Europe is mortal — said the French prime minister Gabriel Attal, as he campaigned in Boulogne supporting Valérie Hayer, the lead candidate fielded by Emmanuel Macron’s ruling Renaissance Party to fight the European elections. However, if France was to be a test of the European centre’s ability to defeat the far right, we would have seen that long ago. Instead, the country of enlightenment and revolution seems to be the very precursor of the hegemony of the far right.

Emmanuel Macron’s power is only saved by the fact that he has managed to get into the Elysée Palace before his nationalist rivals started to rise. Moreover, after many years in the palace he is unable to claim any real success in the domestic field. His attention is focused on the global projection of the power of the former colonial power. Domestically, his list called Besoin d’Europe, Europe is needed, can count on less than paltry support, together with the other party, the Socialists, from which, incidentally, Macron hails. The two lists combined no longer catching up in the polls with the Rassemblement National, Le Pen’s National Rally. Left-wing united NUPES force is no longer a threat to anyone because it no longer exists. However, despite the fall of this once very promising political project, the left-wing lists are collectively garnering more votes than the radical, read right-wing, centre under the sign of Macron and the Republicans.

According to one of the most recent polls conducted by IPSOS in collaboration with Le Monde, voting intentions are increasingly favouring Raphaël Glucksmann’s left-wing alliance (14%) and Jordan Bardella’s Rassemblement National (32%), while the ruling coalition (17%) is declining. Reconquête of Zemmour is polling at 6%, while the Jean-Luc Mélanchon alliance is at 8%, just like Republicans and Greens. The striking far right hegemony in French politics is now obvious to any observer able to read the numbers. But let’s take a look how Macron plans to fight with it. 

On March 9, 2024, the presidential party held an election rally in Lille to kick off their campaign. At the end of February, President Emmanuel Macron was accused of being slow to select front-runner Valérie Hayer. The fact that Hayer is merely assuming the role of lead candidate pro forma in this context, and that Emmanuel Macron wants to shape the European elections with his own pro-European profile further explains the late nomination.

The daughter of Mayenne department farmers, Valérie Hayer, was chosen to represent her region on the République en Marche list and enter the European Parliament in 2019. Her reputation in the European Parliament stemmed from her work on fiscal matters. In the Committee on Budgets, Valérie Hayer oversaw the positions of her political organization, Renew Europe. She served as rapporteur on several documents, including the European Economic Recovery Plan, the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021–2027, and the resources of the European Union. She has served as the Chair of the Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament since January 2024, the month Stéphane Séjourné assumed the position of Foreign Minister in the French government. Summing up, this is the new face of Macron’s technocratic government. 

With the motto “Besoin d’Europe” (Europe is needed), the Renaissance, MoDem, and Horizons parties are jointly contesting in the European elections. Their discussion at the 9 March election campaign event centred on the Russian invasion against Ukraine and the stance of the right-wing populist party Rassemblement National that is pro-Russian. The war in Ukraine and global issues dominated the addresses of MoDem and Horizons party leaders, François Bayrou and Edouard Philippe. Russia is a foreign party that influences Rassemblement, according to Prime Minister Gabriel Attal. Several French scholars chastised leading contender Valérie Hayer severely for her historical analogy to Nazi Germany: Yesterday Daladier and Chamberlain, today Le Pen and Orban. The same words, the same arguments, the same debates. We are in Munich in 1938 (…) It is one minute to twelve. 

These words reflected badly on the Liberals’ early campaign, sounding like mere technocratic spin. Nevertheless, the main pre-electoral tactic is to heat up the atmosphere around the themes of the global fight against authoritarianism and the defence of Europe, but one nevertheless gets the feeling that this narrative has been played out before, and more than once. It is naïve to think that it will work now. Looking at the polls, it doesn’t work whatsoever. 

 Nationalists en marche 

The 28-year-old Jordan Bardella is the front-runner for the European elections for the Rassemblement National (RN) for the second consecutive year. With his list, he received 23.3% of the vote and 23 seats in 2019. Bardella serves as the Identity and Democracy Vice-Chairman. Within the European Parliament’s group, alongside Marine Le Pen, he has served as the party’s national central representation since he was elected chairman of the Rassemblement National party in 2022. 

Seven years younger than Attal, Bardela had the opportunity to debate with him recently, on 23 May. In the course of this debate, it became clear, with even greater force, what tactics the Macron camp would adopt. Attal tried to appear as an experienced technocrat, while Bardella intended to play the role of a popular tribune, an attentive critic who can compete for one of the most important positions in the state.

In terms of form, Gabriel Attal showed the dexterity and rapidity of reasoning that one would anticipate from an experienced debater, while Jordan Bardella seemed less assured and possibly more bombastic than in his prior performances. The debate did, however, help the leader of the Rassemblement National, who now faces competition from the Socialist list headed by Raphaël Glucksmann, since it positioned him as the prime opponent of the Prime Minister and rendered the leader of the majority list invisible. However, such a gamble should remain embedded in the costs of the whole operation. 

The emphasis of Bardella campaign stays on France’s stance on the conflict in Ukraine, as well as on European civilizational issues. The party that prioritizes security and migration at the national level is likely to benefit from the fact that these problems will affect the decisions of French voters and push the other parties aside.

