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Whatever the outcome, Macron's election normalises the far-right

Whatever the outcome, Macron's election normalises the far-right
5 min read

Yasser Louati

19 June, 2024
Emmanuel Macron's enabling of the far-right has backfired, with France's snap elections reflecting an appetite for authoritarianism, writes Yasser Louati.
Macron has hijacked the election and turned it into a confrontation between him and the far right, writes Yasser Louati [photo credit: Lucie Wimetz/TNA]

The decision by Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the National Assembly and call snap elections has taken France by surprise and plunged it into a perilous unknown.

Macron’s knee-jerk reaction came after far-right parties dominated the 2024 European elections, notably in France but also across Europe. But will Macron’s gamble to “clarify the situation” pay off?

With 31.37% of the votes, the Marine Le Pen-founded National Rally smashed its 2019 European elections record by more than eight points.

Led by the 28-year-old TikTok and telegenic sensation Jordan Bardella, National Rally has a long history of Islamophobia, with its political ideology heavily influenced by Renaud Camus' Great Replacement theory.

The conspiracy theory suggests that European populations are being 'replaced' by Muslim migrants.

National Rally also has deep-rooted connections with the now-banned youth group, Génération identitaire, who are accused of laundering extremism and anti-Muslim sentiment through tech-savvy political activism.

How France became "unapologetically right"

The significance of National Rally’s European success shouldn't be understated. The far-right party came first in 93% of France’s towns and even won 18.5% of the Grand Paris constituency, owing to the semi-rural vote of the region.

In contrast, Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party plummeted in popularity with less than 15% of the vote. The Socialist Party-affiliated Place Publique and left-wing Insubmissive France came third and fourth respectively with 13.83% and 0.89%.

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We’ve reached a point in France where reducing far-right success to a protest vote is now dishonest. And whilst questions remain as to whether they can translate their European success into the domestic arena, it’s clear the far-right no longer scares people in France: they see it as a viable option.

On both sides of the political spectrum, criticism of Macron has been fierce. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy called the snap election a “major risk for the country”, while former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin called it “irresponsible”.

Yet, for some reason, Macron seems hell-bent on the far-right coming to power. Is it self-sabotage or a move to expose the far-right’s incompetence and set up Marine Le Pen for a third defeat in the 2027 presidential elections?

It’s unlikely to be the latter, given Macron’s heavy-handed tactics to outwit his opponents have backfired.

The abrupt snap election was meant to take his opponents by surprise and leave them no time to organise. Instead, potential coalition partner and conservative party Les Républicains allied with rivals National Rally whilst left-wing parties scrambled to create the New Popular Front alliance to further eat into Macron’s chances.

Macron's Faustian bargain

So maybe it’s Macron himself who’s feeding and enabling the far-right beast.

Macron has always flirted with a far-right agenda since coming to power on an identarian political wave two decades ago. His track record of repressive legislation, including the anti-separatism law, the comprehensive security law, and the immigration law have all been supported by far-right MPs. Macron even aided the National Rally in gaining two Vice President positions in the National Assembly.

Perhaps there’s even a link to be made between Emmanuel Macron and Hungarian leader Victor Orban. Both came from a centrist background, and both siphoned off the far-right to weaken them. But where Orban succeeded in weakening the far-right by becoming far-right himself, Macron has allowed the National Rally to usurp his influence and position itself as a front-runner in the future of French politics.

Should Jordan Bardella become Prime Minister, Macron and Bardella will be locked in paralysis, both trying to trick each other instead of running the country. And to affirm his mandate, Bardella’s government will likely resort to brutal methods and a ruthless crackdown on the opposition, whether in parliament, institutions, or the stress.

But it’s Macron who set the stage for and gave us a taste of this impending authoritarian reality. It’s under Macron’s watch that: French Muslims are marginalised — with the anti-separatism law turning schools into a hunting ground for Islamophobia, journalists are interrogated by intelligence, and police have brutally cracked down on environmental groups, the Yellow Vest, and anti-pension reform movements.

Rather than giving the public time to choose, Macron has hijacked this election and turned it into a confrontation between him and the far-right.

But unlike in 2017 and 2022, this time French voters could call his bluff. The far-right is at its highest point in decades and has been helped by influential figures like Vincent Bolloré’s media monopoly and his crusade for a white Christian France.

Whatever is left of French democracy is disappearing before our own eyes. Politicians — and the public — are hedging their bets on the far-right, with their ideological victories throughout Macron’s presidency now clear to see.

What started under Nicolas Sarkozy as a ploy to copy and paste the then National Front’s policy on identity and security politics —to be “unapologetically right” — has ended up as political suicide.

Macron will go down in history as a so-called moderate president who promised to be a firewall for the far-right but who ended up being its springboard, with his joke that he’d thrown “an unpinned hand grenade” on the French public reflective of a man whose both irresponsible and immature.

The dissolution of the National Assembly is therefore a tale of two Frances. One pursues the fable of a country that wants to be great again by reviving its old demons, and the other hopes to save it from them.

Yasser Louati is a French political analyst and head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL). He hosts a hit podcast called "Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati" in English and "Les Idées Libres" in French.

Follow him on Twitter: @yasserlouati

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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