Right-Wing Tide Washes Over Europe as Conservatives Dominate EU Elections in Shocking Rebuke to Status Quo

Prime Minister Le Pen? ‘We are ready to take power,’ says Marine Le Pen After National Rally Trounces President Macron’s Party in European Elections.

AP/Lewis Joly
Supporters of French right-wing National Rally react at the party election night headquarters, Sunday, June 9, 2024 at Paris. AP/Lewis Joly

Wild is the mot juste for what happened in France Sunday, and what may well describe what might happen less than a month from now — the likely entrée to power in a big way of the right-wing National Rally that could see one of its leaders, Marine Le Pen, or Jordan Bardella, become the new prime minister. 

Across Europe, parties on the right side of the political spectrum left those on the left in the dust in European elections this week. In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic party fell behind the right-wing Alternative for Germany, which surged into second place. In Belgium, the prime minister, Alexander DeCroo, announced his resignation following the defeat of his Flemish Liberals and Democrats party. 

But all eyes are on Paris in the coming weeks.

The National Rally — or Rassemblement National in French — the successor party to the populist National Front, performed beyond anyone’s expectations in the European parliamentary elections on Sunday, garnering 31.5 percent of the votes cast, according to initial estimates from the Ipsos institute for France Télévisions and Radio France. That represents a 40-year record for any French political party in the European elections as well as a stunning rebuke of President Macron’s Renaissance party. 

Now, with almost twice as many votes as Mr. Macron’s coalition, the National Rally will end up with as many as 31 of its members in the European Parliament, making it that body’s largest delegation.

Furthermore, the first projections of the European Parliament’s new composition shows that the center-right European People’s Party will comfortably be the strongest coalition.

The shock of all this was not lost on either Marine Le Pen, whose controversial father Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the National Front, or Mr. Macron. The French president, seeking “clarity,” almost immediately dissolved parliament and called snap national elections on June 30 and July 7. Why? He had no majority in the National Assembly even before these elections, and getting legislation passed was already an uphill battle. It led to the premature exit of his former prime minister, Élisabeth Borne. But now, with most of the country lining up against him, trying to pass a bill for the upcoming budget  could have become an explosive issue that a financially ailing France can ill afford. 

This is the moment that Macron perhaps knew was coming, yet still dreaded, but one that Ms. Le Pen has greeted with relish. “After the legislative elections of 2022, which made National Rally the main parliamentary opposition, these European elections establish our movement as the great force of change for France,” she told reporters Sunday, adding,“We are ready to take power.”

Intriguingly, she also said that “the President of the Republic, responding to the call of Jordan Bardella, has just announced the dissolution of the National Assembly, the return to the polls of the people.”

Mr. Bardella, all of 28 years old, is Ms. Le Pen’s protégé, and now serves as president of the National Rally (Ms. Le Pen heads the party’s coalition in the French parliament). He is the fresh new face of the party. He deftly leveraged his command of social media networks like TikTok to imbue hot button issues like illegal immigration and crime with a lighter touch. That strategy has now paid off, attracting voters who were previously averse to voting on the right. 

Mr. Macron is now gambling on his own future. If the National Rally continues its winning streak and clobbers the Renaissance party in the French elections that are suddenly and rapidly approaching, it could mean au revoir to the current, young prime minister, Gabriel Attal — who underperformed in recent debates — and bonjour to either Prime Minister Le Pen — or Prime Minister Bardella. 

The implications are enormous. For one thing, it would mean a government of what the French call “cohabitation” — which is sort of like living with one’s ex. This happens when the president’s political party is different from the majority party in L’Assemblée nationale, the national parliament. There was such a cohabitation between 1986 and 1988 when President Mitterand had to nominate a prime minister from another party, Jacques Chirac. Then, in 1997, President Chirac was forced to nominate a socialist, Lionel Jospin, as prime minister. 

If all this sounds highly disruptive to the smooth functioning of government, welcome to France. 

But it could get even more complicated if after the newly announced elections a National Rally prime minister tables a motion of no confidence in the government. Should that happen, — and the more Mr. Macron’s popularity ratings go down the drain, the  likelier it is to happen — then France will be thrown into fresh turmoil because the presidential election now scheduled for 2027 could come a lot quicker. 

For the National Rally, France does not necessarily belong in the European Union: oui, we are talking about a potential “Frexit.”  The new  line on illegal immigration will be so tough that asylum-seekers will think twice before even contemplating showing up on French shores. Robust support for Ukraine? Adieu to that too. 

Today was a major earthquake in France, politically and socially.  There is every chance the aftershocks will be bigger.

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