How Emmanuel Macron lobbed a grenade at the hard-Right and blew up French politics

how emmanuel macron lobbed a grenade at the hard-right and blew up french politics

Emmanuel Macron during the press conference over early parliamentary elections on Wednesday - Blondet Eliot/ABACA/Shutterstock

It is a picture that will go down in the annals of French political history.

Taken from behind Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace, the black and white photograph captures the moment the French president told his cabinet he was dissolving parliament and calling snap elections.

Shock, resignation and anger are etched onto the faces of those present, including that of Garbiel Attal, Mr Macron’s ascendant prime minister who like many of his MPs could soon be out of a job.

“You can feel the contempt in Gabriel Attal’s eyes,” said Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, a specialist in political communication and lecturer at Sciences Po. “The emotions running through the characters are sincere, violent and negative.”

“France’s youngest-ever prime minister understands that he has reached the pinnacle of his career at the age of 35, and that it’s over,” noted Gaspard Gantzer, ex-Socialist president François Hollande’s former communications adviser.

But even then, Mr Macron’s cabinet could not have anticipated the turmoil that the president’s decision would unleash in the week that followed.

how emmanuel macron lobbed a grenade at the hard-right and blew up french politics

The black and white photograph that captured the moment the French president told his cabinet he was dissolving parliament

Mr Macron himself reportedly said that Sunday’s extraordinary announcement, moments after his crushing European election defeat to Marine Le Pen’s RN party, led by her 28-year-old dauphin Jordan Bardella, was an act of political arson designed to upend French politics.

‘I threw my unpinned grenade at their feet’

“I’ve been planning this for weeks, and I’m thrilled,” he told an Elysée confidant on the sidelines of an event commemorating a Nazi massacre on Monday morning, according to a report in Le Monde. “I threw my unpinned grenade at their feet. Now we will see how they get on…”

The French president’s metaphor was apt. Since Sunday’s extraordinary announcement, the French Right has imploded while the Left has formed an unlikely and precarious alliance.

Mr Macron’s gambit has set up a battle for the soul of France that could see the hard-Right return to govern the country for the first time since the Second World War.

It was a small clique of the President’s closest advisers, including his eminence grise Alexis Koehler and influential “heritage adviser” Bruno Roger Petit, who, unbeknownst to his ministers, spent weeks working out the plan, some say with the help of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Their logic appears implacable.

how emmanuel macron lobbed a grenade at the hard-right and blew up french politics

French Prime minister Gabriel Attal during a campaign trip, as a left wing union supporter holds a placard reading 'Popular Front' - LOIC VENANCE

After two years hamstrung by a lack of parliamentary majority, the elections on June 30 and July 7 will end what Mr Macron calls an extremist “fever” afflicting French politics. The rationale echoes Charles de Gaulle’s famous appeal to voters to halt “le chienlit”, or mess, of the May 1968 Left-wing street revolt.

The theory is that the French will come to their senses and rid the nation of what Mr Macron has dubbed “far-Right demagoguery” which captured 40 per cent of the vote on Sunday.

“The clarification of the political landscape that the President called for on Sunday evening is in the process of taking place. In chemistry, we call this precipitation”, one satisfied aide remarked.

‘Macron wanted to blow up France’s political landscape’

Political journalist Francois-Xavier Bourmand of L’Opinion said: “When he was elected in 2017, Macron wanted to blow up France’s political landscape by replacing the traditional Left-Right split with conservatives versus progressives.

“Dissolution is an attempt to finish what he started in extremely brutal manner,” he told the Telegraph.

“More prosaically, Macron also knew he was heading for a no confidence motion this autumn over the budget and that his government would likely fall anyway. So he chose dissolution rather than having it imposed upon him.”

The prospect explains why “the master of the clocks”, as Mr Macron likes to be called, told stunned ministers: “It is better to write history than to submit to it.”

So much for the theory.

Many from within his own alliance are furious at a ‘coup de poker’ they fear will likely lead to legislative Armageddon.

‘Many people are stunned and bewildered’

Arnaud Michel, who ran for MEP in Mr Macron’s camp and is a member of the allied Horizon party of ex-prime minister Edouard Philippe, was scathing.

“Many people are stunned and bewildered. RN clearly has the wind in its sails and will campaign on placing Jordan Bardella as prime minister,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

“I am doubtful that the electoral dynamic will change in the space of three weeks compared to the EU vote, which had nothing to do with European issues and was fought and won on national considerations.”

The legislative elections risk being another referendum against the President, he warned. “I can tell you from personal experience his name was not welcome when I canvassed at markets.” Many legislative candidates from his camp have already indicated he will not feature on their campaign tracts.

He also warned that Mr Macron’s “project fear” approach to the Le Pen camp, including claims the markets will collapse should it win power due to its hugely costly programme was increasingly inaudible.

how emmanuel macron lobbed a grenade at the hard-right and blew up french politics

French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party leader Marine Le Pen - FRANCOIS GREUEZ/SIPA/Shutterstock

“The threat that they will arrive with jackboots and the sky will fall in no longer works.  I come from the Pas-de-Calais region where towns run by RN can see that has not been the case, on the contrary people are voting for them more and more.

On Friday, finance minister Bruno Le Maire, warned that an RN victory would spark a financial crisis in the euro zone’s second-largest economy due to its untenable pledges to cut electricity prices, VAT on gas, and increase public spending.

“The economic argument doesn’t work that well either. Yes there will be certain number of market shocks if they win, but history has shown when you look at Georgia Meloni or Liz Truss, markets force governments to act a certain way. RN will likely be in a coalition with certain conservatives who will refuse to let the economy go to the dogs,” said Mr Michel.

Already, the Macron plan appears to be going awry.