The right-wing populists participating in the present debates claim that Macron’s remarks regarding the deployment of ground soldiers in Ukraine have isolated France in Europe. The president faces criticism for his desire to “communitize” nuclear deterrence against Russia, by prompting nuclear sharing, and his position on the UN Security Council at the same time.

Meanwhile, relations with the European partner parties are shaky. Following Correctiv’s investigation in Germany and the scandal surrounding the remigration debate, Marine Le Pen has demanded a statement from the Alternative for Germany, in which the German far right would assure the voters that the fantasies about mass deportations are nothing more than fantasies. The radicalisation of its German partner runs counter to its own de-diabolisation strategy, which is why the RN is also apparently trying to distance itself from the Alternative for Germany.

Left-wing disunity 

The list that allowed the Left to survive the political drought, that of the Greens and the Socialists, does not exist. NUPES, which could have been the vehicle for a future struggle for hegemony on the left of centre, has disintegrated. Why? As Romain Herreros commented in the Huffington Post in October: There is one point on which the NUPES has shown its consistency in recent months: the public stabbings delivered with the regularity of a Swiss clock. Repeated wounds that are leading to the announced death of the left-wing coalition.

The strongest blows came from the Green party, whose National Secretary Marine Tondelier, claimed that a divided list of left-wing groups for the Europarliament would give the left more seats than a united list. And all this because of the way the votes were counted, which is unique to this election: the proportional way. However, others also contributed their share, with stabbing the whole project throughout last summer. The first to announce the formal divorce with NUPES in early autumn 2023 was Fabien Roussel, leader of the Communist Party. But all of this was nothing, to what came in November. 

The party led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, La France Insoumise, presented the government of President Emmanuel Macron with its fourth consecutive no-confidence motion on November 4. However, after declining to sign the one that was voted next week, the other parties in the left-wing coalition also declined to sign it. This opened the gates of hell. 

Within the NUPES, Mélenchon targeted “internal adversaries” and attempted to defend the LFI’s approach as the principal opponent of President Macron’s administration. It would be “unwise to trivialize the use of the no-confidence motion, which must retain its exceptional character to maintain its symbolic force,” according to Socialist Party First Secretary Olivier Faure. 

The administration easily won the vote because Fabien Roussel, the leader of the Communist Party, and five other members of his party abstained from voting in favour of the no-confidence motion, as did four of the 23 Greens. Just 218 votes were cast in favour of the LFI motion, instead of 239 for the earlier motions that had the backing of the whole left bloc.

At the same time when NUPES died, the support for Melanchon dropped from 21.5% the year before, to 17%, on the other hand, Le Pen boosted his lead over Emmanuel Macron by 6.5 points, from 23.5% to 30%, while Macron’s numbers decreased from 27.8% to 29%. 

Therefore, only one political force benefited from the entire drama. And the question to the French left is: Why did the entire project fall apart? Was it a matter of too big an ego for each of the leaders individually, or was it still a matter of past prejudices? The reason that broke through to the mainstream, showing the main loser of the whole brawl, is that Melanchon did not condemn the Hamas attack of 7 October 2023. 

Divided and united 

In the end, the left-wing parties will compete in these elections in three blocks: the Green, the Socialist, and the one still led by Melenchon. The Socialist Party, resurrected by its leader Olivier Faure and MEP Raphaël Glucksmann, seems to be the strongest. In 2019, he led a list that brought together the Socialist Party (PS), Nouvelle Donne (ND), the Parti radical de gauche (PRG), and the Place publique (PP) organization, which he created. Currently, the alliance is fighting for the second place with the Macronist list. 

The next one are the Greens, led by 36 years old Marie Toussaint. For over two years, Marie Toussaint has also served as the deputy group leader for the European Greens (Greens/EFA) in Strasbourg. She practices law. Specializing in international environmental law, she gained notoriety as the driving force behind the “Affaire du siècle” (The Scandal of the Century) campaign, which was backed by a petition signed by over 2.3 million people and ultimately led to the French government’s impeachment in 2021 after it was found guilty of failing to combat global warming. Her project is supported by 5% of those polled. 

As for Melenchon’s party, the list of LFI is led by Manon Aubry, 34, is the front-runner for the left-wing populists for the second time in a row. She gained six seats in the European Parliament in the 2019 election with 6.3% of the vote. Aubry co-chairs the Left group in the Parliament of Europe. Melenchon, who just a few years ago could have convincingly claimed that his formation was able to take power in France, can count on mere 7% of the votes

The fate of this election seems to have been decided long ago. Le Pen will become one of the great players of European politics in their framework, alongside Ursula von der Leyen and Giorgia Meloni. But what will then happen to Macron?

Will he continue to run forward to cement his legacy in the pages of history, or will he turn even further to the right, like the head of the European Commission, to woo the right-wing electorate? But does he even have a chance to take over Le Pen’s voters? Gabriel Attal, Macron’s most probable successor, seems to be only at the beginning of his journey, and time, however, is working in favour of the nationalists. 

Interestingly, it appears that the current situation does not herald the beginning of Frexit. The Rassemblement National has grown historically, but support for the European project is still strong, with 73% of French citizens favouring European integration. Between the ages of 18 and 24 year-olds, this percentage even reaches 80%. So we are faced with the Europeanisation of French nationalism on the one hand, and the nationalisation of the European Union on the other. It only remains to be seen, which of the tendencies will play first fiddle here.

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