France voted against the far right – but what could happen next?

A crowd in Paris reacts to the results of the second round of the election (AFP/Getty)
A crowd in Paris reacts to the results of the second round of the election (AFP/Getty)

For France’s latest left-wing coalition, it was mission accomplished – stopping Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party from taking power in the second and final round of voting in this parliamentary election.

To a lesser extent, the president, Emmanuel Macron, is also likely to say he was vindicated in calling a snap election in the wake of the large gains made by Le Pen’s party in European elections in June. Le Pen has been dealt a blow. An agreement between the leftist bloc, called the New Popular Front, and Macron’s centrist Together grouping meant that more than 200 candidates dropped out before the second round in an effort to prevent the vote against RN from being split.

It worked. Facing the prospect of the far-right party being the largest in parliament, which is what a strong RN showing in the first round had suggested, voters rejected Le Pen. The young leader of RN, Le Pen protégé Jordan Bardella, had been seen as a prime-minister-in-waiting, likely to be brought in alongside President Macron if RN took a grip on parliament.

That prospect now looks remote, with the left winning 182 seats in the 577-seat chamber, Macron’s centrist alliance 168, and Le Pen’s RN and allies 143, according to interior ministry data cited by newspaper Le Monde – although the final numbers will depend on which groupings some MPs join.

But it has come at a cost. France now faces an unprecedented period of instability. No party or grouping has anywhere close to the 289 seats required for an absolute majority in parliament. The current prime minister, Gabriel Attal, has offered his resignation, but Macron has asked him to stay on for now as there is no obvious candidate to replace him.

France now has a hung parliament made up of three blocs that all have very different agendas, and there is scant history of any of them working together. The centrists and the left may have banded together to try to see off RN, but there is little likelihood of broader cooperation as it stands. That may depend, though, on how long this political deadlock lasts. Macron’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, has warned that the most immediate risk facing France in its deadlocked state is “financial crisis and economic decline”.

Emmanuel Macron has three years remaining of his presidential term (AP)
Emmanuel Macron has three years remaining of his presidential term (AP)

Making clear just how difficult minority rule would be with the number of seats the left-wing alliance has, Sylvain Maillard, an MP for Macron’s Renaissance party, said: “It’s not possible to govern France if you don’t have 240 to 250 lawmakers.”

“I was president of the Renaissance group with a coalition of 250 members of parliament and it was already very complicated,” he told Politico. And with no new elections for a year under the terms of France’s constitution, the emphasis will be on finding a solution. MPs are already lining up to say that now is a time for leaders to take responsibility and ensure that France is not left in limbo.

But it will not be easy. The New Popular Front, as one example, was hastily put together to stop RN, and no mention was made during the campaign of who would be its candidate for prime minister. A number of the party leaders involved would be likely to throw their hats in the ring.

So what now? Some MPs have suggested an anti-RN coalition of the moderate left through to the centre-right. The obstacle to that would be the radical left party France Unbowed (LFI) – part of the New Popular Front coalition, which has the most seats in parliament.

LFI’s firebrand leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has dominated discussion around the alliance, has said that his party will only enter government to push through its own policies. But Macron’s centrist group finds some of LFI’s positions, particularly on tax and pensions, beyond the pale, and a radical left-wing PM would probably risk repeated no-confidence votes, likely spearheaded by RN. So any move would likely depend on whether Melenchon will compromise – not something he is known for – or whether the moderate left would move without him.

Asking Attal to stay suggests that Macron may favour some kind of caretaker government, but given that each of the three blocs (plus the centre-right, and other right-wing independents, who have around 60 seats) will feel that they have the right to implement parts of their agenda, that would probably not last long before breaking down. And any stopgap measures would be seized upon by both RN and the radical left as attempts to keep them from undertaking their political mandate.

More ad-hoc alliances around specific legislation are also possible, but Macron’s party had been forced into that since losing its own parliamentary majority in 2022 – and the results have been less than stellar.

This all points to a difficult process. “It’s not going to be simple; no, it’s not going to be easy; and no, it’s not going to be comfortable,” Green party leader Marine Tondelier told France Inter radio on Monday. “It’s going to take a bit of time.”