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French President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament and called a fresh election.

The only justification sounds a little bit vague:

“France needs a clear majority in serenity and harmony. To be French, at heart, is about choosing to write history, not being driven by it,” Macron said.

What is the point of triggering a national-level election shortly after losing an election? Why not use the remaining time to construct the campaign based on the results rather than entering some snap elections from the position of a loser?

Note: although the question references the current situation in France, I will accept any similar situation (triggering a snap election following defeat in the EU elections)

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    It should be noted that Macron is not up for election himself in this new election. He will continue to be president of France until the end of his term in 2027 regardless of how the election for the National Assembly turns out.
    – quarague
    Commented Jun 10 at 8:49

10 Answers 10

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Macron's decision can be seen as an attempt to regain the initiative against a backdrop of a far-right surge in EU elections

The question casts this as a defeat for Macron, which in a sense it is- but the broader context across Europe is one of the far right generally (but not unanimously) making gains at the expense of the centre and moderate left.

Fuller excerpts (in English) from Macron's speech are available from France 24 and from the BBC. Quoting the translation from the former:

“Far right parties... are progressing everywhere in the continent. It is a situation to which I cannot resign myself,” he said.

“I decided to give you the choice... Therefore I will dissolve the National Assembly tonight.

“This decision is serious and heavy but it is an act of confidence. Confidence in you, dear compatriots, and in the capacity of the French people to make the best choice for itself and future generations.”

Note: The full transcript (in French) along with YouTube embed of the speech delivery is available from Élysée.fr, for which GTranslate does a reasonable job.

The speech video excerpt on the BBC also talks about things like protecting farmers (discontent among which is a recent and ongoing issue in France) and borders, and support for Ukraine.

macron speech

Also from the BBC there is an initial reaction from Hugh Schofield which has a pertinent bit of information:

The fact is that he is stuck. He has no majority in the National Assembly, so getting any bill through is already a struggle. With most of the country now so clearly against him, any new legislation - for example the upcoming budget - could have proved explosive.

This points to Macron having domestic difficulties, EU elections or not.

By calling a snap election now, instead of "using the remaining time" to build a campaign Macron is forcing a more immediate choice between the far right and his centrist approach.

He is likely betting that voters when given a choice that affects them more directly -- EU elections are sometimes seen as a more acceptable venue for 'protest' votes against a 'leftist' institution (as Maciej Stachowski notes) -- that voters will lean away from the far right, which will take away their victory. He may also figure that the timing works to his advantage, inasmuch as seeing a low-turnout election go in favour of the far-right may motivate additional centrist and left voters to actually vote in the national elections. Another factor in timing is that there has been a recent major world event hosted in France (80th anniversary of the Normandy landings), and the Paris Olympics are happening soon (after the election); Macron may be hoping that the proximity of these events boosts his party's legitimacy as the incumbent.

A snap national election in which the pendulum swings away from the far right -- particularly from those in the centre who didn't vote (low turnout elsewhere was reported) -- would benefit him domestically, at a time where he is somewhat politically frustrated, if not stymied.

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    "EU elections are sometimes seen as a more acceptable venue for 'protest' votes" - I think what's also worth noting is that EU institutions are perceived as pretty left-of-center, so specifically in the case of the far right there's a body of voters who don't want them to have any actual power (and the EU parliament's makeup makes it very unlikely for the far right to have any significant foothold), but want them to be a moderating voice in the "leftist" EU. Not sure if that also applies significantly to France, though. Commented Jun 10 at 12:42
  • "which if they go well may give a polling boost to the status quo." The Olympic summer games this year will not start until after the election. The polling boost would need to come before the effect taking place. Commented Jun 10 at 14:32
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    One more point you can add re: low turnout for the EU elections. It's feasible that he's expecting the people who didn't turn out to look at the result and realize they really do need to vote in this next election. So not necessarily people changing their minds as much as getting the counter-balancing people who sat out the last one to vote in this one.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:27
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    @Bobson Yeah, that's another good point which I wasn't sure how to succinctly fit in beyond what I have; I've just noticed the Hugh Schofield link messed up so will edit to fix
    – bertieb
    Commented Jun 11 at 13:24
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    @JonathanReez the EU is definitely the place to discuss the unpopular "tragedy of the commons" kind of issues like climate change, where the national governments aren't really tripping over themselves to address them, so it's easier to address that at a higher level and let the national government blame the EU bureaucrats. But "extreme left agenda"? Wake me up when they stop letting corporations buy their way out with carbon offsets and start turning their assets over to the workers, until then it's nothing more than your standard social liberal democracy. Commented Jun 11 at 23:26
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Luc Rouban, political scientist at Sciences Po in Paris, said Macron wanted to "trap" the RN with his sudden election announcement, arguing the party would find trouble mustering quality candidates to challenge for the 577 seats in the National Assembly.