If anything, Ms Le Pen’s anti-immigrant party is gaining ground, polls have shown, as voters shun Mr Macron’s warnings of disaster if it comes out in front in the legislative ballot.

The Rally is on course to increase its parliamentary seats from 88 at present to 220 to 270 seats in the National Assembly, a survey by Elabe for the news channel BFMTV suggested. That is close to the 289 seats that would give it an absolute majority, forcing Mr Macron to ask it to govern in “cohabitation” with his presidency - and turning him into a lame duck.

Mr Macron’s centrist Renaissance bloc would be further weakened and overtaken by a revived alliance linking the centre-Left Socialist party, the radical Unbowed France, the Greens and the Communists, the survey showed.

To reach power, Ms Le Pen and Mr Bardella, her campaign leader, are seeking an alliance with parts of the stricken Republicans party, the closest France has to the Tories and heir to the conservative movement founded by Charles de Gaulle.

Squeezed between Mr Macron’s centrist bloc and Ms Le Pen’s Rally, the Republicans’ leadership this week collapsed after Éric Ciotti, its chief, announced a pact with the Rally without telling colleagues. They united to fire Mr Ciotti, 58, a hard-line MP from Nice long the Right’s “Mr Security” and who once called for a Guantanamo à la française for convicted terrorists still deemed a security threat.

The politburo expelled him from the party, but he has refused to go. He turned up for work at party headquarters in central Paris on Thursday and said the courts would rule on the “illegal” decision to oust him by party heavyweights including Senate leader Gérard Larcher.

Arguing that he was in tune with the party faithful who wanted an alliance with the Rally, Mr Ciotti said his colleagues were “far out of touch with reality when they hammer on about the ‘dangers of fascism’.”

how emmanuel macron lobbed a grenade at the hard-right and blew up french politics

An electoral poster of the French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party - JOEL SAGET

On Friday night, the meltdown on the Right continued after a Paris court annulled his exclusion, leaving it unclear who is in control of the party of Chirac and Sarkozy.

As the power struggle dragged on, Ms Le Pen - who is gunning for the presidency in 2027 and wants Mr Bardella to run the government - confirmed that her party was preparing a “national unity” cabinet with experienced conservatives from outside its ranks. Mr Bardella said the Rally would field joint candidates with LR in “70 constituencies” but for now it is unclear who they are.

Like Mr Ciotti, Ms Le Pen’s niece Marion Marechal has sought to capitalise on the RN’s rising popularity and has been striving for a formal alliance for her the Reconquest party since the snap election call on Sunday.

But Eric Zemmour, the television pundit who founded the party in 2021, was clearly shocked when she announced the plan live on Television.

“Let’s put the interests of France before those of the party,” she said.

An incensed Mr Zemmour later said his vice president had “beaten the world record for betrayal”.

A ‘New Popular Front’

In a bigger blow to the Macron camp, the French Left has miraculously set aside vitriolic splits over Europe, Ukraine and the Middle East that festered during the EU elections to forge a “New Popular Front” – a nod to the pre-war Left-wing alliance to keep out fascist sympathisers.

On Wednesday, Mr Macron depicted its most radical member, Unbowed France, as a “dangerous” threat equal to Ms Le Pen but such scaremongering has gained little traction. The Elabe poll showed the Left-wing front on 28 per cent of voting intentions, compared with 31 per cent for the Rally and 18 per cent for Mr Macron’s Renaissance.

Unbowed France, or LFI, and its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 72, a fiery Trotskyite who admires Hugo Chavez and who refused to call Hamas a terrorist organisation, has the largest Left-wing group in parliament but its presence in the coalition is a bugbear to many in the moderate Socialist party.

Mr Macron slammed the new alliance as “unnatural, baroque and indecent”. He wondered, he said, how its voters would square LFI’s support for Gaza, their antisemitism, hostility to the EU and Nato, and approval of President Vladimir Putin with the Socialists’ pro-EU and pro-Ukraine stance.

However, that line of attack was seriously dented when Raphael Glucksmann, a former political journalist and film director whose Socialist-backed Place Publique group came third in EU elections, threw his weight behind the Left-wing alliance on Friday.

“We can’t leave France to the Le Pen family,” Mr Glucksman, 44, son of a French philosopher,” he told broadcaster France Inter.

The new coalition was the “only way” to prevent a “far-Right victory” in the forthcoming polls, he said, reassuring his electorate that a more consensual figure than Mr Mélenchon would be picked as prime minister.

how emmanuel macron lobbed a grenade at the hard-right and blew up french politics

French protests against the far-right parties' significant gains in European Parliament elections turned violent on Saturday - Anadolu

One person alone was responsible for plunging France “into chaos, he went on, and “that is Mr Macron”.

“He has opened the way to power for the far-Right. Since Sunday night, I’ve had a knot in my stomach.

Then on Saturday, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of French cities to march against the rising hard-Right, Mr Hollande, the former president, said he would stand again – a political comeback that took even his allies on the left by surprise.

Mr Hollande left office with record levels of unpopularity and is detested by some within the radical left, while even the Socialist leadership regard him with suspicion. But he will nevertheless stand as an MP for the southwestern Correze department for the New Popular Front.

“An exceptional decision for an exceptional situation,” Mr Hollande said of his comeback.

But even as Mr Hollande joined the fray, LFI appeared to be sliding towards the same chaos that has riven the Right amid allegations of a “purge” of members who criticised its leadership.

With chaos unfolding across the political spectrum, Mr Macron remained defiant at this week’s G7 summit in Italy, insisting that his counterparts had praised his move.

“They all said: ‘This is courageous’”, said Mr Macron.

Courage or political suicide, France will find out on July 7.

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