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Why France’s Macron called snap election after far-right victories in Europe

The European Parliament vote was not quite the far-right sweep that some in the mainstream had feared, however.

The center-right won in Germany and did well enough elsewhere to increase their general dominance of Europe’s legislature. Meanwhile the center-left bloc largely held firm.

“We are the anchor of stability,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the E.U. Commission, told supporters of her center-right group in Brussels. “This is a great message to all of us.”

Scandinavia bucked the trend of rightwing gains, with populists losing ground in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. However, liberal, green and leftist parties continent-wide took a hammering at the expense of the nationalist right.

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany, or AFD, weathered a string of pre-election scandals to overtake Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats as the country’s second largest party in Europe.

Italy’s far-right Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, doubled its seats in the assembly. 

But by far the biggest upheaval came in France, where National Rally was projected to get around 32% of the vote, versus 15% for Macron’s Renaissance party.

Macron calls snap vote in France
Macron made the announcement during a televised speech.Ludovic Marin / AFP – Getty Images

Though Le Pen leads the party, its European efforts were spearheaded by far-right posterboy Jordan Bardella, 28

“Tonight, our compatriots have expressed a desire for change,” said Bardella. “Emmanuel Macron is tonight a weakened president.”

The president quickly called a legislative election to be held across two rounds on June 30 and July 7. Bardella, the rising star of French politics, will be Le Pen’s candidate for prime minister.

It adds to an already packed summer for France, the latter date coming less than three weeks before it hosts the Olympics.

IOC President Thomas Bach said there would be no issue, but Paris’ socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo said calling a ballot so close to the marquee sporting event was “unsettling.”

The position of the French president himself will not be put to a vote. He has three years still left on his term after a convincing defeat of Le Pen in 2022. But he risks handing her party power in the French legislature.

This could mean a messy and combative period of power-sharing between centrist Macron and his far-right rival — hampering a man eager to be seen as Europe’s de facto world leader.

Macron hopes that — when confronted with Le Pen’s policies in a domestic election — voters will reject them and thus nix the far-right’s momentum, according to Rahman at Eurasia Group.

“Calculated risk or mad gamble?” Rahman said. The stakes are high and Macron’s gambit could easily backfire, he added. “France is restless.”

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