"I think Macron's idea is to play on something with the right," he added.

Speaking to AFP, ruling Renaissance party chief and Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne gave an indication of how the campaign could play out.

https://www.nbcrightnow.com/national/macron-gambles-on-snap-elections-to-halt-far-right-march/article_56422da8-ef23-57ef-a455-a201fec1f133.html

Macron's is gambling on the fact that the opposite party is likely to find trouble mustering quality candidates to challenge for the 577 seats in the National Assembly.

Moreover, the far-right's momentum could continue to grow if not challenged promptly. By waiting, Macron risks allowing the RN to solidify its position and gain even more support, making it harder to counteract their influence in future elections.

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  • The fact that Jordan Bardella publicly expressed his wish for these elections before Macron announced it doesn't support the view that RN is unprepared. But then incompetence on both sides is very likely.
    – Vallahga
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:38
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    @Vallahga it's not because they asked for it that they actually expected it to happen... But RN has a long history of having "problematic" candidates showing a bit too much the true colours of the party that they have been (quite successfully) trying to hide since Marine Le Pen took over, and the more candidates they need, the more likely it is to happen.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 11 at 12:20
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Since his reelection in 2022, Macron didn’t have a clean majority in national assembly. It has been a problem for him, as he had to make alliances with other parties (especially LR that hold a majority in senate) in order to rule.

The European elections in France were wrongly pictured as national election, with very few proposal about European politics. It kinda became a test for Macron’s politics and a defeat would mean he would be disapproved by the public.

The far right party leader Jordan Bardella (RN) understood that very well and made one of his campaign argument that if he won the EU election by a large margin, it would make Macron illegitimate. And in order to represent France’s politics tendencies properly, he would need to dissolve the national assembly to have a proper representation.

Macron just acted his defeat and dissolved the national assembly to respect that idea.

Why is he doing that? It is still not clear, but here are a few elements to take into account.

  • Many argument that dissolving now or later will have the same result: far right majority on national assembly, meaning a far right PM. To the test of the power, the far right will show how incompetent it is, disproving them for the presidential election in 2027.

  • Others say he genuinely thinks he can get a majority, even if it seems foolish after such a result on the European elections.

  • The left is strongly divided after this election. As the election date is really close, the lists for the legislatives election will have to be made at the end of the week. Such little time makes it really hard for the left to negotiate and come to an agreement, increasing chances that there would be multiple lists for the election, and making an unified center (Macron’s party) the most obvious alternative to the far right.

  • It is worth noting that the vote will happen on 30th of June and 7th of July, when many people go for summer vacation. A high abstention rate can be expected, and only the few most attentive voters are going to attend the election, which are mainly old people, his electoral base.

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A popular belief in France is that French like to let their anger known to power... but vote reasonably/rationally when the stakes are high. This is notably the case in Presidential elections, where the results of the first round may indicate that the governing party is in trouble... but it comfortably wins in the second round - as was the case in both elections opposing Macron and LePen.

Another well-known example is May 1968 protests, which nearly led to overthrow of the President (de Gaulle even fled to Germany for a few days), but the legislative elections about a month later resulted in strong Gaullist majority:

From that point, the revolutionary feeling of the students and workers faded away. Workers gradually returned to work or were ousted from their plants by police. The national student union called off street demonstrations. The government banned several leftist organizations. The police retook the Sorbonne on 16 June. Contrary to de Gaulle's fears, his party won the greatest victory in French parliamentary history in the legislative election held in June, taking 353 of 486 seats to the Communists' 34 and the Socialists' 57.

In this sense Macron bets on the French, having vented their anger in European elections, which have little immediate effect on their life, coming to their senses and supporting centrist forces.

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Question:

What is the point of triggering of a national snap election immediately after losing the EU elections?

It is a calculated risk. The far right has been threatening Macron's office for months. Macron is gambling that he is currently at his height of popularity and the right wing is not.

Macron is coming off a week of D-Day 75th anniversary celebrations where he has hosted the many important foreign dignitaries all coming to France to take part. Great appeal to French nationalism.

Likewise France under Macron has emerged as the DeFacto leader of the E-U which for decades has been Germany. With the UK out of the EU, France is the strongest military in the EU, the only nuclear power, the only permanent security council member. Macron has aligned France as the leader of the hawks with regards to Ukraine. Macron has aligned France with Poland, the Baltic states, Finland as perhaps Spain. Macron has stated French Troops could be dispatched to Ukraine and has prodded NATO to plan for such measures.

After all this Macron feels he is at his strongest he will be popularity wise and that is why he's calling for a snap election.

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    It's the 80th D-day anniversary already. Commented Jun 11 at 23:52
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I am French, and I can tell you no one understands except him all the reasons why he did that. One possible reason that I did not see discussed here: In France the president has a lot of power (compared to most other countries) he may want to have the far right in a position where they prove themselves incapable of governing. (many people see them as a protest party, not a governing one). As to show them not suited/worthy for the presidential election (that will happen in 3 years from now).

