France Pulls Back from a Hard-Right Turn as the Left Consolidates


After the hard-right National Rally surged to the fore in the first round of a risky snap election in France late last month, candidates across a broad leftist spectrum united to defeat the Le Pen dynasty and spare the country from rule by a party that scapegoats immigrants, Jews, Muslims and gays.

A palpable sense of relief swept France and much of Europe as Sunday’s surprising results showed the success of the New Popular Front’s strategy of uniting parties from far left to center. Aiming to avoid splitting the vote against the far right, more than 200 candidates withdrew from races after National Rally won the most seats in the first round late last month and looked headed for a resounding win in Sunday’s finale.

The vote follows a crushing victory over the right last week in Britain, where newly anointed Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s Labour Party put an end to 14 years of chaotic Conservative leadership.

In another unexpected electoral outcome, the victory of reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian in Iran’s presidential vote last week is seen as an opportunity for improved relations between the Islamic Republic and the West. While Pezeshkian’s defeat of anti-Western hardliner Saeed Jalili raises hope of an easing of tensions between Tehran and Washington, the new Iranian political leader faces fierce opposition among Islamic clerics to any renewal of the nuclear deal scuttled by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. To have any hope of improved relations with Europe and the United State, Iran would have to cease support for its network of proxies fighting Israeli forces in Gaza and attacking international shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Fears of National Rally winning a majority of the French legislature’s 577 seats had the government girded for widespread protests and potential violence. More than 30,000 police were deployed throughout the country ahead of Sunday’s announcement of the returns, including 5,000 positioned around national monuments in Paris.

The leftist alliance cobbled together little more than a week ago inspired the largest turnout of voters in decades, according to France24 radio. Exit polls showed the New Popular Front on course to win 177-187 seats, with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble poised to take 152-163 and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and smaller allied far-right parties projected to capture 134-152 seats.

With no party or bloc anywhere near the 289 needed for an outright majority, the French government makeup now depends on coalition-building to avoid political gridlock with National Rally’s close third-place finish.

Macron dissolved parliament and called the snap election last month after far-right parties trounced his centrist bloc and other moderate parties in power across the continent in European Parliament elections. It was a gamble that many in Europe feared would further empower forces like National Rally, the far-right party with neo-fascist leanings previously dominated by Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie for decades. The European Parliament votes elevated other xenophobic nationalists in Eastern and Central Europe, notably Germany’s AfD and Austria’s Freedom Party.

Another worry for Europeans coinciding with the French vote was Hungary’s takeover of the rotating EU leadership on July 1. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban inaugurated his term with a visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, stirring outrage among other leaders of the 27-nation alliance that has been supportive of Ukraine’s defiance of Putin’s invasion. Orban aims to see European aid to Ukraine undercut and sanctions against Russia lifted, as well as attempts to scuttle vital climate protection programs and protection of the rights of immigrants and the LGBTQ communities. His six-month term is unlikely to achieve those aims with the far-right failure to take control of the government in Paris and add heft to the scattered anti-democratic forces in Europe.

The world’s democratic leaders breathed a sigh of relief after the French vote projections made clear National Rally had failed to secure a role in the next government.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk seemed to speak for the imperiled neighbors of Putin’s Russia with his assessment of the French far right’s defeat: “In Paris, enthusiasm, in Moscow, disappointment, in Kyiv, relief. Enough to be happy in Warsaw.”

The French left’s newfound power poses some worry among the EU and NATO allies for the New Popular Front’s divergent views from Macron’s in regard to the war in Gaza and unconditional support for Israel. As in the United States, political forces on the left are divided over the horrific toll of deaths and injuries among Palestinian civilians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unbridled attacks on the densely populated Palestinian enclave.

Jordan Bardella, a 28-year-old nationalist who was to be named prime minister if National Rally won a majority role in parliament, reacted bitterly to his party’s failure to win enough seats to be invited into a governing coalition. He accused Macron of “depriving millions of French people of the possibility of seeing their ideas brought to power.”

