France’s snap election: what happened, why, and what’s next? | European parliamentary elections 2024

In a shock move, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has called a snap parliamentary election that will be held within the next 30 days. What happened exactly, why – and what might come next?

What’s the story?

After suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Marine Le Pen’s far right National Rally (RN) in the European parliamentary elections, the French president on Sunday evening unexpectedly announced a snap general election.

According to usually accurate projections, Macron’s centrist list, headed by MEP Valérie Hayer, scored between 14.8% and 15.2% in the European poll, less than half the 32%-33% tally booked by RN, whose lead candidate was the party’s president, Jordan Bardella, 28.

The president won re-election in 2022. His current term runs until spring 2027 and he cannot stand again.

What were Macron’s reasons?

The president said the decision was a “serious and heavy” one, but that he could not resign himself to the fact that “far-right parties … are progressing everywhere on the continent”.

He described it as “an act of confidence”, saying he had faith in France’s voters and “in the capacity of the French people to make the best choice for themselves and for future generations”.

Macron added: “I have confidence in our democracy, in letting the sovereign people have their say. I’ve heard your message, your concerns, and I won’t leave them unanswered.”

Macron dissolves national assembly for snap poll after EU election results – video

The French president’s centrist coalition lost its parliamentary majority in the 2022 elections and has since resorted to pushing through legislation without a vote in the assembly, using a controversial constitutional tool known as 49/3.

Analysts have long predicted that he would face severe difficulties in parliament in the wake of a heavy defeat to RN in the European elections, potentially including censure motions and the collapse of the government.

Sunday’s dramatic move, however, is a huge gamble: Macron’s party could suffer yet more losses, effectively hobbling the rest of his presidential term and potentially handing Marine Le Pen even more power. The president has presented it as an existential choice for French voters: do you really want to be governed by the far right?

It seems unlikely that he is counting on securing a majority: the front républicain, or republican front, that blocked RN’s advance in the past has weakened almost to the point of disappearance, and Macron’s popularity is in steady decline.

Most analysts, however, predict that while the far-right party may emerge with more MPs, it will probably not win enough seats to give it a majority either – meaning the next parliament may be even messier and more ineffective than the current one.

It could be that he is looking at a neutralising “cohabitation effect”. If RN were to score well and, for example, Bardella were offered the job of prime minister, two and a half years in government may be just enough time to render the far right unpopular too.

How and when will the elections be held?

Article 12 of the French constitution allows presidents to dissolve the assemblée nationale to resolve political crises, such as permanent and irreconcilable differences between parliament and the executive.

Voters must be called to the polls in the 20 to 40 days following the assembly’s dissolution. The first round of these elections is scheduled for 30 June and the second on 7 July. Considering Paris is due to host the Olympic games at the end of July, it’s going to be a busy few weeks for Macron.

How have National Rally responded?

Bardella was the first to urge Macron to call snap legislative elections, telling supporters after the projections were announced that French voters had “expressed a desire for change”. The country has “given its verdict and there is no appeal”, he said.

Le Pen, the party’s figurehead and presidential candidate, said she could “only welcome this decision, which is in keeping with the logic of the institutions of the Fifth Republic”. She said the party was “ready to take power if the French people have confidence in us in these forthcoming legislative elections”.

“We are ready to put the country back on its feet,” she said. “We are ready to defend the interests of the French people.”

Is there a precedent for early presidential dissolution?

Previous presidents have dissolved parliament, including in 1962, 1968, 1981 and 1988, when the presidential term was seven years but the parliament’s only five, meaning the head of state often found himself facing an opposing majority in the assembly.

It has not always worked in their favour; in 1997, the then centre-right president, Jacques Chirac, called snap legislative elections only to see the left win a majority, leaving him to endure five years in “cohabitation”.

No president has dissolved parliament since then, partly because the presidential and parliamentary terms were synchronised in 2000 and voters since then have given each incoming president a parliamentary majority – until Macron’s re-election.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *