France Prepares for a Deep Institutional Crisis

Politics - July 9, 2024

After his ruling alliance’s defeat in the European elections, Emmanuel Macron made a shock decision: to dissolve the National Assembly (the French parliament). Once this choice has been made, it is safe to say that the French president has opened Pandora’s Box, and it will be extremely difficult to close it again. After the results of the second round of the early parliamentary elections on the 7th of June, France is in free fall (the same can be seen to be happening with the euro against the dollar) and what will follow will plunge it further into chaos.  As can be seen, the domestic political situation in France is worse than before the 9th of June. The National Assembly that Macron dissolved creates incomparably fewer problems in governing the country than the current National Assembly. President Macron can be more jokingly or more seriously called the fireman on duty who, after setting fire to the house, was also the one who put out the fire but half of the house was been destroyed by the flames.  

Electoral systems in France and the UK are not the political mirror of society

In the French and British democracies, the will of the people is one thing and the order of the electoral systems is another. So the distortions that both the British and French electoral systems have produced these days are huge.  The two parliaments are by no means a mirror of the political will of English or French society, but are rather images artificially fabricated by the two countries’ own electoral systems. If France and Great Britain had proportional representation, as in most European countries, we could easily guess what would have been the situation in the parliaments of Paris and London.

If the UK elections are to be taken as an example, 33.7% of Britons supported Labour, which won around 65% of the representation in the House of Commons, while the Conservatives and Reform UK (right and far right) were voted for by 38% of voters in total, unfortunately winning far fewer seats (Labour – 421 seats compared to Conservatives and Reform – 126 seats).


In the first round of France’s early legislative elections, called after President Macron’s decision to dissolve parliament, the far-right Rassemblement National came a distant first with 33.2-33.5% of the vote. In second place was the New Popular Front (28.1-28.5% of the vote) and in third place the center-right bloc Ensemble, with 21-22.1% of the vote.

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) was the most voted party in the second round, with 10.1 million votes, or 37.1%. The New Popular Front (NFP), the left-wing alliance with 7 million votes received 26%. The Ensemble, of President Emmanuel Macron’s 6.3 million votes, has accumulated 24.7%. However when it comes to seats in the National Assembly the order is reversed. Thus Rassemblement National – 143 seats, Ensemble – 161 seats and the New Popular Front will have 182 seats. An absolute majority in the lower house of the French parliament requires at least 289 out of 577 seats.

Emmanuel Macron’s centrist bloc Ensemble came first in the 2022 elections without an absolute majority, although it came very close to holding the much-desired absolute majority. After the recent elections, Ensemble is the second party in terms of seats. The Rassemblement National, by far the most voted party with 37.1%, has grown enormously in the last 2 years.  From 89 seats in 2022 the RN now has 143 seats.  Well for a political stability in France, the only chance for a balanced government would be for the New Popular Front to disintegrate and form a centrist coalition around Ensemble, a coalition not of the Undoubted France (LFI, radical left) and the Communist Party, but a coalition with Les Républicains ( LR – center-right Republicans).

All of Europe has been watching the French elections

Ahead of the second round of early French elections, the entire European political class held its breath. The election result could have created a real earthquake that would have collapsed the political future of both France and the European Union. In an election whose political stakes were unprecedented in the history of the Fifth Republic Marine Le Pen’s party, the Rassemblement National, came close to winning again after defeating the left-wing alliance, the Nouveau Front Populaire and Macron’s party in the first round. 

What was new in the second round of the French parliamentary elections? Well, it is already abundantly clear: the first effect of the result is that the role of President Macron as the driving force of European integration has been considerably diminished. A second effect is that the National Assembly is deadlocked, raising the risk that France is almost ungovernable. 

With France considered the European Union’s second-largest economic power, officials in Brussels feared that if the Rassemblement National had won, Macron, a staunch pro-European, would have to cohabit with a Eurosceptic government and a National Assembly without a majority (made up of coalitions between widely divergent formations or alliances on a case-by-case basis) would deprive the French president of a government fully committed to his policies. The election results have prompted Olivier Faure, leader of the Socialists, to announce that he is against a government alliance with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist camp. Faure also called for France to be modernized, including massive investment in climate action.

