What happens if Macron’s huge gamble doesn’t pay off?


In Europe, where modern politics sometimes moves slowly, shocks don’t come much bigger than this one. Emmanuel Macron dissolving parliament and calling elections, leaving one huge question hanging in the air – what happens next?

Macron is a man used to success. He started a political party in his 30s, won the presidency, and then won it again. When that’s your track record, defeat must feel savagely painful.

But this is an unpredictable – and perhaps impetuous – path that he’s taken. Because there’s a chance that it could lead to one of his most hated rivals being handed great power.

Macron clearly hopes that, as he sees it, France will come to its senses and turn its back on what he described as “extreme right” politicians.

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Macron’s shock snap election call

It’s hard to imagine why the nation would vote profoundly differently in an election in three weeks’ time, but that’s Macron’s hope.

But what if they don’t? What if the Rassemblement National (RN) do just as well, leading the way? Already the suggestion is that if the party’s European success is replicated at a domestic level, then that would compel Macron to offer the RN a place at the very top of the French cabinet – the role of prime minister.

Jordan Bardella, president of the French far-right National Rally. Pic: Reuters
Jordan Bardella, president of the French far-right National Rally. Pic: Reuters

Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella could soon take a key role within France's government. Pic: Reuters
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella could soon take a key role within France’s government. Pic: Reuters

Is that possible? Could Marine Le Pen or Jordan Bardella really be on their way to the second-biggest job in France?

More on Emmanuel Macron

It’s a question I put to one of Britain’s most experienced observers of European politics, Richard Corbett – an MEP for nearly two decades who ended up leading the Labour group in the European Parliament.

“It’s possible, yes,” he said. “I wonder if Macron thinks that, if the RN are bound to do well, then he’d rather have Prime Minster Le Pen serving under him while he is still president.

“That way, when we get the next presidential election in three years’ time, the gloss will have come off her. She will have made mistakes, and people will have seen her make mistakes.”

Pic: Reuters
Pic: Reuters

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But Le Pen is nothing if not politically astute. If the job is offered, she might yet decline and instead give it to Bardella, the 28-year-old who she has fast-tracked to being party president.

That way, she could help guide Bardella from behind the scenes while leaving herself unsullied by any political failure ahead of her next run for the presidency.

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Of course, if she won that – if the RN wave was still rolling – then the consequences would be enormous. The French president has huge power and enormous influence.

On economics, migration, the role of the EU, climate laws and a dozen other fundamental things, she would bring explosive change.

That is all for the future. Right now, France has a huge moment in front of it.

This is an election to the National Assembly, but it also feels like a referendum on Macron – once so popular, now trailed by antipathy. It’s a vote he called, and it’s one he probably won’t win. A huge, huge gamble.

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