2024 French legislative election: A seismic shift approaching?

The backdrop

Emmanuel Macron stunned France, and indeed Europe, on Sunday night, by dissolving the French Parliament, in the wake of a surge in support for the far-right National Rally (RN) at the European Parliamentary elections, an attempt to seize the initiative back from his opponents. 

A quick look at a map of first round voting in the election shows a deeply divided country, with the big cities standing out against a sea of support for the RN in rural and smaller-urban areas.

How the elections will work

Elections to the French Parliament occur over two rounds, with the top 2 candidates in the first round in each constituency progressing to a run-off a week later. The first round will take place on Sunday 30 June and the second on Sunday 07 July, sandwiching the UK General Election on Thursday 04 July.

All eyes will be fixed on Marine Le Pen, and her young protégée, Jordan Bardella. Support for the party has been steadily rising for years. Le Pen has ruthlessly changed the image of the party she inherited from her father, creating a movement that has become increasingly accepted within mainstream French society. Perhaps the biggest threat to Le Pen in the long run, is the growing popularity of Bardella, in a country where many young voters are turning to right wing and far right politics. For now, though, these elections could confirm Le Pen as the favourite to become President in 2027.

The dissolution of Parliament represents perhaps the biggest gamble yet in Macron’s seven years as President of the Republic. Though he has united the Anti-Le Pen vote during both of his presidential election victories, he has rarely been viewed with great favour among the general public and lost his Parliamentary majority shortly after winning a second term in 2022. While France’s role within the EU has grown under his leadership, his domestic reforms have faced stern opposition, with many considering him out of touch with ordinary French voters. 

The French left has been beset by infighting but managed to unite under the NUPES alliance in 2022, though too late for a serious tilt at the Elysee. The alliance has been fragile since then, with foreign policy proving particularly divisive in the wake of the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. The divide is most bitter between the once hegemonic Socialist Party, and the firebrand leader of La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Melenchon. The Centre-Right Republican Party, like the Socialists, was one of the powerhouse parties of French politics. But the party of De Gaulle has found itself shedding votes to Le Pen and Macron. They look unlikely to be a major player in these elections.

What it means

Victory for RN would strike fear into Brussels, as the prospect of the EU’s second largest member, and one of its leaders, being governed by the far-right would for the first time become a realistic possibility.  

It would also add to Macron’s difficulties, effectively stripping him of most of his control over domestic policy, forcing him into what’s known as ‘cohabitation’ with the RN. He would retain control of foreign policy, but domestically he would be relegated to a largely ceremonial figure. All of this less than a month before the start of the Paris Olympics, and three years before his second term in the Elysee comes to an end. 

But could it be part of a strategy to improve his party’s chances in 2027. Many in France have been considering voting for the RN for some time, considering it the last untried option. Macron and his allies may be hoping that three years of the RN in charge of domestic affairs would turn many of their supporters off in the long run and make it much trickier for the far-right to secure the much-coveted presidency. 

Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage have long been allies. Could success for one be a precursor for success for the other? We will know the answer in a months’ time. Success at these elections for Le Pen could impact Britain’s relationship with France and although foreign policy remains in the hands of the President, in practice decisions would be made by the government. But the prospect of Le Pen ascending to the presidency in 2027, would force Britain to prepare for a much more unpredictable alliance with our nearest neighbour. Keir Starmer and Emmanuel Macron are natural allies on several key issues. Macron is a European partner that Starmer will believe he can do business with. Le Pen on the other hand, is a very different politician from the Labour leader, and Bardella as Prime Minister would make reaching an agreement on migration, particularly small boat crossings, much harder than it already is. What’s more, an incoming Labour government must be prepared for the possibility of Madame President Le Pen in 2027.