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Four takeaways from French legislative elections

Supporters of French far right leader Marine Le Pen react after the release of projections based on the actual vote count.
Supporters of French far right leader Marine Le Pen react after the release of projections based on the actual vote count. Copyright AP Photo/Thibault Camus
Copyright AP Photo/Thibault Camus
By Alice TideyLauren Chadwick
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Here are some of the key takeaways from the French snap legislative elections.

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For the second time in under a month, the ruling centrist coalition of French President Emmanuel Macron was dealt a heavy blow on Sunday by the far-right National Rally (RN) which secured the top position in the first round of the country’s snap legislative elections. 

Macron dissolved the National Assembly and called the snap election on 9 June after RN swept to victory in the European elections, obtaining more than double the number of votes Macron’s centrist coalition did.

Macron’s decision to call the election was described by commentators as either a ploy that could grant him the absolute majority he lost two years ago or a dangerous gamble that could see the far-right helm a government for the first time in the country.

Which is it? Euronews brings you the main takeaways from the first round.

Far-right makes historic gains

The National Rally (RN), led by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, appears to have cemented its position as the country’s main political force by securing over 33% of the vote nationwide.

If the score is confirmed next Sunday in the second round, the party could secure between 230 and 280 seats - just nine seats short of an absolute majority. 

Bardella pledged on Sunday that he would be "the prime minister for all the people of France ... respectful of the opposition, open to dialogue and concerned at all times with the unity of the people" all while taking swipes at Macron’s alliance and the left-wing New Popular Front. 

The second round, he added, will be “one of the most decisive (votes) in the history of the Fifth Republic”.

The far-right’s gains in the first round marked a historic performance for the party in a legislative election.

In 2017, the then-called National Front gained 13% of the vote in the first round and 2022, they received 18% of the vote.

Tara Varma, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, told Euronews that “what we see is that people are no longer ashamed to vote for the National Rally”.

“Not only are they no longer ashamed to do so, but they are no longer ashamed to say so,” she said.

While a scenario where the RN wins the absolute majority in parliament may not be the “most probable,” it cannot be “excluded,” she said.

Macron’s big loss

Three weeks after suffering a crushing defeat in the European elections, Macron’s centrist coalition, Ensemble, was dealt another devastating blow by coming in third with just 21% of the nationwide vote.

That’s 12 points and seven points below the far-right RN and the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition, respectively. 

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About 300 of its candidates are still in contention for a seat in the 577-seat hemicycle. But if its first-round score is confirmed next Sunday, it could mean the centrist coalition could shed as many as 180 seats and retain only between 70 and 100 MPs. 

Provided no other alliance gets an absolute majority, Macron could in theory try to form a ruling coalition but that might be a tall order.

French President Emmanuel Macron leaves the voting booth before voting in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, northern France, Sunday, June 30, 2024.
French President Emmanuel Macron leaves the voting booth before voting in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, northern France, Sunday, June 30, 2024. Yara Nardi, Pool via AP

The presidential camp has repeatedly rejected any notion of working with the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party with Macron himself saying that if the RN or LFI were to get into power, it could lead to “civil war”. 

Parties that Macron could therefore try to rally for a more “moderate” coalition include the Socialists and the Greens on the left and the Republicans on the right.

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But it’s unclear if they could find a landing zone or if they would jointly have the 289 seats needed.

Could there be a ‘Republican front’ against the RN?

Within minutes of the exit poll showing the far-right National Rally largely in the lead, political leaders on the left started calling for a so-called “Republican front”. 

They pledged to withdraw third-place candidates who qualified for the second round in an effort to prevent the RN from winning seats due to a split vote between the other parties.

This is true of LFI, the Socialists, Greens, and Communists, and also of certain members of Macron’s centrist coalition.

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“I say this with all the force that each and every one of our voters must muster. Not a single vote must go to the National Rally,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said in his speech on Sunday.

Other members of the president’s coalition have called on their voters not to support members of LFI, saying that neither the RN nor the party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which is part of the left-wing coalition, should get a vote.

Protesters gather at Place de la République in Paris on Sunday after the first round of legislative elections.
Protesters gather at Place de la République in Paris on Sunday after the first round of legislative elections.Louise Delmotte/AP Photo

For Mathias Bernard, a specialist in French political history and president of the University of Clermont Auvergne, “withdrawals or, conversely, triangular contests are the key to the election.”

“If each of the three blocs goes it alone in the second-round battle, the RN is likely to win an absolute majority. If there is a sort of ‘Republican front’, it will be more difficult for the RN,” he told Euronews.

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“However, it is not certain that this "Republican front" will materialise,” he said, naming Ensemble and the Republicans as the two parties where third-placed candidates might most resist being asked to withdraw.

High turnout in snap election

There was intense interest in the snap poll called by Macron, with several voters telling Euronews ahead of the vote that they were disappointed with the president’s policies and wanted change.

Turnout, which is often low in France, increased significantly during these elections.

In the first round of the 2017 and 2022 legislative elections, the participation rate did not reach 50%, according to interior ministry figures. The first round of this poll saw the participation rise to 66.7%.

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“High turnout and fewer candidates led to an unprecedented number of three-way contests in the second round,” according to Célia Belin, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Paris office.

The presidential coalition’s refusal to systematically withdraw due to the presence of LFI candidates, however, could “increase anti-RN voters’ confusion about the best course of action,” she said.

Manon Aubry, a leftist EU lawmaker, told reporters on Sunday that she met many first-time young voters when she went to vote in Paris.

This mobilisation, especially in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, should be welcomed and amplified, she said.

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The results also sparked protests in the country, with thousands of left-wing voters gathering over the gains of the far-right.

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