Please register to access this content.
To continue viewing the content you love, please sign in or create a new account
This content is for our paying subscribers only

Opinion Columnists


Macron’s high-stakes election gamble as populists surge in France

France’s future hangs in the balance as the nation braces for a crucial vote

French President Emmanuel Macron
Image Credit: Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call for a snap election is a high-stakes gamble, reminiscent of the political risks taken during the Brexit referendum.

Both Macron and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are trailing their rivals, which has cast doubt about the future direction of their respective countries. The French elections, in particular, highlight the shifting political landscape and the rise of populist forces on both ends of the spectrum.

Macron’s gamble comes at a time when his popularity may be waning. Polls indicate that his centrist policies are being overshadowed by the more extreme platforms of the National Rally (RN) on the right and the New Popular Front on the left.

These parties are gaining traction with promises that appeal to widespread public discontent but come with unrealistic economic plans.

Both French blocs advocate for reversing Macron’s unpopular pension reform, which raised the retirement age, despite France’s demographic and financial challenges.


Additionally, they are pushing for confrontations with Euro-area partners just when Europe needs unity to face global challenges.

Read more on French crisis

Complicating Macron’s position

The recent performance of the French economy adds to the uncertainty. The sell-off in French bonds and the loss of Paris’s status as Europe’s leading stock market indicate growing economic instability. This economic turbulence may worsen, further complicating Macron’s position.

For many, Macron’s call for a snap election appears almost suicidal. It was triggered by the unsettling success of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in the recent EU elections. Le Pen’s party, formerly known as the National Front, has a long history of controversy.

Macron’s strategy seems to hinge on the belief that the RN’s inability to govern effectively, if they were to win, would ultimately discredit them.


He anticipates that the harsh realities of governance would reveal the RN’s shortcomings and reaffirm his leadership as a necessary bulwark against extremism.

By allowing the RN the opportunity to falter, Macron hopes to position himself as the saviour of France, a leader who can protect the nation from the dangers of populist rhetoric.

A risky bet

However, this is a risky bet. The rise of populism is not confined to France; it is a global phenomenon. The dissatisfaction with traditional politics has led to the ascendancy of leaders and movements that challenge the status quo.

In this climate, Macron’s centrist policies may seem inadequate or out of touch with the concerns of ordinary citizens.

The situation in France reflects a broader trend where moderate voices are increasingly being drowned out by more extreme ones. This polarisation is pushing voters toward the fringes, making it difficult for centrist politicians to maintain their footing.


The promises made by populist leaders, though often impractical, resonate with voters who feel left behind by globalisation.

As France heads toward the elections, the outcome remains uncertain. Macron’s decision to gamble on a snap election could either reinforce his position or lead to a significant shift in French politics.

If the RN or the New Popular Front gain power, France may face a period of confrontation with its European partners.

While Macron’s snap election is a bold move that underscores the volatile nature of contemporary politics, the rise of populism, economic challenges, and the geopolitical tensions contribute to a complex electoral landscape.

Macron’s legacy, and indeed the future direction of France, hangs in the balance as the country prepares to vote.


Rachel Williams is a researcher and columnist, specialising in politics