“Weakening of the West”

Parliamentary elections in France end with victory for the Nouveau Front populaire (NFP). Foreign policy circles in Berlin anticipate political paralysis in Paris and call for Germany to take more “responsibility for leadership” of the EU.

PARIS/BERLIN (own report) – Responding to the unexpected outcome of the French parliamentary elections, influential German politicians predict a weakening of France and the European Union. In the second round of elections, held yesterday and dominated by tactical voting, none of the three major blocs won an absolute majority. Shortly after the polling stations closed, leading politicians from the Conservatives and the liberal-conservative presidential bloc Ensemble were quick to speak out against forming a coalition government with the left wing of the Nouveau Front populaire (NFP). They are shocked by the strong showing of La France insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed). But without a leftist component, no governing coalition can be envisaged for the time being. German foreign policy experts are warning that France faces “paralysis and division”; it will be incapable of decisive action. Macron could, they fear, even drag “the whole of Europe into crisis”. Germany must, some claim, now take more “responsibility for leadership in Europe”. CDU leader Friedrich Merz had previously said Berlin should cooperate with a future French government even under the Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement national (RN, National Rally). The fact that the second round of voting leaves the RN without a mandate to form a government in Paris now renders such calls irrelevant. Yet this position taken by the opposition in Berlin does show how far politicians will go in declaring once shunned forces on the far right to be potential coalition partners.

Blocs without a majority

In the parliamentary elections in France, none of the three major blocs – the Nouveau Front populaire (NFP, New Popular Front), the presidential bloc Ensemble, and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national (RN) – attained an absolute majority of 289 seats. Laurent Wauquiez of the conservative Les Républicains has ruled out any participation in a governing coalition. Yesterday evening he again fundamentally rejected “combinations” that have the aim of “bringing together unnatural majorities”.[1] And speaking for President Emmanuel Macron’s party, Renaissance, which is at the heart of the Ensemble bloc, Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné declared that he was ruling out any coalition with leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon “and a certain number of his allies”. Mélenchon is the leader of La France insoumise (LFI), which has emerged as the strongest party in the NFP. Any coalition with LFI deputies is also rejected by former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, who as leader of the party, a member of the presidential bloc Ensemble. Philippe stated that an “agreement to stabilise the political situation” could be reached “neither with the Rassemblement National nor with La France insoumise”.[2] And yet any coalition without LFI and Les Républicains is mathematically impossible.

“To a large extent politically paralysed”

As the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) put it before the first round of the parliamentary elections, if nothing changes in the policy commitments of the various parties, a stable government is not in sight for France. Paris could even end up “to a large extent politically paralysed”.[3] “A Macron 2.0 minority government” would “hardly succeed in achieving majorities for its political projects”. The president would then be forced to “act much more cautiously in European policymaking”, “shy away from really major reform initiatives, and vote for a Commission agenda that is more on the defensive”. Moreover, “the French debt crisis threatens to deepen.” France’s public debt has been “spiralling out of control for years”. In fact, the EU Commission only recently initiated disciplinary proceedings against France for running an excessive deficit. “Nervous markets will do the rest to bring France to the brink of insolvency,” predicts the SWP analysis: “So the EU will soon have to seriously address the question of joint liability for debts.”

“Europe in crisis”

The deputy chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Johann Wadephul, who is responsible for foreign policy, also struck a pessimistic note when speaking immediately after the first round of voting in France. Opposition Christian Democrat Wadephul warned that France would “not have a stable government”, and that the country could end up in a state of “paralysis and division”, unable to take decisive action for some years to come. “Macron is dragging the whole of Europe into crisis,” predicted Wadephul [4]: “What this means for Germany is that we must now assume even more responsibility for leadership in Europe.” Another CDU foreign policy expert, Norbert Röttgen, who sits on the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, also warned that if the RN did not win an absolute majority, France would face a situation of “ungovernability”. “The country is divided between right-wing and left-wing radicals, while the centre is in the minority,” observed Röttgen. “Macron has failed and is isolated.” Adding together “the behaviours of Macron and Biden”, the result is “a self-inflicted weakening of the West”. Röttgen, too, is demanding that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had to “finally show leadership”. Failure to do so would mean that “he was also contributing to the weakness of the West.”[5]

“Outstretched hand”

Contrary to many earlier predictions, the RN will not take power, even though it is by far the strongest single party in parliament, with 143 seats. The NFP and Ensemble are both multi-party party alliances. Despite its strength, the RN has no chance of forging a majority of any kind in the National Assembly in favour of its prime ministerial candidate Jordan Bardella. CDU chairman Friedrich Merz had said an “outstretched hand” should be extended to France even with an extreme right-wing prime minister. Berlin should, he argued “always make offers ... regardless of which government is in office”. But this approach to the far right is now pointless.[6] Merz said he was encouraged by the fact that the RN-dominated Identity and Democracy (ID) group in the European Parliament had excluded the AfD (Alternative for Germany). This would make cooperation between Germany and France somewhat easier, declared Merz on Wednesday with a view to a likely RN-led government in Paris. Gunther Krichbaum, European policy spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, had also raised the prospects of cooperation with an RN government. His reservation was that if Paris no longer accepted the supremacy of the European Court of Justice, talks could result in a “dead end”.[7] Krichbaum failed to mention any other red lines.

The new firewall

Merz’s willingness to cooperate with an RN prime minister is seen as a consequence of the CDU/CSU parties’ newfound openness to cooperation in the European Parliament with the Fratelli d’Italia, the party of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and with other members of the far-right Eurosceptic ECR group (European Conservatives and Reformists). In May, CDU politician and former health minister Jens Spahn declared that the “firewall” against parties with whom the German Christian Democrats want nothing to do now runs “to the right of Meloni’s party in the European Parliament”.[8] Spahn redefined this “firewall”, or cordon sanitaire as it is known internationally. It is apparently no longer a demarcation between democrats and the extreme right but rather a set of criteria for any potential cooperation partners: they “must be pro-European, pro-NATO, pro-rule of law, and pro-Ukraine”. Joining a common foreign policy front thus takes precedence over fundamental questions of how a party in power runs its country internally. Merz has also now placed the RN on the acceptable side of a “firewall” defined by foreign policy. However, it remains to be seen just how the RN – now freed from the constraints of government responsibility – will choose to operate within the European Parliament as the emboldened far right reorganises.[9]


[1], [2] En direct, résultats des législatives 2024. lemonde.fr 07.07.2024.

[3] Ronja Kempin: Frankreichs teure Wahlen: Ein Weckruf für die EU. swp-berlin.org 25.06.2024.

[4], [5] Paul-Anton Krüger: „Damit zieht Macron ganz Europa in eine Krise“. sueddeutsche.de 01.07.2024.

[6], [7] Nick Alipour: Merz: Deutschland müsste französischer Le Pen-Regierung die Hand reichen. euractiv.de 04.07.2024.

[8] Nick Alipour: Jens Spahn: „Die Brandmauer in Europa verläuft rechts von Meloni“. euractiv.de 21.05.2024.

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