French President Emmanuel Macron, during his televised address, in Paris, June 9, 2024.

“High-stakes gamble,” “playing with political fire” and “a referendum on the French government”. By declaring the dissolution of the Assemblée Nationale and scheduling early parliamentary elections for June 30 and July 7, French President Emmanuel Macron triggered an earthquake in French politics, the tremors of which have even been felt on the pages of the international press.

Across the Rhine, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition emerged weakened from the European vote, Die Zeit called the French president’s decision a “dangerous game.” “Has Emmanuel Macron gone mad? Has he lost his nerve and is he now handing his country over to Marine Le Pen? Or does the French president seriously believe he can succeed in doing over the next three weeks what he failed to do in recent years, namely halt the rise of the far-right?” the leading German political weekly asked.

While Die Zeit refers to the “crushing defeat” of the presidential camp (15.2% of the vote versus double that for the Rassemblement National [RN] list led by Jordan Bardella) and the Spanish daily El Pais describes an “electoral humiliation,” The Guardian characterizes the European election results as a “humiliating defeat” for the French president. In its editorial, the British daily expresses the opinion that Macron is “playing with political fire” by making a “surprisingly risky move,” the outcome of which will be closely watched by the Old Continent. “In the context of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine (…), Mr. Macron has been a vociferous and welcome advocate of a more powerful, united and assertive Europe. He has now chosen to take on Ms. Le Pen, who has a history of pro-Putin sympathies and yearns to disrupt the European Union from within (…). A fateful contest looms not just for France, but for the EU as a whole.”

Belgian daily Le Soir tries to frame the “huge coup de théâtre” as a desire on the part of the head of state to catch the RN off guard: “Emmanuel Macron is hoping that the RN won’t have time to find credible candidates throughout the country. He’s also banking on the divisions on the left [and] expecting an outcome that had proven very difficult in the fall,” highlighting the obstacles concerning the budget. Le Soir recalls that Macron had made assurances, before the election, that he would not draw any national lessons from the vote. “A very risky strategy. It’s hit or miss,” writes the Belgian newspaper in conclusion.

‘Three years of cohabitation will lead Le Pen to burn out’

As the international press has been grappling with the reasons behind Macron’s decision, the possible scenario of a ‘cohabitation,’ or power-sharing arrangement, has not escaped them. The influential liberal Turin daily La Stampa explores a strategy whose aim is to wear down the RN through participation in governance: “Three years of (exhausting) cohabitation between Macron and the far right will also lead Le Pen and her supporters to wear themselves out. To have to abandon their oppositional stance to adopt the often far more uncomfortable ones of responsible institutions.” The aim would also be to “protect the only man in whom Macron has any real confidence at the moment and in whom he could invest for the future, his young prime minister, Gabriel Attal,” with the 2027 presidential election in his sights.

This scenario is also taken up by Le Temps. In its editorial, the Swiss daily tries to understand the thinking behind Macron’s maneuver. Once it enters Matignon, the “incompetence [of the RN] would then be obvious, spectacular, undeniable. Since the last presidential election, the RN has essentially relied on discretion and avoided all controversy, even if it means hardly ever expressing itself on the substance of the most complicated issues.” It’s a cynical ploy that is “extremely damaging (…). Given an RN agenda deemed irresponsible, if only in budgetary terms, the price of this gamble could be enormous.” Referring to the popularity of former US president Donald Trump, Le Temps reminds us that having populists wield power is no guarantee of their future failure at the polls.

On the other side of the Atlantic, The Washington Post sums up Macron’s choice as “a high-risk bet,” with early legislative elections set to be a “referendum on the French government.” According to the influential US daily, France is “shaping up as an epic battleground between the West’s political center and its far right.” All this, with the Olympic Games approaching and the threat of terrorist attacks looming, against a backdrop of tensions with Russia.

As it happens, the leading Russian daily Izvestia places Macron’s choice in a historical context with the headline, “In the shadow of De Gaulle: The Parliament has been dissolved in France.” The newspaper explains that Macron’s decision to make the Ukrainian conflict a central issue in the Europe elections has done him a disservice. In Ukraine, The Kyiv Independent notes that “[Marine] Le Pen has had a mixed track record on Russia, having repeatedly supported Russia and President Vladimir Putin before the beginning of [the war]” and recalls her reference to Crimea’s “reattachment” to Russia, at a parliamentary committee in May 2023.

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Translation of an original article published in French on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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