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EU Election, Day 3: Macron battles Le Pen for victory in France (again)

In 2017, France had one of its most contentious Presidential elections in recent times. Former Socialist Party Minister of Finance Emmanuel Macron (LREM-ALDE) was pitted against the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen (RN-ENF/EAPN) in the second round, defeating her decisively. Now, two years on, the two are competing once again to come out on top, this time in the European election. Le Pen with her National Rally (EAPN) and Macron with his La Republique En Marche (ALDE).

In the previous election En Marche had not yet come into being, and it was the National Rally (then known as the National Front) who came out on top with 24 seats. This time the National Rally looks set to lose two seats and get a lower share of the vote than in 2014. Nevertheless, the result would be an embarrassment for Macron personally, since he has drawn much of its support from his opposition to Le Pen and the National Rally along with other right-wing populist parties in Europe.

En Marche is projected to finish just behind the National Rally with 21 MEPs. Macron has campaigned vigorously for this election, part of the French Presidentโ€™s wider European policies, focused on reforming the EU and counteracting the rise of parties like the National Rally. Macron seems to be expecting an electoral defeat, avoiding En Marcheโ€™s final rally in Paris amid expectations that turnout will be well under 50%. With polls also indicating 70% of 18-34-year olds will abstain, Macron seems to have failed to mobilize his base.

Unsurprisingly, considering his very low approval ratings and general political disillusionment in France. His brand of liberal centrist politics worked well in opposition to Marine Le Pen in the 2017 election but has not helped him build a broad base of support for his ambitious reform programme since.

In third the centre-right Republicans (EPP), which have shifted right in an attempt to win back some of their votes lost to the National Rally, are expected to win 12 MEPs, far less than the 20 they won in 2014. The Republicans came second in that election, and while they are certainly going to lose many seats, their result compares favourably with that of the Socialist Party (S&D), which could be headed for electoral oblivion.

With the rise of Macronโ€™s liberal En Marche party and the popularity of parties to the left of the Socialists, the Socialist Party could miss out on the European parliament entirely. While we do project the Socialists to enter the EU parliament with 4 seats, it will be very close. France has a 5% threshold for the allocation of seats to the EU parliament and the Socialists have been polling dangerously close to that threshold. They have a 50-50 chance of missing out entirely, which (if they did) would be the first time in the partyโ€™s existence that it would fail to win a seat in a national or European election.

Capitalizing on the partyโ€™s dramatic decline is the left-wing populist Unsubmissive France (GUE/NGL), led by former Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melanchon. The party is set to come fourth with 8 seats, taking its place in the EU parliament as the strongest left-wing party in France. The Green Party, EELV (Greens/EFA), will also benefit from the Socialistsโ€™ decline, winning 7 seats and possibly even surpassing Unsubmissive France to become Franceโ€™s fourth largest party in the EU parliament. Unsubmissive France will be entering the EU Parliament for the first time, while the Greens are looking to add to the 6 they already won in 2014.

The European election in France is emblematic of several wider trends in Europe. The traditional centre-right and centre-left parties have been dramatically overtaken by new and more radical parties. The National Rally will likely come out on top, but it is worth noting they won the last EU election by a greater margin, so relatively their support will probably decline. Macronโ€™s En Marche may not win the election, but they will become one of the strongest parties in the EU parliament.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe (ALDE) group in the EU parliament will be one of this electionโ€™s biggest winners, and En Marcheโ€™s strength in France will be a major contributor. What may be a national embarrassment for Macron will still give him a strong voice in Europe as the biggest liberal party in what will probably be the third largest European grouping.

The same can be said for the National Rally though, which will find itself among the strongest parties in an enlarged right-wing grouping, the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN), which is set to become the fourth largest group. Thanks to the rise of right-wing populists in the EUโ€™s largest member states such as Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, the National Rally will have a leading role in what will possibly be the largest opposition grouping.

Though turnout in France is low, it is not as low as many of the European Unionโ€™s newer members, and the plethora of polling data for France leaves little room for surprises. The biggest question will be whether or not the Socialist Party makes the threshold, because if they donโ€™t those seats will be picked up by the remaining five parties.

(Edited by Euan Healey)

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