France has turned against Macron. Will Europe set the stage for President Le Pen? | Paul Taylor

Iin the latest of his visionary speeches on the future of Europe, Emmanuel Macron called on the EU to transform itself in military force or face “death”. Yet his own French presidency may be about to enter a long twilight zone unless he can reverse his party’s deepening decline in June’s European Parliament elections.

Macron’s unpopularity is the main reason his centrist pro-European Revival party is lagging a distant second in opinion polls behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN). Le Pen’s list is led by Jordan Bardella, 29, the rising star in the populist anti-immigration party. A revival whose list is headed by a little-known MEP Valerie Heyer, dropped to 17.5% in the latest survey, while RN was at 31%. Both sides it was neck and neck in the last European elections five years ago.

The EU vote is seen as a test as it is the last scheduled national vote in France ahead of the 2027 presidential election, in which Le Pen is expected to make her fourth and most promising bid for power.

Macron is only two years into his second term at the Elysee Palace, but he still lacks a parliamentary majority at home and, with his government under constant threat of a no-confidence vote, risks becoming a premature lame duck. His European influence is also at stake, as the liberal group (Renew Europe) with which his party sits in the European Parliament is set to lose seats, and the number of liberal leaders is also dwindling as European electorates move to the right. In addition, France’s position is worsened in the eyes of many by its chronically high budget deficit and rising debt, which will lead to EU disciplinary procedure after the election.

The 46-year-old president is mostly to blame for his political predicament. He has so personalized his governing style that voters blame him for everything from the cost of living to a rise in youth violence and the risk of terrorism during this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Macron thinks it doesn’t matter that no one has heard of his front-runner because he is convinced he can get the pro-European vote behind his name,” a senior MEP from the president’s own group told me. “Everything is decided on the Elysée, so we await the oracle.”

The party has yet to agree on who will be on its candidate list, due to be announced on May 7. Intense behind-the-scenes fighting continues between incumbent MEPs clinging to their seats and the four allied centrist parties seeking to field their own candidates, while the need for gender balance and pressure to nominate new faces complicates the task. of the French centrists 23 seats in the outgoing parliament, pollsters believe only 13 are safe at the current rating.

Renaissance faces growing competition for centre-left voters from the campaign’s other surprise star so far, Raphael Glucksmann, leader of the small Place Publique party, who heads the Socialist list and is credited with 13% in the latest polls. The intellectual son of philosopher Andre Glucksman, who campaigned on a platform of massive support for Ukraine and greater social justice, is attracting disgruntled Macron supporters as well as leftists alienated from the flamboyant pro-Palestinian rhetoric of hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

In fact, Mélenchon’s political career may be another casualty of this election. If, as polls suggest, his party La France Insoumise (Unyielding France) finished a distant sixth in the vote, trailing not only the Socialists but also the environmentalists, the 72-year-old’s ambition to lead the French left in the 2027 presidential election d. the election will look shabby.

At the other end of the spectrum, the main conservative party Les Républicains (LR) could be another casualty of the June vote. The once-mighty Gaullist movement, torn by infighting and political rifts, looks set to be dwarfed once again by Le Pen’s RN, which has consolidated its position as the leading force on the French right and the only one that has not yet had a shot at power.

Political scientist and sociologist Chloe Morin argued in a book titled On aura tout essayé (“We tried everything else”) that Le Pen could win the next presidential election because French voters feel that successive presidents on the right, left and center have failed to solve their problems or reverse what many see as the decline of their country.

This may be premature. There is a long way to go until 2027, and Macron still has options to regain momentum, even if none are easy. He could have changed his government again, but he did so recently with little lasting effect. He could dissolve parliament and force new legislative elections if the no-confidence vote passes, but that could hand the RN victory. He might also call a referendum on some popular issue, but voters might use it to punish an unpopular president.

Perhaps his best hope of extricating himself from his domestic predicament is to take the vacant European leadership and push forward the agenda he laid out in his Sorbonne speech. He called for a defense build-up financed through joint borrowing and a more direct and protectionist economic policy to compete with the US and China. But he will face an uphill task in persuading thrifty Germans to increase general debt to fund joint defense spending, the free-trade Dutch, Scandinavians and Poles to adopt a “buy European” policy, and smaller countries to abandon their national veto rights on EU foreign policy.

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Macron’s grand vision for Europe may not save his party from electoral defeat, but it may just set him up for a return to the EU stage if France can win those arguments.

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