The Irish Times view on the snap French election: Macron’s big gamble

The president, in typical gambler mode, appears set to hand the keys of the prime minister’s office to the far-right Rassemblement National

(Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)

‘To be French is to rise to the challenge of the epoch when necessary,” Emmanuel Macron proclaimed, channeling his best, pompous Charles de Gaulle, to spring France’s snap parliamentary election. “It is to know what a vote is worth and how liberty feels. To act, whatever the circumstances, with responsibility is fundamentally to write history rather than be its victim. That moment is now.”

Few of his compatriots would agree. The president, in typical gambler mode, appears set to hand the keys of the prime minister’s office to the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) following its rout of Macron’s Renaissance party in the European elections. If it can muster a parliamentary majority, RN would force Macron into sharing power with the RN’s charismatic young Jordan Bardella as prime minister in a cohabitation arrangement.

“The extreme right is at the gates of power,” warned one left deputy, appealing for left unity in the remarkably short three-week campaign. The four main left-wing political groups – the Communists, Socialists, Greens, and France Unbowed, the movement of three-time presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon – reviving the tradition of the left “united front”, have already promised to field common candidates.

An election-day poll showed nearly half of voters had one key aim: to “express their dissatisfaction with Macron and the government”. Nor were his prospects going to get any better, with the opposition likely in the autumn to carry a vote of no confidence over ¤25 billion in spending cuts. Macron, alone apparently, believes he can call what he sees as the voters’ bluff. Faced with the real prospect of the RN in power, they will come to their senses.

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Early polling, however, shows Renaissance, already doing its best to keep Macron out of its campaign, could once more take a beating. There is a real prospect the party could be relegated to third place, behind the far right and the left.

On the centre-right, far from any willingness to share Macron’s vision of a united republican front against the RN, he has opened up a deep split within the party that claims the Gaullist mantle, Les Républicains (LR).

Appalled LR deputies and veterans such as former EU commissioner Michel Barnier have demanded the resignation of the party leader Eric Ciotti after his taboo-breaking call for an alliance with RN.

Ciotti’s breach of what has until now been a solid cordon sanitaire, ruling out political cooperation or alliances with the far-right, marks a real shift in France’s political culture and the long, but so far obstructed, road of the far-right party and its leader Marine Le Pen to political respectability.

Macron’s gamble is really Russian roulette.