Macron’s gamble pays off, sort of

Going into the second round of the elections for the French National Assembly, the right wing National Rally (RN) party led by Marine Le Pen was anticipating coming in first and even gaining an absolute majority of at least 289 seats in the 577-seat body. This was based on their showing in the first round last week when they obtained the most votes and won 38 seats of the 78 that were won outright.

The second round was for the remaining 499 seats in which no candidate obtained the required 50%. But there was a hastily cobbled together agreement between the left wing coalition of the New Popular Front (NFP), consisting of the France Unbowed (LFI) party, the Greens and the Socialists, and the center-right Ensemble coalition led by president Emmanuel Macron, where one of their candidates agree to drop out in three- or more-way races in order to not split the anti-NR vote. That strategy seems to have worked. The final results have the NR and its allies pushed into third place with just 143 seats while the NFP came out on top with 182 and Ensemble came second with 163. Other parties got 89.

There will have to be some kind of coalition to get to 289 seats but Macron is in a bind. While there was a pre-election alliance between the NFP and Ensemble, forming a coalition between two coalitions is going to be hard because despite uniting against the NR, the two coalitions have little in common and outgoing prime minister Gabriel Attal, who is a member of Macron’s coalition, has already said that he will not serve under the premiership of Jean-Luc Melenchon, the head of LFI, the largest party in the NPF.

The NR is clearly disappointed, even though they increased the number of their seats in the Assembly from 88 to 143. They are clearly annoyed about the alliance that denied them a majority, with the person they had hoped would be the next prime minister Jordan Bardella calling it a “disgraceful alliance”, and vowed that they will come back stronger in the presidential elections to be held in 2027 in which Marine Le Pen plans to run again, and in the next general election whenever that is held. In the interim, they have sufficient strength to make life difficult for any government that excludes them. They are likely hoping that whatever government Macron forms will be weak and ineffectual and thus strengthen them.

Macron’s gamble in suddenly dissolving parliament and calling for elections after his party came a poor third to the NR in elections to the European parliament, seems to have had mixed results. On the one hand, this time it was the NR that came in third, which he must see as a win. On the other hand, he must have been hoping that his coalition would come in first so that one of his party, presumably Attal again, could be tapped to be prime minister. The final result puts him in a quandary. This article lays out the options and the difficulties he faces..

Unlike neighbouring Germany and Italy, modern France has never had a parliament with no dominant party and the country has no tradition of coalition governments.

Coalition talks will be needed – under the constitution no fresh elections can take place for another year – but deep divides over tax, pensions, green investment and immigration among other issues will make them extremely fractious.

On the left there is no obvious candidate for prime minister and Macron has said he will not work with the hard-left France Unbowed party, the largest party in the NPF left-wing alliance which won the most votes.

Macron could reach out to the Socialists and the Greens but they may not be willing to enter into a government with such an unpopular leader.

Mainstream parties could form different ad hoc alliances to vote through individual pieces of legislation. But Macron has tried this strategy since losing his majority in 2022, with limited success, having to resort on numerous occasions to special constitutional powers such as the unpopular article 49.3 to push legislation through without a parliamentary vote.

If no political agreement is possible, the president could also appoint a technocratic government, made up of economists, academics, diplomats and business or trade union leaders. France has never had such a government before.

It may turn out that the existing coalitions will fracture and new coalitions form in order to get a majority. Expect a lot of horse-trading to take place.

But right now, the main feeling seems to be relief that the NR did not win.

Macron is presumably opposed to the agenda of the NFP.

The leftist New Popular Front (NFP) alliance, which wants to cap prices of essential goods like fuel and food, raise the minimum wage to a net 1,600 euros ($1,732) per month, hike wages for public sector workers and impose a wealth tax, immediately said it wanted to govern.

The fact that NFP did well with such a progressive agenda, coupled with the Labour victory in the UK, are good signs.


  1. John Morales says

    Clearly, he’s a pretty savvy political operator.

    Thing is, one has to compare the current numbers after the prompt election with the numbers that might have resulted after a belated election, not with the extant numbers at the time of the decision.

  2. John Morales says

    [That’s the thing with social forces: can’t repeat the experiment with different variables]

  3. KG says

    I disagree with both Mano and John Morales: Macron is not a “pretty savvy political operator”, and his gamble did not pay off. He was counting on the left remaining fragmented, so that the election (and particularly the second round) would be seen as a straight fight between his minions and the fascists, with anti-fascists obliged to support him as they did in the second round of the last presidential election. Instead, his “Ensemble” lost heavily, the fascists advanced -- although much less than they hoped and expected -- and credit for preventing their victory rightly goes to the left, after Macron gambled the future of the Republic when he had no need to do so. Macron is left enormously weakened, and it will be very difficult to put together any sort of functioning government, given the gulf between the NFP and Macron’s minions.

  4. John Morales says

    KG, I get it.

    You figure that Macron should have waited and tried to consolidate before calling the election.

    Specifically, you reckon the outcome would have been better had he waited.

    (We’ll never know, will we?)

  5. John Morales says

    Amusingly, I also reckon that’s why Rishi called his election early.

    Similarly, I reckon that the result was bad, but it could have been even worse had he waited longer.


  6. birgerjohansson says

    The outcome may have been better than expected, but I am not fond of bosses willing to stake all on a throw of the dice.
    Jon Stewart: “Does Joe Biden realize that there’s no participation trophy in end-game democracy?”

  7. John Morales says

    #4 John
    His position is no more speculative than your own at #1.


    Likely less do, I dare say.

    After all, I don’t really follow French politics and it’s not just across the pond for me.

    (Obs, I still think I’m right)

  8. KG says

    You figure that Macron should have waited and tried to consolidate before calling the election.

    Specifically, you reckon the outcome would have been better had he waited.

    Not necessarily -- but he’s sabotaged his own power as president, which he will be, unless he resigns or dies, until April 2027 (he can’t run again).

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