“Nationalist revival across Europe”

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) becomes the strongest force in the parliamentary elections in France. In Berlin, government advisors point to parallels between Germany’s dominance in the EU and the rise of the RN.

PARIS/BERLIN (own report) – Advisors to the German government have pointed to a link between Germany’s dominance in the EU and the rise of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) in France. The RN has regularly warned that Germany wants to “achieve military dominance along with its economic dominance” and is therefore “deliberately weakening French positions.” This French response is highlighted in a policy paper by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). And the line of argument is catching on. Immediately before yesterday’s first round of voting in France’s snap parliamentary election, a leading RN strategist explained to the German public how his party would govern in the event of an election victory. A “break with the EU” should, he said, be avoided. The RN would strive for a “pragmatic” foreign policy and would not pursue a unilateral economic policy. However, the EU was, he argued, undergoing a wave of “nationalist revival”. The RN has now emerged as the strongest force in the first round of voting. The conservative Les Républicains expressly reject any election recommendations to stop the RN in the run-off. Meanwhile, the coalition around the presidential party Renaissance will, for its part, not enable candidates from the left-wing party La France insoumise (LFI, a key partner in the New Popular Front) to defeat the RN.

Strongest force

The Rassemblement National (RN, National Rally) was once again able to increase its share of the vote in the first round of the parliamentary elections yesterday, Sunday. While taking an 18.7 per cent share in the 2022 parliamentary elections, this time it has recorded 33.2 per cent, according to the latest projections. This outcome puts the far-right party well ahead of both the Nouveau Front populaire (NFP, New Popular Front), with 28.1 per cent, and the Ensemble coalition around President Emmanuel Macron’s own party Renaissance (RE), with 21.0 per cent. The conservative Les Républicains recorded 10 per cent. The rise of the RN is clearly reflected in its increase in absolute voting numbers, soaring from 4.2 million in 2022 to 11.9 million, according to preliminary projections. Shortly before midnight, the Ministry of the Interior in Paris had already listed 66 directly elected candidates (i.e. taking 50 per cent or more of votes in a constituency), 38 of whom belong to the RN. As for the rest, 21 are members of the hastily assembled NFP, while two come from the president’s Ensemble coalition.

“The danger is from the left”

The French go to the polls again next Sunday for the second round. It is uncertain whether the RN will be able to achieve its goal of winning an absolute majority of seats in the Assemblée Nationale. The decisive factor will be whether the voters of eliminated candidates decide for or against the RN, and whether candidates who have qualified for the run-off in third place voluntarily withdraw their candidacy in a push for a majority against the RN. In the first few hours immediately after the election, several leading politicians from various parties already stated their positions on this key choice. The NFP parties said that they would unconditionally call for the electorate to vote for remaining candidates who oppose the RN and would unconditionally withdraw third-placed NFP candidates. The conservative Les Républicains (LR) had a very different message. Their vice-president François-Xavier Bellamy refused to make any second-round voting recommendation. His party, he said, believed “in the conscience of the French”, not “in being able to dispose of their votes,” adding, “The danger that threatens our country today is from the extreme left.”[1]

“No vote for the extremes”

No clear position was adopted by Ensemble either. The coalition built around President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party made a statement saying that “everything” about the RN posed “an unacceptable threat that we must fight against”. Nevertheless, third-placed candidates should only withdraw in favour of candidates with whom they share “the values of the Republic”. And Ensemble claims some members of the NFP do not do so. The left-wing La France insoumise (LFI) party is, he alleges, known for “anti-republican exaggerations”.[2] Various politicians from Macron’s Renaissance party made statements on Sunday evening that clearly indicated a refusal to withdraw third-placed candidates in favour of NFP candidates from the LFI, even calling on the electorate to reject LFI politicians. Thus Renaud Muselier (Renaissance), who is President of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Regional Council, demanded that there should be “not a single vote in favour of the extremes,” albeit “starting with the Rassemblement National.”[3] Specifically, the president’s RE coalition has announced that it supports the candidature of François Ruffin, who is close to LFI but not a member, but would not support LFI candidate Raphaël Arnault. This means that Arnault, who is ten percentage points behind an RN candidate in his constituency, may now end up 16 percentage points behind an eliminated Renaissance candidate.

Meloni as a role model

Just before the election, Marine Le Pen’s chief political advisor, Philippe Olivier, described what can be expected in the event of an RN election victory. He sees the example of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s taking power in Italy as a model for the RN. Meloni comes from the Italian neo-fascist movement, but now presents herself and her party as moderate. Meloni is cooperating closely with the current and probably future European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.[4] In France, the potential RN prime minister Jordan Bardella would, it is said, also adopt a “pragmatic” stance in foreign policy, not least agreeing to support for arming Ukraine in line with NATO strategy. He also stated that he would entrust the leadership of France’s Ministry of Economy and Finance to a “competent and universally recognised personality”. This is just what Meloni did, appointing as finance minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, a politician who enjoyed “the trust of Mario Draghi”.[5] Olivier said that, like Meloni, the RN wanted “no break with the EU”. However, the RN would demand the right to nominate the French EU Commissioner. It would also further tighten EU measures against unwanted immigration. In particular, however, an RN election victory would strengthen the wave of “nationalist revival” sweeping Europe. Olivier’s prediction is that, “at some point ...  Germany will have to ask itself” whether it is not “recklessly driving in the wrong direction”.

Germany’s dominance

Even before the election, German policy advisors in Berlin had been pointing to a connection between Germany’s dominance in the EU and the rise of the far right in France. A recent policy brief by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) states that when the RN accuses the EU of “power creep” it often portrays Berlin as the “the puppet-master and profiteer of this development.”[6] Indeed, the RN has long been highlighting Germany’s “economic dominance”. During the 2017 presidential election campaign, Marine Le Pen accused Emmanuel Macron, when he was still economy minister, of “having done nothing about this dominance”. In the meantime, and especially since the start of the war in Ukraine, “German ambitions in foreign and security policy are also being discussed” in France. The DGAP authors find that “concerns” are being expressed in France that Germany wants to “achieve military dominance along with its economic dominance” and allegedly “deliberately weakening French positions”. It is true that Berlin constantly seeks to assert its interests against Paris (german-foreign-policy.com reported [7]). The DGAP advises with regard to the French elections that, “At the very minimum, any impression of German interference in French politics should most certainly be avoided.”


[1] Législatives: LR ne donne pas de consigne de vote pour le second tour. bfmtv.com 30.06.2024.

[2], [3] En direct, résultats législatives 2024. lemonde.fr 30.06.2024.

[4] See also: Europe shifting further right und Europe shifting further right (III).

[5] Michaela Wiegel: Wenn die Rechtspopulisten Frankreich regieren würden. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 29.06.2024.

[6] Jacob Ross, Nicolas Téterchen: Die Anti-Macrons. Frankreichs Rechtsaußen und ihre Vision der EU. DGAP Policy Brief No. 9. Berlin, 06.06.2024.

[7] See also: Deutsch-französische Konflikte and Schlechte Signale.