For example this year, budget will be extremely hard to come by.

This move also killed all "moderate" opposition party in France overnight. With the left seeking alliance from moderate to far left. and the right splitting between his party and the far Right.

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    With disqualify you probably mean prove not worthy, not getting legally prohibited. Commented Jun 11 at 19:49
  • Are you sure that no one understands? You are already understanding that the move is killing the left. That after that he will remain the only one who could aggregate the moderates is not not such an unreachable logical step. See my answer.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Jun 13 at 15:55
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In addition to the elements in other answers, it may also be worth noting that the European elections and the legislative elections use completely different systems:

  • The European elections use nationwide proportional representation, so the number of seats is directly linked to the number of votes.

  • The legislative elections use two-round voting in single-member constituencies. This means that in order to get the seat, one must get a majority (and not just a plurality) of the votes in that constituency, and that is a lot more difficult to achieve for candidates which elicit a strong gag reflex in many voters (note that this is also valid for the far-left), and usually favours more consensual candidates of the centre-right and centre-left.

So the idea is that it could be possible to end up with an Assemblée Nationale where Rassemblement National (RN) does not have a majority, and possibly is not even the party or alliance with the most seats. They could then say "look, we have called fresh elections, and the RN did not win", and have some limited form of legitimacy (cue calls to switch to proportional representation). Whether the President's party could actually govern, alone or in a coalition, is however very difficult to guess at this stage.

Of course, it's a risk, and previous (private, but subsequently made public) polls placed the RN well ahead, with a plurality or even majority of the seats, and with their recent win, it could be amplified beyond that, but it's too early to have any decent projection, as we don't even know the alliances which are going to be formed (or not), which is this type of voting system, can have a strong influence on the final result (as it dictates which candidates will be able to continue to the run-off).

The RN is well aware of the issue and they already offered a deal to the conservative Les Républicains, while negotiations are in progress on the left and at the centre as well. Who gets in an alliance with whom can significantly change the final result.

Whatever happens, as stated elsewhere, M. Macron remains the President, and France has had quite a few periods of "cohabitation" where the President and the government were from opposing sides. Note that in many cases, the ones in government often lose the next presidential + legislative elections:

  • Mitterand/Chirac cohabitation: Chirac/RPR lost at the next election
  • Mitterand/Balladur cohabitation: Balladur lost (but Chirac won)
  • Chirac/Jospin cohabitation: Jospin/PS lost
  • Sarkozy presidency (no cohabitation): Sarkozy lost
  • Hollande presidency (no cohabitation): Hollande lost
  • Macron presidency (no cohabitation): Macron won the presidential election, but only a plurality in legislative elections

So even if RN (or a coalition on the left) won and formed a government, they're likely to not get good results at the next election.

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  • The really nice thing is that it's two rounds. If only the British would have a similar system, then all the people not voting for the highest candidate in the first round could think again and have more influence on the outcome. It's obviously not a question of too much effort. Commented Jun 11 at 15:46
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In politics, clout has as much, if not more, weight than law.

The fact that someone can remain in power doesn't mean they can continue to govern effectively. If their agenda is seen as having been rebuffed, then their ability to use their political (rather than legal) power will be significantly diminished.

Calling for a new election serves as a referendum on whether the French have, in fact, rejected Macron's agenda or whether they have simply decided to moderate his firm positions with respect to the European Union.

Ethically, it's a very strong position. It gives Macron the clout of someone who is willing let the people make a decision even when there is a substantial chance of them deciding against him. It's a country-above-party position. Whether or not he will be able to communicate this statesman-like posture in the elections is a matter of skill.

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The rising far right is a boon for Macron

If you see the results of the first rounds of the first and second election won by Macron you will see that Macron did better than the others, but on absolute terms he did not have a great following. Even the relatively short time that passed between his election and the beginning of massive protests shows that he never conquered the trust of the majority of the population.

Both of the times he was elected only because he ran the second round against the far right candidate. He always thrived by waving them as a scaremongering flag. It is the message: either you vote for me or you will be governed by the extremists that pushed the majority of the voters. His right wing policies are not helping him to gain more support, so fear is the only thing he can use to push the moderate electorate and now that fear is at its peak.

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President Macron said it himself. He is asking his country to write history by choosing the immediate political future of France. Rather than wait for the insidious creeping rot of right-wing fascism to infect his country next, he asks the people to declare their commitment to democracy now. Knowing a little about the French, I expect them to do just that, emphatically, despite any reservations regarding Macron. Nicely done, as this will also help to secure his position in the government as well. The primary purpose is to secure a major keystone of Western democracy in a time of instability. This is one for the history books.

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