Macron calls shock French elections after far-right rout by Le Pen

PARIS   -   French President Emmanuel Macron set off a political earthquake on Sunday when he called shock legislative elections for later this month after he was trounced in the European Union vote by Marine Le Pen’s far-right party. Macron’s surprise decision represents a major roll of the dice on his political future, three years before his presidency ends. If Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party wins a parliamentary majority, Macron would be left without a say in domestic affairs.

Macron said the EU results were grim for his government, and one he could not pretend to ignore. In an address to the nation, less than two months before Paris hosts the Olympics, he said lower house elections would be called for June 30, with a second-round vote on July 7.

“This is an essential time for clarification,” Macron said. “I have heard your message, your concerns and I will not leave them unanswered ... France needs a clear majority to act in serenity and harmony.”

Led by telegenic 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, the RN won about 32% of the vote in Sunday’s vote, more than double the Macron ticket’s 15%, according to the first exit polls. The Socialists came within a whisker of Macron, with 14%.

Le Pen, the frontrunner for the 2027 election in which Macron is unable to stand, welcomed the president’s decision. “We are ready to take over power if the French give us their trust in the upcoming national elections,” she said at a rally.

Macron’s advisers said the president made his decision after this week’s 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, when he met people out and about who said they were tired of endless political infighting in parliament. Le Pen and Bardella sought to frame the EU election as a mid-term referendum on Macron’s mandate, tapping into discontent with immigration, crime and a two-year inflation crisis.

Millions vote in European Parliament election, set for shift to the right

Voters across Europe cast their ballots on Sunday in an election for the European Parliament that is likely to shift the assembly to the right and boost the numbers of eurosceptic nationalists among its members. In Austria for instance, the far-right Freedom Party is the likely winner of the ballot, according to a poll based on surveys carried out over the past week and published as voting there closed on Sunday evening. The European Parliament’s expected move to the right means the assembly may be less enthusiastic on policies to address climate change while eager on measures to limit immigration to the EU, a bloc of 450 million citizens. The parliament could also be more fragmented, which would make adopting any measure trickier and slower as the EU confronts challenges including a hostile Russia and increased industrial rivalry from China and the United States.

“I don’t always agree with the decisions that Europe takes,” 89-year-old retiree Paule Richard said after voting in Paris.

“But I still hope that there will be a reckoning in all European countries, so that Europe can be a unified bloc and look in the same direction.”

Voting began on Thursday in the Netherlands and in other countries on Friday and Saturday, but the bulk of EU votes will be cast on Sunday, with France, Germany, Poland and Spain opening their polls and Italy holding a second day of voting.

The European Parliament votes legislation that is key for citizens and businesses in the 27-nation EU.

But for many years, voters across the bloc have complained that EU decision-making is complex, distant and disconnected from daily realities, which explains often low turnout in EU elections.

“People don’t know who really has the power, between the Commission and Parliament,” another French voter, Emmanuel, said in a northern Paris polling station. “And it’s true that it raises questions and breeds mistrust which today might not exist if things were clearer,” the 34-year old programmer said.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) is projected in opinion polls to remain the European Parliament’s largest group, putting its candidate to head the European Commission, incumbent Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, in pole position for a second term.

However, she may need support from some right-wing nationalists, such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, to secure a parliamentary majority, giving Meloni and allies more leverage.

A projection by Europe Elects pollster on Sunday showed the EPP could gain five seats compared to the last parliament to win a total of 183. The Socialists, who include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party, are seen losing four seats to get 136.

European Greens, facing a backlash from hard-pressed households, farmers and industry over costly EU policies limiting CO2 emissions, look set to be among the big losers with the poll on Sunday giving them only 56 deputies, a loss of 15.

Forecasts for the liberal group Renew Europe are also grim, given the expectation that Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National will trounce French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance in France.

The Sunday poll put the Renew group’s losses at 13 seats, forecasting it will end up with 89.

In contrast, the poll said the national-conservative ECR was likely to get five more deputies for a total of 73 and the far-right ID group could get eight more seats for a total of 67.

More deputies could join the right and far-right groups from among the so far non-affiliated deputies of whom there would be 79, the poll said.

The European Parliament will issue an EU-wide exit poll at around 2030 CET (1830 GMT) and then a first provisional result after 2300 CET when the final votes, in Italy, have been cast.

Many voters have been hit by the cost of living, have concerns about migration and the cost of the green transition and are disturbed by geopolitical tensions, including war in Ukraine.

Hard and far-right parties have seized on this and offered the electorate an alternative.

“Whoever believes that we need a change of course and that things can be done much better in Brussels has only one alternative, which is Vox,” the leading candidate for the far-right Spanish party, Jorge Buxade, said after voting in Madrid.

In the Netherlands, exit polls on Thursday showed nationalist Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration party was set to win seven of the 29 Dutch seats in the EU assembly, from zero in 2019, after his large win in last year’s national election.

His Freedom Party will be just one short of the combined seats of a Socialist Democrat-Greens alliance.

In Belgium, voters also elect federal and regional chambers on Sunday and are forecast to back far-right Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang in record numbers, although it could still be kept from office by other parties.

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