Far-right Le Pen delivers blow to Macron alliance in EU vote

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Marine Le Pen’s far-right movement has trounced the centrist coalition of Emmanuel Macron in France, securing almost a third of the EU election vote to achieve more than double the president’s share.

In a stinging blow to the pro-EU French president, exit polls on Sunday showed Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) far ahead of all other parties, with around 33 of the vote compared to 15 per cent for Macron’s second-place alliance.

But Macron appeared set to narrowly avoid a humiliating third-place finish by seeing off a challenge from centre-left candidate Raphael Glucksmann, who exit polls showed would win roughly 14 per cent.

The vote marked the third win in a row in European elections for Le Pen’s Eurosceptic RN, and represented a major setback for the French president who has long made his staunchly pro-Europe stance a marker of his political brand.  

“This is a severe defeat for Macron given that he has been president for seven years and he has long said his goal is to combat the far right,” said Bruno Cautrès, an academic and pollster at Sciences Po in Paris. 

The loss came after Macron had argued that the very future of the EU was at stake because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, economic competition with the US and China, as well as the need to fight climate change — all topics on which he said the far-right could not be trusted.

In a television interview on Friday, Macron warned that far-right parties could form a “blocking minority” in the European parliament that would complicated progress on issues of defence or fighting climate change.

Yet the message appeared to not to move French voters, who have historically used European elections as protest vote against the incumbent president.

“Given that Emmanuel Macron has sought to position himself as the intellectual leader of Europe, the fact that French voters don’t follow him is problematic for him,” added Cautrès. 

Early voting estimates showed the RN’s list, led by the charismatic 28-year old party chief Jordan Bardella, had won almost as many votes as the combined total of Macron’s alliance, led by a little-known MEP Valerie Hayer, and the traditional parties of the centre-right and centre-left.

“In according more than 30 per cent of their votes to us, the French have delivered their verdict and marked the determination of our country to change the direction of the EU,” said Bardella in a speech from his campaign headquarters. “This is only the beginning.”

French President Emmanuel Macron outside a polling station in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage
French President Emmanuel Macron outside a polling station in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage © Hannah McKay/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The results show the rising popularity of the RN since 2019 when they won 23.3 per cent of the vote in the last European elections, coming in only slightly ahead of Macron’s list which took 22.4 per cent.

Bardella’s social media savvy and polished messaging has broadened their appeal with slices of the electorate, such as white-collar workers and retirees, who had historically rejected the RN as too radical.

The RN strategy during the campaign had been to cast the European elections as a referendum on Macron, whose popularity has waned with just under three years left on his mandate. Term limits make him ineligible to run again in 2027, and Le Pen is one of those angling to replace him.

Macron is not expected to make any short-term political moves in reaction to the loss, such as reshuffling his cabinet or calling for early elections. His second term has been marred by losing his majority in the National Assembly, which has stymied his reforming zeal by making passing laws much more difficult.

Analysts expect the electoral drubbing to accelerate manoeuvring among potential contenders for the presidency in 2027, both in opposition and within Macron’s camp. Such jockeying could fracture the president’s alliance given that some of his partners, such as his ex-prime minister Édouard Philippe, are planning to run.

“This will open the running for 2027 earlier than anyone wanted,” said Marc Ferracci, a member of the National Assembly for Macron’s party who is close to the president. Yet he warned against seeing Macron as a lame duck and said he would urge the president to push ahead with reforms.

“I think we need to use these results to reboot our agenda. The risk that the RN succeeds us is real — we cannot just act like a deer in the headlights.”

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