Relief in Europe after left wins France’s snap election

France’s surprising parliamentary election results have left all three of the country’s political camps — the left, the far-right, and the center — feeling victorious.

Against expectations, the far-right National Rally (RN) emerged in third place, but still managed to win a significant number of new seats. RN party leader Jordan Bardella, who had been eyeing the office of prime minister, complained that his party’s rise to power had been hindered by an “unnatural” and “dishonorable alliance.”

His malcontent was directed at the tactical withdrawal of many candidates in the centrist and leftist camps shortly before the runoff elections — which ensured that right-wing candidates would only compete against one other candidate, thereby effectively bundling votes against them.

Prominent far-right populist and RN member Marine Le Pen has since said that her party will win the absolute majority in the next election, which is slated for 2027. Then, she plans to make a fourth attempt at becoming the country’s next president.

France’s Melenchon: ‘It is a relief’

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Leftist alliance seeks to form government

The leftist New Popular Front (NFP) coalition also gained a number of new seats and has now become the strongest group in the French lower house, the National Assembly.

Consisting of the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party, the center-left Socialist party, the Greens, the French Communist party and other smaller parties, the alliance, which covers a wide spectrum of left-wing politics, was formed just a few weeks ago with the aim of preventing an electoral victory of the extreme-right RN.

“There are significant differences within the NFP,” Camille Lons, a policy expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) political think tank, told DW. She added that the alliance members also disagreed on who to propose as France’s next prime minister.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the strongest party in the alliance, the LFI, has now claimed the right to form a new government. But many in the alliance find his policies too radical.

Jean-Luc Melenchon (center), surrounded by party supporters, spreads his arms while speaking at a podium
Jean-Luc Melenchon (center) is the head of the strongest party in the winning leftist alliance. The NFP defied polls to beat President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists and Marine Le Pen’s far-right RNImage: Thomas Padilla/AP Photo/picture alliance

Is Macron a ‘lame duck’?

President Emmanuel Macron’s business-friendly, centrist political coalition Together does not appear strong enough to be able to form a new government on its own. But the group still came out in second place, which came as a surprise to many.

The centrist alliance conceded that while it had lost a number of seats, it had managed to fend off the right wing. According to Lons, Macron’s risky maneuver of calling a snap election after suffering defeat at the European parliamentary elections had now drawn voters’ attention away from the right and toward the left.

“Nevertheless, the psychological shift to the right has already begun,” she said. “The election and media campaigns have led to people feeling free to say things they wouldn’t have before.”

According to Lons, racist, xenophobic and homophobic views featured more prominently now than before the election, making it more commonplace for people to vote for such extreme parties

France is now facing the difficult challenge of forming a government with no clear lead party. President Macron might manage to forge a liberal, moderate left coalition — something the NFP’s pro-European Socialist party does not seem adverse to.

Even if Macron succeeds in bringing the two together, there remains the problem of quieting a disgruntled electorate. “We know what people voted against,” Lons explained, “but we don’t know what they stand for.”

Relief in Europe

“Many European capitals breathed a sigh of relief following the election results,” said Celia Belin, head of the ECFR Paris office. She does not believe that Macron, a staunchly pro-European leader, had been as weakened as many feared. But when it came to foreign policy, she did not see much overlap between the top NFP alliance and Macron’s centrist Together alliance. 

On Sunday, Poland’s conservative Prime Minister Donald Tusk was one of the first European country leaders to respond to France’s projected election results. On X, formerly Twitter, he wrote: “In Paris enthusiasm, in Moscow disappointment, in Kyiv relief. Enough to be happy in Warsaw.”

Tusk, who assumed office last year after eight years of national conservative rule under the previous government, expects France to stand by Ukraine in its war with Russia

In Germany and Spain, social democratic parties also expressed their relief over the RN’s trailing results. Commenting on the surge for Labour in last week’s UK election and for the NFP in France’s weekend election, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that, “this week, two of Europe’s largest nations have chosen the same path as Spain did a year ago: A rejection of the far right and to a clear commitment to a socialist Left that tackles the people’s problems.” 

Not over the hill, yet

Foreign policy expert Michael Roth of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) is less optimistic about France’s election results. While the right’s rise to power had been stopped, he said, “it’s still too early to give the all-clear.”

Instead, he feared that nationalist populists on the right and left were stronger than ever. In an interview with German publishing house Funke Mediengruppe, the former minister of state at the German Federal Foreign Office said that Marcon had “failed miserably” in his attempt to strengthen the political center.

But his party colleague, Anke Rehlinger, does not believe France’s election results will impact cooperation ties between France and Germany. She told the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk that she believed Germany and France would continue to be “a strong and stable axis in Europe.” Rehlinger is premier of Saarland, a state along Germany’s border with France that entertains close ties with the neighboring French region of Lorraine.

It remains to be seen if President Macron’s international standing has been affected by recent election results. The NATO summit in Washington D.C. might prove one such testing ground.

This article was originally published in German.