France and immediate aftermath of European elections: beginning of decisive period for country

Europe Materials 14 June 2024 08:58 (UTC +04:00)
France and immediate aftermath of European elections: beginning of decisive period for country

BAKU, Azerbaijan, June 14. European parliamentary elections, despite their evident electoral significance, do not always receive the fierce and widespread coverage that tends to characterize national elections in leading European countries like France. However, the aftermath of the most recent elections demonstrates that in addition to shaping the structure and composition of the European parliament, this vote can have profound implications on both the course of a political career but also on the overall trajectory of a member state. This directly applies to President Macron and France, where a snap election was called following the president’s party’s poor performance in the Brussels vote. With less than 15% of the vote, “Renaissance” suffered a comprehensive defeat to the far-right “National Rally” that obtained more than 30% of the vote. This decision has not only put in doubt the immediate future of the EU, given the significant role played by France in upholding the union. In fact, it appears to have put in jeopardy the stability of the entire continent given the potential of a far-right victory and the broad range of potential implications of this for the West and the international system more generally. Macron, a key EU enthusiast who has actually led on vital issues like reform in the areas of security and defence, could not differ more from Marine La Pen, the leader of the ‘far-right’ movement in France. Le Pen has passionately criticized the EU, questioning its validity as a ‘supra-nationalist’ institution, and proposing an alternative where France takes more leadership of its own internal and external affairs.

Almost immediately after the announcement of the results and Macron’s decision, it became evident that there would be swift policy consequences and the president would revert to a reactive governance style designed to prioritise winning over the electorate as opposed to continuing with the implementation of previously outlined policies. This is visible with New Caledonia, where the president postponed the passing of the controversial reform which had sparked protests and violent unrest. The reform, to be implemented via a constitutional amendment, sought to allow French voters living in New Caledonia for over a decade the right to vote in local elections. This was met with fierce resistance and renewed support for an independence movement that had historically attempted to secure independence. New Caledonia’s relationship with France has been a complex one, with the Noumẽa Accord in 1998 initiating a transition period whereby more and power was going to be transferred to New Caledonia’s government. This was designed to ensure stability and meet the demands of an increasingly vocal independence movement. However, according to pro-independence politicians in the island this has not been the case and in fact, French governments have not prevented the undermining of New Caledonia’s political freedom by failing to adequately minimise direct French influence over key aspects of society.

When announcing his decision, Macron mentioned the importance of avoiding further ambiguity and allowing the situation to quieten down after weeks of unrest. It appears the French leader recognizes that in the case of a far-right victory and a Marine Le Pen presidency, the country’s approach to New Caledonia is likely to become more assertive given the highly nationalistic approach she is likely to pursue both domestically and in other policy spheres. New Caledonia’s population are French citizens and can vote in elections. Crucially, their story and discontent with French rule appears to have attracted considerable international coverage, with many rightly questioning the nature of the French government’s approach to its overseas territories. It is likely to be in Macron’s best interest to prevent the situation from being exacerbated further, using this as an opportunity to soften the blow that was dealt to France’s image by the violent uprising. The snap election will essentially force the French population to give out a verdict on whether they are willing to subscribe to the highly isolationist policies of a new leader, striving to decrease France’s role and participation in the international community in favour of a more protectionist future.

During the past week, French politics has experienced significant instability as different parties were forced to prepare themselves for an election that very few saw coming. On different sides of the political spectrum, there have been numerous confrontations between different party leaders and within the parties themselves. The Republican party, famous for being the party of Nicolas Sarkozy, has gone through a tense internal dispute following the then party leader’s Eric Ciotti’s declaration that he would advocate for a joining of forces with the far-right National Front. This was rejected by many others in the party, which ultimately decided to suspend Ciotti. This highlights the underlying concern among most French politicians that a far-right government would be detrimental for France’s future, almost certainly undermining the EU’s development as a strategic actor and converting France into an isolationist power.

However, the most recent parliament (now dissolved), was not really known for being exempt from controversy or being free flowing in terms of passing laws and overseeing other political processes. Macron’s government never got to benefit from a majority, which meant that it had to rely on support from different political parties and affiliations to pass vital bills, such as on immigration and health. Moreover, the level of support for the president and his general approval ratings have also fluctuated, with multiple instances of public discontent over issues like pensions throughout the last few years.

By calling the election, Macron has emphasized the importance of preventing a government from the ‘extreme’, hoping to get enough support among moderate parties to keep power and increase the chances of another presidency and another ‘Renaissance led’ National Assembly. That being said, this will be a tougher task than many would expect. Macron’s status within his own party is certainly not what it once was, with even close allies like François Bayrou from coalition ally ‘Democratic Movement’ suggesting it is best for the president to make fewer public appearances and take a back seat during the campaign given the national sense of fatigue and disillusionment that currently surrounds his persona.

The outcome of the European elections initiated an entire chain reaction, culminating in the political future of arguably the most influential European politician being placed under immense scrutiny. Having surprised the nation by calling for elections, Macron is likely to shift attention away from some of his more controversial policies, with New Caledonia and the postponement of the new reform being a primary and immediate example. In what is likely to be an unpredictable pre-election period, the future of New Caledonians, just like the future of the EU and of France itself, will continue to hang in the balance. It remains to be seen whether Macron’s position is powerful enough to achieve the very thing he wanted when calling the election: defeating the far-right and preventing an upheaval of the status-quo which would ultimately change the fate of not just New Caledonia but also the global order.