PS list and managed to attract a significant number of voters who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon (populist left) and Macron in 2022. With less than 14 per cent of the share of the vote, the PS has not recovered its dominant position on the left and in French politics altogether. However, it constitutes a major boost for a party that suffered two successive ‘car crashes’ at the presidential elections of 2017 and 2022. The European election has reshaped the balance on the left: the PS is for now the strongest left-wing party. Glucksmann led a resolutely Social Democratic campaign: he is pro-European integration, he focused on flagships EU policies such as the Green Deal or taxation on the wealthy. He also strongly supports arming Ukraine (something that Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s LFI and the Communist Party largely object to).

Following the dissolution of parliament, the left, sensing the danger of a far-right victory at the general election, regrouped and launched a coalition called ‘Front Populaire’ (named after an antifascist coalition and of a left-wing government in 1936) to salvage their seats and, notably, to stop the far right getting a majority in the house. The PS joined the new coalition, but Glucksmann decided to opt out. To participate in the coalition, he had set conditions such as the support to Ukraine and an end to insults and personal attacks. (Glucksmann was the target of antisemitic attacks from quarters of the left during the campaign). These conditions were not taken on board by the Front Populaire.

It is impossible to predict the outcome of this snap election. However, it is expected that RN will make important gains and that the united feft will do well. Macron’s party might face important losses, and the president’s gamble might terribly backfire.

Photo Credits: Shutterstock.com/SymeonidisDimitrios

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