Pardonnez-moi, s’il vous plaît!


In my last blog, Elections Everywhere, I suggested we might learn a few things from elections in other countries. Unfortunately, my survey of elections elsewhere didn’t include stunning election news in France. French President Emmanuel Macron dissolved his country’s parliament and called for “snap” elections  — “snap” because voting begins only 16 days from now. Macron’s announcement came just as my blog was heading out the door, so now I need to catch you up on election chaos French-style. I hope it’s enlightening; it might even take your mind off the battle being waged to lead the gerontocracy we call the United States of America.


In the elections earlier this month for seats in the European Parliament (the European Union’s legislative body, not to be confused with France’s parliament) the far-right National Rally Party finished far ahead of Macron’s liberal/centrist Renaissance Party. The surprisingly strong showing by the National Rally Party, led by Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, spelled trouble for Macron’s centrist party. The National Rally Party is stridently anti-immigrant, opposes the EU’s strong measures to slow global warming, and wants to weaken the EU’s influence in France. Macron, on the other hand, is well-known as being pro-Europe. 


It’s tempting to view the National Rally Party as a French version of the MAGA  movement. Their opposition to immigration and their resistance to EU regulations designed to address climate change are MAGA-like positions. However, they don’t want every French citizen to have an arsenal of automatic weapons and they don’t have an army of right wing Christian nationalists cheering on their every move. Nor is the National Rally focussed on ending abortion in France. So the similarities with Trump’s cult are limited. 


But back to the jolt Macron got after his Renaissance Party’s weak showing in EU parliamentary elections. By announcing snap elections, he called a bluff on the French voters’ support of the National Rally Party, essentially saying to them, “So, you think you want  Le Pen and Bardella running this country? OK, you might just get what you asked for, and very quickly — this month!” To me, it is riveting drama. Macron is betting that his fish-or-cut-bait ultimatum to French voters will make them consider their options carefully when they cast their ballots in very consequential elections beginning on June 30. Runoffs will be on July 7. So Macron is asking the French electorate to get this over with before the beginning of the Paris Olympics later in July. 


In France, as in Great Britain, three weeks or so of campaigning are sufficient for even the most important elections. Our own tradition of the next presidential campaign beginning pretty soon after Inauguration Day is way too much candy for a nickel. 


If Macron’s put-up-or-shut-up gamble backfires, he’ll spend the last three years of his term in what the French call “cohabitation”. It means that one party holds the presidency, the other the legislature. Past cohabitations have not made for efficient governance. 


If Le Pen’s and Bardella’s National Rally Party wins the snap election, Macron and the Renaissance Party aren’t necessarily out for good. Macron believes the National Rally Party will flop at actual governing, which is a lot more challenging than lobbing figurative Molotov cocktails over the walls of the Elysee Palace. Then, after three years of chaos at the hands of Le Pen and Bardella, Macron’s centrists would swoop back in and regain control of both the presidency and the legislature. A real gamble for sure, but one Macron believes  is worth taking.  If he is right, he comes out on top either way  –  in the upcoming election or one three years from now.


Hanging over the election’s uncertain outcome is another daunting issue — France’s huge pile of debt – over 3 trillion Euros or 112% of GDP. Macron’s gambit makes the country’s creditors nervous. Moodys has already warned of possible credit downgrades should the elections yield a split government —  Macron as president governing with the National Rally as the majority party in the French legislature. That could stand in the way of good governance, budgetary and otherwise. Both parties would block the other’s proposals, a bad situation because hard choices must be made to keep the country’s creditors at bay. At that point Macron’s wager could become a bet on France’s financial stability. 


Call him what you will — gutsy political tactician or reckless risk-taker — Macron’s nerves would serve him well at one of those exclusive casinos on the French Riviera. 


Aside from such fascinating aspects of France’s election, there are some parallels and contrasts with our own.



  • Both elections feature centrists against populists. 
  • Both feature an unpopular incumbent versus an unpopular challenger.
  • Both elections feature heated rhetoric on immigration with one party, the populist one, taking the harder line against existing immigration policy.
  • Both elections feature a battle of the establishment (Macron’s Renaissance Party/Biden’s Democratic Party) versus the “burn it all down” party (Le Pen’s and Bardella’s National Rally/Trump’s MAGA Party).
  • Both elections feature a right-wing party dogged by accusations of bigotry, xenophobia, anti-semitism, islamophobia, etc. Both party leaders on the right have made statements demonizing immigrants — Muslim immigrants in the case of Le Pen, Latino immigrants in the case of Trump. 
  • Both right-wing contenders in these elections have seen their power bolstered recently by the defection of formerly more centrist politicians from their traditional party allegiances. In the US, the entire Republican party has been radicalized and become the cult of Trump, lending him legitimacy he would not otherwise have. In France some elements of the Republican (formerly Gaullist) Party are advocating for an electoral alliance with the National Rally. In other words, in both countries otherwise moderate center right politicians are succumbing to the siren song of the right wing. 
  • Both right wing parties (MAGA and National Rally) pursue similar nationalist agendas. Here it’s America First. In France, the right wants the French government to push back against the EU, especially on immigration policy and environmental legislation. 




  • The election campaign in France lasts three weeks. Here, it’s at least 2 years.
  • Campaigns in France feature a third party —  the EU — which is viewed very differently by the main two competing parties.
  • The opposition party in France has been around much longer than the MAGA movement. Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was the face of the party in the last century and Marine has been active in National Rally affairs since joining the National Front (the predecessor to the National Rally)  in 1986. She has run for president three times and received a higher percentage of the vote each time. In 2020, she got 41.5% of the vote in a run-off against Macron. 
  • The race in France features relatively young leadership. Le Pen is 56; Bardella, 28; Macron, 46. Ours features very old men.
  • Multiple parties participate in French elections, not just two. On the left there’s the Socialist Party and La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). On the right you have the Republicans, formerly Gaullists. While some Republican leaders have called for a strategy of cooperation with the National Rally, others have rejected that idea as heresy. The two left-wing parties seem very unlikely at this point to make common cause with Renaissance. So the aftermath of the election is likely to feature efforts by Renaissance or National Rally to cobble together a governing coalition. 


If France’s election goes to the National Rally in a landslide, its leaders will undoubtedly push to loosen ties to the EU. Party rhetoric relies heavily on the message that immigration is changing the very meaning of being French, that the cultural identity of France is under attack from millions of Muslims who have settled there. EU immigration policy makes it difficult for France to slow immigration. So, according to Le Pen and Bardella, France must chart its own course and not let the EU dictate its immigration policy. Right-wing parties in other countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Italy) may have similar ideas. Should opting out of objectionable EU policies become de rigueur, the very idea of a European Union would be at risk. 


I hope I have piqued your interest in the coming French parliamentary elections. So much is at stake and it’s all crammed into a three-week period right before the country hosts the world at the Paris Olympics!

Stay Connected!

Get my latest blog posts straight to your inbox!

About Buck Close

Deacon Buck Close serves on the staff of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Newport, RI. He was born in South Carolina, graduated from Tulane University in 1972 with a BA in Economics and Latin American Studies.

Learn More