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Zugzwang of the French Elections and the Fate of Europe

03.07.2024
1115

According to J.Fleck

Whatever French President Emmanuel Macron's strategy was that led him to go all in and call early elections, it appears he has lost. His risky gamble to contain and push back against political excesses in France backfired. It is not without irony that Macron, who emerged on the national and European stage as a prodigy of centrist politics, could become its undoing as the politician who paved the way to power for Marine Le Pen's right-wing extremist National Rally. Macron's underestimation of voter dissatisfaction, the dynamism of the National Rally, the likelihood of a left-wing unity and the readiness of center-right Republicans to unite with Le Pen underscores how serious the president's miscalculations and isolation from political realities have been.

For France and Europe, both of the most likely outcomes pose a fundamental challenge. At best, Paris could be mired in political chaos, gridlock and uncertainty unless a clear majority, relative or absolute, emerges after the second round. ​​At the European level, this will mean a paralyzed France, where Macron, whatever may be said about him, has been one of the few leaders who has provoked major European debates and encouraged the European Union to act, even if its language and timing often left much to be desired. Whatever the exact impact of a hung parliament, Macron's freedom of action and his legitimacy in the eyes of other EU leaders will be severely limited.

In the worst case scenario, an absolute majority for the National Rally would leave Macron no choice but to allow the National Rally's Jordan Bardella to form a government, which would be an extreme form of incompatible political coexistence. Abroad, at the European level, the National Rally government could not only challenge the president's foreign and defense policy strategy, but also use its budgetary powers to undermine French support for the single market, the EU budget and key initiatives from support for Ukraine. The long-term result could be a challenge to the EU as formidable as the UK's Brexit vote in 2016 - this time not as one big exit like Brexit, but rather as a creeping, gradual attempt at a partial "Frexit" from within.

For those trying to see some commonalities with this fall's US presidential election, the lesson may be that being a perfect democrat is not enough. Macron's previously successful strategy of mobilizing the center by scaring voters with the potential of left and right failed this time, despite record turnout. As the electorate faces cost-of-living crises, slowing GDP growth and migration pressure, simply invoking the principles of a republic—American or French—to mobilize voters in support of centrist candidates may not be enough.

 

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