Posted on June 20, 2024

France Is on the Brink of All-Out Civil Conflict

Anne-Elizabeth Moutet, The Telegraph, June 15, 2024

As some 500,000 Left-wingers marched in France’s cities yesterday, shouting anti-Fascist slogans, never had Lenin’s phrase seemed more apposite: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

Upended by Emmanuel Macron’s decision last week to call a snap election after the hard-Right National Rally won over a third of the vote in the European elections, French politics is now in a state of chaos. Macron deliberately chose the shortest constitutionally-compatible timeline, with a first round to be held on June 30, and the runoff on July 7.

Defiance, hostility and suspicion reign between adversaries, but also among so-called allies, forced by circumstances into unnatural coalitions. Parties that have just finished competing for voters in a proportional representation system now face a first-past-the-post contest, and have spent last week frantically cobbling together alliances.

The Left-Green alliance, calling itself the New Popular Front, coalesced under the leadership of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). Its European election campaign focused on Gaza in a naked bid for votes from the young and the banlieues. They flew more Palestinian flags than French ones (and quite a few from former French colonies like Algeria and Tunisia, with explicit anti-French slogans), and more than one march ended in violence.

Now, in an election where local factors matter in each constituency, the Palestinian slogans and keffiyehs have miraculously vanished: the NPF is battling “fascism at our door”. The official party platform published on Friday is even more extreme than ever, calling for the suspension of EU treaties with Israel and taxes on everything.

There will be “kilometric taxes” on imported goods proportional to distance travelled, a reinstatement of the wealth tax, an inheritance cap, a lower pension age, higher minimum wage and more benefits paid to all, but most of all to the migrants who must be “properly welcomed”. It is an ideal document for the National Rally to campaign against.

Into this mess stepped former socialist president François Hollande, who was pushed out by his economy minister, one Emmanuel Macron, in 2017. He announced yesterday that he was standing in his old Central France constituency of Corrèze (neighbouring Jacques Chirac’s), offered himself as a rampart against extremism, and waxed emollient about the NPF economic platform. This was an opportunity to remember that Hollande was long best-known in French politics for affecting to bring together radically-opposed factions in order to win elections.

On the other side, the National Rally has embarked on its campaign with high hopes, but few polls give it a majority in the National Assembly. It needs electoral alliances with the moderate Right. The current president of Les Républicains, Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Jacques Chirac’s old party, is the southerner Eric Ciotti, who decided Les Reps would sign non-competing accords with the Rally, with the best-placed candidate at the end of the first round stepping down to favour the other. This led to calls for his removal from leadership, and a decision to do so that was then overturned by a judge. There will therefore be two competing Les Reps candidates in some constituencies.

Mid-yesterday afternoon, at the time of writing, large cheerful crowds converged on Place de la Nation, flying Palestinian flags and convinced that they were at the threshold of power. Calls to avoid violence have so far been heeded – but with tensions building, only a single spark is required for France to ignite.