The European elections have triggered a political earthquake in France. On election night, President Emmanuel Macron drew conclusions from the landslide victory of the right-wing populists and announced the dissolution of the National Assembly. Elections will take place at the end of June. The second round of voting is scheduled for July 7.

“In France, the far-right parties received almost 40 percent of the votes cast,” the president calculated. “I cannot pretend that nothing has happened,” said Macron in a brief, surprising televised address after the right-wing populist Rassemblement National (RN) had left the president’s pro-European list far behind with 31.5 percent of the vote.

Macron spoke of a “difficult, serious decision” but stressed that he trusted the French. He wanted “clarification” and listed what the European Union had achieved together in recent years. In view of his outstanding poll ratings, leading candidate Bardella had already called for new elections in advance. The president had so far rejected this. His decision was praised by the opposition as “courageous”.

The French presidential system is designed in such a way that Macron’s presidency is not in danger. However, polls in recent weeks and months see Le Pen’s party as the clear winner of a new election. If her party receives an absolute majority in the National Assembly, Macron would be forced to appoint Bardella as prime minister.

Macron may be hoping that the French are only trying to fire a warning shot with this election and that they will return to republican values ​​when things get serious. However, this could be a false assumption. There may also be a Machiavellian calculation behind it. It cannot be ruled out that Macron wants to expose the right-wing populists in a cohabitation, a forced political marriage. Three years before the next presidential election in 2027, in which he can no longer run, he may be counting on Bardella, who is only 28 years old, and his party colleagues from the RN not proving to be up to the task.

Since 2017, Macron had seen himself as a guarantor of preventing a victory for the right-wing populists. If he had to hand over the keys of the Elysée Palace to Le Pen after two terms in office and a decade in power, he would go down in history as a failed president.

With lead candidate Bardella, Le Pen’s party achieved the best result in its history in these elections. The French right-wing populists had already performed best in the two previous European elections. Last time, however, they only had a one percent lead over Macron’s list. This time, the president’s party alliance “Besoin d’Europe” came in a distant second place with 15 percent.

Bardella had announced that he would turn the European elections into a “referendum against Macron”, a French version of the American midterms. He succeeded. During the election campaign, the focus was only on national issues such as purchasing power; a European perspective was missing.

The French have accepted this offer and imposed harsh sanctions on the head of state and the government. The RN will receive 29 to 31 seats out of 81 and will seek a strong alliance with like-minded people in parliament. Le Pen spoke of a clear message. The French people no longer want this “technocratic, detached and increasingly brutal construction,” she wrote on X.

Just one point behind Macron’s pro-European list is Raphaël Glucksmann’s social-liberal alliance. The left-wing populist party La France Insoumise (LFI) received just under nine percent despite an extremely divisive, anti-Israel election campaign.

The French conservatives continued their decline and only received seven percent. The French Greens and the far-right party of Eric Zémmour, with Marion Maréchal as the leading candidate, each received just over five percent. The national-identitarian bloc of right-wing populists and far-right parties thus received a total of 37 percent in France.

Macron’s hope that the European elections were just a loud warning shot and that pro-European forces would have a majority in parliament could soon prove to be a fallacy.