“There should not be a coalition of opposites continuing Macron’s policies. The rich should also be taxed more heavily,” said Olivier Faure.

In the next parliament, no alliance currently stands a chance of winning an absolute majority of 289 seats, regardless of the paper calculations. Social Democrat Raphael Glucksmann, who was the French Socialists’ main candidate in the European elections, said majorities could be formed in the National Assembly in the future for individual projects.

Five scenarios for forming the French government 

The first scenario would be a government formed by the NFP. The NFP is the largest political force in the new National Assembly with 180 deputies. In the absence of an absolute majority, La France insoumise (LFI, radical left) leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has announced that he would be willing to support an NFP government on condition that it imposes part of his party’s program (increase in the minimum wage, price cap, repeal of the pension reform – by decree). 

The second scenario is an Ensemble – LR government. An alliance with the LR would allow Macron’s party to stay afloat. 231 Ensemble, LR, various right-wing or UDI MPs were elected in the National Assembly. Even if an agreement is reached, the next French government could fall in a no-confidence motion.

A coalition government on the German model would be the third possible scenario. In Germany, parties with different ideologies often come together after the election result to form a majority. Socialists and conservatives have governed together and in recent years together with environmentalists. The Ensemble Ensemble-PS-LR coalition would have 296 MEPs, a short majority. This would be a first for the French government, as such a coalition has never been implemented in the Fifth Republic.  Moreover the NFP parties have ruled out this scenario since election night.

The fourth scenario for the new government remains the scenario of a technocratic government. It would be made up of experts – economists, senior civil servants, diplomats, led by a consensus personality.

The last scenario after Sunday’s elections is that of an institutional crisis. A technocratic government would always be under threat of a no-confidence motion by the NFP, LR or RN.  If none of the four listed scenarios takes place, France enters a deep institutional crisis.  In that case Macron cannot dissolve the National Assembly until July 2025. 

“If there is no majority, the way out of the impasse is for Emmanuel Macron to leave. It’s normal, he is to blame for the mess,” former presidential election candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon said ahead of the second round. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon then invoked a historical reference, that of the left-wing cartel of 1924. Back then the leftist coalition managed to get President Alexandre Millerand to resign, after Millerand had dismissed all governments in a chain. A day after dissolving the assembly, Macron said he ruled out tendering his resignation “whatever the outcome” of the early legislative elections he called.

Procedure for being elected to the French National Assembly

The procedure for being elected to the French National Assembly involves an electoral system based on a first-past-the-post, two-round first-past-the-post system. How does the French electoral process work? 

A candidate must fulfill the legal conditions to aspire to a seat in the National Assembly. Candidates must be French citizens, must be at least 18 years of age on the date of the election, and must not have been deprived of their civil and political rights by a court decision. French law also lays down certain restrictions on the accumulation of mandates. This means that certain elected officials cannot hold more than one elected mandate at the same time.  Certain persons are not eligible to stand as candidates, including members of the Constitutional Council, magistrates and civil servants in certain positions (unless they are duly suspended from office). France is divided into 577 electoral constituencies, each of which has one deputy in the National Assembly and any French citizen who fulfills the legal conditions listed above can run for a seat in the National Assembly. The first round of French parliamentary elections is by direct vote. If a candidate obtains more than 50% of the votes in the first round and the number of votes is equal to or greater than 25% of the total number of voters on the electoral roll, he or she is declared the winner and a second round is not necessary. If no candidate meets the conditions to win in the first round, a second round is organized. In the second round, all candidates who have obtained at least 12.5% of the votes of registered voters participate. If no candidate has obtained this percentage, only the top two candidates from the first round participate in the second round. The candidate who gets the most votes in the second round is declared the winner. Elected deputies serve a five-year term, unless the National Assembly is dissolved early.