Macron and other heads of state and government of the 32-member NATO alliance gather this week in Washington for a crucial summit expected to focus on ensuring continued support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion as Putin aims to rebuild the Soviet empire that collapsed 33 years ago.

The allies also plan to try to “Trump-proof” their cohesion in defiance of Putin’s threats to expand his war into other former Soviet and formerly captive Eastern European states that are now members of the EU and NATO.

The former president has threatened to withdraw the United States from NATO if elected to a second term. He has also said he would refuse to defend other member states attacked by Russia unless they meet his demands for boosting their shares of monetary investment in the alliance that kept the peace in Europe for 77 years after World War II.

At the three-day Washington summit, NATO leaders will tackle the issue of how Europe can ensure its own security and prosperity without traditionally iron-clad defense commitments from the United States. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned the European alliance that it will be challenged to navigate “the forgotten harshness of the world” without strong U.S. backing.

NATO’s outgoing Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on the eve of the Washington summit that the United States would be repeating the failures of its security policy between the two world wars, when U.S. leaders turned their backs on the rising powers of fascism on the continent. “That was not a big success,” Stoltenberg, aid in a characteristic understatement. He will be succeeded as NATO chief by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte after the summit. 

The EU, one of the world’s major power blocs with 450 million citizens, has a collective GDP second only to the United States and 10 times that of Russia. Europe accounts for 55% of total investment in the United States, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Trump’s threats to reimpose US tariffs of 25% on EU steel exports and 10% on aluminum pose risks to the European bloc’s trade balance. Similar tariffs on auto exports threatened during his first White House term would likely become reality if he wins a second term in November.


Carol J Williams
Carol J Williams
Carol J. Williams is a retired foreign correspondent with 30 years' reporting abroad for the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press. She has reported from more than 80 countries, with a focus on USSR/Russia and Eastern Europe.


  1. Since the temporary center-left coalition to defeat the hard right is a coalition of people who basically detest each other, the national assembly will get nothing done and the hard right will come roaring back.

    There are genuine issues involving immigration & integrating immigrants and the pro-Hamas left won’t be able to do anything about those issues.

  2. Since Americans naturally view French politics through the lens of our own foreign policy, it is easy for us to overlook the concerns of the French electorate, which is unhappy about Macron’s changes to social programs, such as raising the retirement age by two years. The Left politicians aim to roll that back, an action which would worsen France’s fiscal debt problem — Macron remains adamant that it is necessary to maintain fiscal viability. Government debt now stands at over 3% of GDP, the threshold for sanction by the EU. And, of course, if coalition government means little change can occur, that could deepen French voters’ dissatisfaction and trust in government, and end up pushing otherwise centrist voters towards the Far Right.

  3. Yes just like in the US where the Democrats in charge would rather lose an election (2016) rather than allow a true Progressive win (Sanders) there will be a lot of Hand Wringing about the rise of the Left in France. Centrists like Macron, Biden, Clinton are good on some Social issues but Warmongers in the pockets of the Zionist Lobbyists and Free Traders. Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing. Viva La France!

  4. France’s two-round elections system and a fear of the Le Pen name have led to a few presidents and governments which haven’t thrilled the voters.

    In 2002, the second-round run-off for president was between conservative Jacques Chirac and, in an upset, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father and seen as even more xenopobic/extreme right than her. Leftists and centrists held their noses and voted for Chirac in the top-two runoff, for no other reason than to keep Le Pen senior out of office. (Note: If the first presidential election doesn’t result in a majority, the top two candidates advance to a runoff.)

    The same thing happened in 2017, where Marine Le Pen again advanced to the top two runoff, again surprisingly, versus neophyte Macron. Supporters of the conservative Le Pen upset to reach the runoff held their noses and threw their lot behind Macron, more to avoid a Le Pen presidency than anything Macron stood for.

    Chirac and Macron aren’t/weren’t necessarily liked by their domestic populace or other world leaders (Chirac notably drove George W. Bush crazy for not supporting the second Gulf War), but got their jobs because people thought whatever weaknesses they had were far more preferable than placing a Le Pen and their party in power.


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