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Will the far right and hard left pull France apart?

French President Emmanuel Macron takes part in an expanded videoconference in Paris, France, April 19, 2022.

French President Emmanuel Macron takes part in an expanded videoconference in Paris, France, April 19, 2022.

Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

President Emmanuel Macron’s prospects for the first round of France’s snap parliamentary elections on Sunday are fading fast. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party, aka RN, is surging in the polls, and the heads of rival parties on Macron’s left flank have assembled an unlikely alliance that threatens to force the president into uncomfortable choices.

A poll released Saturday showed around 35% of voters intend to back RN, while just 20-22% plan to stick with Macron’s Renaissance party. RN’s telegenic young leader Jordan Bardella has helped the movement change its image and appeal more to those who — while not necessarily sold on far-right ideology — have soured on Macron.

Meanwhile, another 28-30% said they support the left-wing coalition. In past elections, Macron has managed to leverage the fear of the far right to bring voters from France’s shambolic left-wing parties into his camp, but the gambit may fail this time. The heads of the Greens, the Socialists, the Communists, and the hardcore France Unbowed party have formed the New Popular Front, vowing not to run candidates against one another in any constituency. This coalition is far enough ahead of Macron to make him sweat.

What’s next? If Macron is badly weakened after the second round on July 7, he’ll be confronted with unappetizing choices — which might be why he warned Monday that a vote for “extremes” on either the right or left could lead to “conflict and civil war.”

A bad result could pile on the pressure for him to resign, which could trigger a presidential election, but he has sworn not to follow that path. He could also enter “cohabitation” (what we call “divided government” in the US) with Bardella as prime minister – potentially a recipe for dysfunction.

But we’re watching for signs that Macron will try to form a government of national unity – with a moderate technocrat as PM – hoping that political rivals who sit a little closer to him on the spectrum will prefer that to having the RN in charge.


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