French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, at Macron's Ensemble party's campaign headquarters in Paris, on July 1, 2024.

Gabriel Attal already has one foot out of the door of the prime minister’s office. On Monday, July 1, the day after the first round of France’s snap parliamentary elections, which saw the far right become the country’s leading political force, the prime minister, living on borrowed time, met with Le Monde at the campaign HQ of President Emmanuel Macron’s party, Renaissance.

The “day after,” said Attal, a candidate in the 10th constituency of Hauts-de-Seine in the Paris region and the face of the governing coalition’s campaign, had a bitter taste. On the first floor of the building, which was bought in the days when Macron’s party was triumphant, a giant screen counted down the days, hours and seconds to the second round of the elections, on July 7, which were supposed to see “the Republic” triumph.

“The atmosphere is heavy,” admitted the prime minister. The score obtained by the presidential bloc on Sunday evening came as no surprise. It was less disastrous than feared, despite coming in third, behind the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party and the left-wing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) alliance. Yet was this a cause for celebration? The situation is “chilling,” sighed Attal who, at 35, said that his “first political memory was the demonstration in 2002 against Jean-Marie Le Pen’s qualification to the second round of the presidential election. Hand in hand with my father.”

More than 20 years after that stunning moment, which gave rise to a republican front against the far right, Macron’s movement is in disarray, split over how to move against the RN, forgetting that the president was twice elected by taking advantage of the fear of Marine Le Pen’s party.

On Monday, Attal, next to the president, reminded his ministers that “not a single vote must go to the Rassemblement National.” Some of them, however, are going their own way. Ministers Bruno Le Maire (economy), Christophe Béchu (environment), Catherine Vautrin (labor and health) and Aurore Bergé (gender equality), all former members of the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) party, have been advocating a “neither-nor” approach – neither the RN nor La France Insoumise (LFI, radical left) – in the second round, at the risk of favoring the far right. It’s an affront, not only to the weakened president, but also at Attal, the leader of a majority that no longer exists.

The energy of despair

Attal feigned indifference, confident that those most concerned will, in the end, listen to him. The prime minister is fighting with the energy of despair. He outlined the ideal of a new, “plural” coalition in the Assemblée Nationale, combining the right, left and center, united against the RN: “There is,” he said wishfully, “among the LR, us and within some left-wing parties, probably a sense of responsibility, in the interests of the country, which will enable the Assemblée Nationale to function.”

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