French Parliamentary Election: Key Issues and Possible Outcomes

Eoin Kavanagh
Eoin Kavanagh
Eoin specializes in geopolitical analysis, with degrees in Political Science and Counterterrorism, and extensive international experience, including humanitarian work. Well-acquainted with challenging environments like Bosnia, Eoin primarily focuses on Eastern Europe. His strong OSINT and investigative skills are further enhanced by his proficiency in multiple languages, including rare ones, and his experience in data science and machine learning.

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The recent European Parliament elections have significantly impacted the French political landscape, prompting an unexpected dissolution of the National Assembly and upcoming legislative elections.

Impact of the European Elections

In the recent European Parliament elections in France, the right-wing populist Rassemblement National (RN) party emerged as the front runner, capturing 31.5% of the vote.

The “Besoin d’Europe” coalition, including President Macron’s Ensemble party and other liberal parties, followed with 15.2%. The left-leaning “Réveiller l’Europe” coalition secured 14%.

In response to the election results, RN’s leader Jordan Bardella called for new legislative elections. President Macron subsequently dissolved the National Assembly, announcing legislative elections set for June 30 and July 7.

While President Macron cited the need for a “clear majority” to govern effectively as a rationale for the dissolution, the underlying reasons for this decision remain unclear to observers. Macron’s party lacked an absolute majority in Parliament, a situation unusual in French politics, and the European election results suggested a declining popularity for the presidential party.

The French Parliamentary election system

As mentioned above, France employs a mixed electoral system for its legislative elections, characterized by a two-round system. This method is used to elect members to the National Assembly, which is the lower house of Parliament.

Under this system, each of the 577 electoral districts in France elects one representative to the National Assembly. To win in the first round, a candidate must secure an absolute majority of votes cast, and a minimum of 25% of registered voters. If no candidate meets these criteria, a second round is held one week later.

The second round is a runoff between the top two candidates from the first round, as well as any other candidate who received the votes of at least 12.5% of registered voters in the first round. In this final round, the candidate who achieves the highest number of votes wins the seat of the electoral district.

This electoral system tends to favor larger parties and coalitions, which can more easily clear the thresholds set for the first and second rounds.

“Cohabitation” in French politics refers to a situation where the President and the Prime Minister come from opposing political parties and must share executive power. This occurs when the party or coalition that wins the majority in the National Assembly is different from the President’s party. Under such circumstances, the President is compelled to appoint a Prime Minister from the majority party in the Assembly to ensure stable governance and avoid potential impeachment proceedings. This phenomenon has occurred a few times in the Fifth Republic, with the last instance of cohabitation in France occurring from 1997 to 2002.

The New Popular Front (Nouveau Front Populaire)

In an other unexpected turn of events, the left-wing parties have decided to unify under the “Nouveau Front Populaire” electoral alliance. This coalition emerged despite significant challenges, including political dissent, the disintegration of a previous coalition during the 2022 legislative elections (the New Ecological and Social People’s Union – NUPES), and the pressing timeline of upcoming elections.

The Nouveau Front Populaire aims to consolidate most of the left-wing factions in France. The coalition draws its name and motivation from the historic Front Populaire of 1936, with the goal of amalgamating social-democratic, socialist, communist, and radical parties. This strategic alliance responds to the traditionally fragmented nature of French left-wing landscape. So far, most left-leaning parties in France have joined the coalition, despite some minority factions opting not to join.

The original Front Populaire in 1936 marked France’s first major successful left-wing coalition, uniting the Socialist, Communist, and Radical Parties. Led by Léon Blum, the government of the Front Populaire implemented profound social reforms that continue to impact French society today, including the introduction of the 40-hour work week, paid holidays, and collective bargaining rights for workers.

Voter Intentions

Recent polls place the RN, led by Bardella, as leading with 33% of the voter intentions. This figure remains stable over recent weeks and would imply a a securization of up to 275 seats. This falls short of the 289 seats required for an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

The Nouveau Front Populaire is experiencing significant momentum in voter intentions, now standing at 27%. This boost could translate into a substantial gain of 15 seats from previous estimates, totaling between 150 and 180 seats.

On the other hand, the party of President Emmanuel Macron continues to struggle in the polls, remaining at 20% of voter intentions. This would likely result in the party securing between 85 and 130 seats, a reduction from the 245 seats held prior to the dissolution of the lower chamber.

Possible outcomes

There remains the possibility that the polls are inaccurate, leading to a scenario where the presidential party retains a majority in Parliament. If this occurs, it would significantly reaffirm Macron’s legitimacy and could partly explain his decision to dissolve the National Assembly.

However, it is more likely that we will witness a ‘cohabitation’ situation, where the Prime Minister could be from either the RN or the Nouveau Front Populaire.

Bardella has stated he would only accept the Prime Minister role if his party secures an absolute majority, a stance likely aimed at consolidating voter support. In cases of a relative majority, this could lead to a non-RN Prime Minister facing a RN relative majority in the Parliament.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise (left-wing radical party, and one of the most important faction in the Nouveau Front Populaire), has expressed willingness to serve as Prime Minister if the Nouveau Front Populaire prevails. Although he later clarified he is “not a candidate for anything,” his initial statement caused friction within the left-wing coalition, exacerbated by Mélenchon’s strong character and recent accusations of antisemitism regarding his stance on the ongoing events in Gaza.

As mentionned the current polls indicate a division among three main groups: RN, Nouveau Front Populaire, and Macron’s Ensemble party, which might play a pivotal role as a kingmaker.

The scenario of king makers and formal coalitions is unusual in French politics, but it is becoming a potential necessity. Appart from the Nouveau Front Populaire, discussions of potential alliances are already surfacing, such as the one proposed by Eric Ciotti of Les Républicains (right-wing conservative party) between his party and the RN. This suggestions have led to significant internal controversy, isolating Ciotti on the political scene.

If no substantial majority is formed either through the polls or through coalitions (which would align with French political culture, traditionally expecting a strong majority), the President retains the prerogative to appoint the Prime Minister. In the absence of a unified opposition that reaches an absolute majority (i.e., the number required for a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister), the President may de facto choose freely.

If no agreement on government formation is reached, the current government may remain in a caretaker role until further elections are possible, as the French Constitution allows new elections only after one year.