8 Jul 2024

Macron’s perilous gamble pays off – but not completely

Europe Editor and Presenter

In a marathon year of elections, there was an assumption that the nationalist or populist right would do extremely well. Well, they haven’t quite lived up to their own and other people’s expectations.

Far-left La France Insoumise - LFI - (France Unbowed) founder Jean-Luc Melenchon, right, clenches his fist with other party members after the second round of the legislative elections Sunday, July 7, 2024, in Paris. A coalition on the left that came together unexpectedly ahead of France's snap elections won the most parliamentary seats in the vote, according to polling projections Sunday. The surprise projections put President Emmanuel Macron's centrist alliance in second and the far right in third. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

We all know that this has been a marathon year of elections around the world, and there was a kind of lazy assumption amongst many of us that the nationalist or populist right would do extremely well. Well, they haven’t quite lived up to their own and other people’s expectations. And that includes here in France.

A perilous gamble

Now, here you could say they rose like a souffle, only to collapse. In the first round, just over a week ago, they rose. The Rassemblement National, the National Rally, became the biggest party. And then what happened, in the mood of panic afterwards, was the other parties got together and formed a sort of coalition against them. And that has worked. So the Greens, the Socialists, the centrists and most famously, the La France Insoumise – France Unbowed – all got together and their priority was to keep the nationalist right, the National Rally, out of power. And that’s exactly what they did.

Yesterday, you had these extraordinary faces at the headquarters of the National Rally, from expectation, to literally a second or two later, to reality and disappointment as the exit polls came in. And the exact opposite, low expectations, high jubilation for the left and the far left. Now, in that sense, President Macron’s very, very perilous gamble has paid off. He gambled that exactly this would happen. And yes, he’s right. And actually, most people thought he wouldn’t be right. But there’s another part of the gamble that didn’t pay off, because as a result of this second round, you now have four blocs, in a sense, that can never get on with each other. You’ve got the bloc on the right. They’re out of power, they’re now sitting on the sidelines. You’ve got the far left. You’ve got the Communists, the Greens and so on. And you’ve got the centrist group, of Mr Macron, who the people thought sort of basically withered away to nothing. They’ve still got a pulse as well, but they don’t really get on with each other at all.

Chaos and confusion

There’s no way that you can imagine a coalition between the centrists of Macron and the far left or Mr Mélenchon. They want fundamentally different things. The only thing they agreed on was to keep the nationalist right out of power. So Mr Macron has created, as a result of this extraordinary success of booting out Le Pen’s party, this chaos and confusion at the heart of French politics.

One of Mr Macron’s calculations when he triggered this extraordinary gamble was that he would allow the nationalist right to get into office to run the government. In other words, don’t just complain about the plumbing, but fix the plumbing and then basically say, ‘Well, look, they couldn’t fix it just as much as I couldn’t fix it.’ Well guess what? They don’t have to fix the plumbing. They’re not in power. They’re sitting on the sidelines. They can now cross their arms. They can shake their head as they always do. They can complain about the plumbing. There’ll be howls of outrage. They’ll be channelling the anger, which is bound to rise, especially if there’s no sensible government at the centre of all this.

And then, in about three years’ time, it’s time for the presidential elections. The big prize. And that’s what Marine Le Pen meant when she said today, ‘This is victory deferred’. So she hopes that by the time that France votes for the next president to replace Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen will be fourth time lucky and we’ll be able to grab that biggest of big prizes in French politics.