The Irish Times view on the French election: far-right kept out, but no clear way forward

For now, at least, France has turned the tide of right-wing advances, but more battles lie ahead

People celebrate the results of the second round of France's legislative election at Republique Square in Paris. Photograph: Olympia de Maismont/AFP via Getty Images

Relief at France’s decision not to give the far-right a majority has been tempered among European allies and confused financial markets by fears that the three-way National Assembly split into largely irreconcilable blocs may make the country ungovernable. President Emmanuel Macron’s government has offered to resign but will have to stay on in a caretaker role while he works out what to install in its place. One option, if not necessarily a stable one, is a government of technocrats.

None of the parties has close to an outright parliamentary majority, and the surprise winner, the hastily formed alliance of hard and soft-left, the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) with 182 seats, is deeply split over its nominee for prime minister. It is adamant that it will only participate in government if its radical anti-Macron, high-tax, high-spending programme is embraced.

Macron’s gamble in calling the snap general election has backfired on him by enormously strengthening the parliamentary representation of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National’s (RN) (from 88 to 143 seats ), even if it is well short of a majority. Le Pen remains well-positioned for another presidential bid in 2027. “Our victory is only postponed,” she insisted.

Voters punished the president’s centrist Ensemble alliance by pushing it into second place with a sharp loss of sets.


The remarkable result was enabled in part by the highest voter turnout (63 per cent) since 1981, testimony to the fear engendered by the prospect of the RN in government.

The result reflected in large part the discipline of the tactical voting alliance between left and centre-right, the “republican front”, under which some 215 candidates of Ensemble and NFP withdrew in the second round to clear the way for a united vote against RN. The pact enabled 175 RN candidates to be defeated in the second round – 86 of those seats went to Ensemble, with 72 per cent of the NFP first-round vote transferring to the president’s party.

Putting aside ideological differences in a voting pact to safeguard democracy is one thing. But it is not the same as governing together, and will not be replicated in enabling whatever minority prime minister Macron nominates to rule. The president is expected to reach out to the more moderate Socialists, Greens, and much reduced conservative former Gaullists, Les Républicains. It will not be easy.

For now at least, France has turned the tide of the seemingly inexorable far-right advances across the continent. It has shown that the cordon sanitaire between democratic forces and the far-right, the insistence on unity against such parties, must be maintained. Slippage on this issue elsewhere has only opened the door and legitimised the far-right.