French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a national statement at the World Climate Action Summit.
President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that he was confident French voters would make the "right choice" in snap elections he called after the far right crushed his centrist alliance in Sunday's EU ballot. Image Credit: Reuters

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to plunge his country into a snap election was taken behind closed doors with a few advisors after a worse-than-expected drubbing in European elections, sources close to him say.

“It took everyone off-guard,” one person close to Macron, asking not to be named, said of his dissolution of parliament for a new vote on June 30 and July 7.

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In the weeks heading up to the EU Parliament vote, the centrist leader “didn’t believe the polls” showing the far-right National Rally dominating his Renaissance outfit, the source added.

A stronger result on the day could have let Macron limp a little further with his minority government, perhaps waiting out this summer’s Olympic Games or even until fierce autumn debates on next year’s budget.

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Predecessors including Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac had in the past weathered European election defeats.

But in the event, the surveys proved chillingly accurate for Macron.

The National Rally raked in over 31 percent of votes, with total support for far-right parties amounting to almost 40 percent - against just 14.6 percent for the ruling coalition led by his Renaissance party.

Macron decided against “acting as if nothing had happened,” a person who regularly visits him at the Elysee Palace said.

In choosing the response, “a government reshuffle wouldn’t have been a strong enough signal and a referendum would have been beside the point,” they added.

‘No other way’

By the weekend Macron’s entourage were suggesting a “strong political move” could follow the European election result.

Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne - who is also general secretary of Renaissance - had been working on the snap election scenario for weeks with a few advisors.

“Macron brought it to maturity over the weekend, until he was saying to himself that there’s no other way,” one minister said.

By contrast, France’s youngest-ever prime minister, Gabriel Attal, in post for just a few months, was kept in the dark.

The 35-year-old was “not especially willing” to go to the nation, another minister said.

National Assembly speaker and Macron camp heavyweight Yael Braun-Pivet tried to talk the president out of dissolving parliament when he made his last-minute announcement.

There are divisions in Macron’s camp over whether he ever gave talks with moderate conservative and socialist opposition parties a real chance.

“There was another way”, Braun-Pivet said publicly on French TV Monday, suggesting he could have sought a “coalition” in the existing chamber.

‘Under constant threat’

Other members of “La Macronie” backed the president to the hilt.

“After a shock like this, the president has chosen to take back control rather than get bogged down and allow the RN to prosper,” said the head of the faction of pro-Macron deputies in the upper house Senate, Francois Patriat.

Without a lower-house majority, “we’ve been under constant threat of a censure motion, of the country being blockaded, at some point a decision had to be made,” added one minister, asking not to be named.

Now it is up to Macron to show that he can achieve a turnaround in just three weeks between the European and national votes.

One senior lawmaker said the parliamentary poll was “no longer an election that’s an excuse to rebuke” the government, but one “with real consequences”.

Party chief Sejourne said it was time to “decide the economic, political and geopolitical line” France will take in the coming years.

He, his colleagues and the president hope that will sap the RN in favour of moderate parties.

Macron himself made “trust in the people” the keystone of his TV address announcing the election - at the risk of offering voters a new “anti-Macron referendum”, one person close to him said.

Renaissance believes that divisions on the left could play out in their favour, after an alliance of progressive parties broke apart over differences about the Israel-Hamas war.

And as a last resort, perhaps all “republican” parties could be persuaded to unite to keep a strengthened far right out of power, they hope - albeit based on few signals from mainstream conservatives and socialists they would play along.