“Emmanuel Macron may have an interest in cohabitation with the RN…” – L’Express

Emmanuel Macron may have an interest in cohabitation with the

Will France, like other Western countries, see a populist party come to power? Political advisor at the International Republican Institute (American think tank with a liberal tendency), Thibault Muzergues recently published the fascinating Postpopulism. The new wave that will shake the West (L’Observatoire) on the evolution of populist parties in Europe, marking according to him the return to a more classic left-right divide, as in Italy.

For L’Express, he analyzes the main lessons, at the national and continental level, of these European elections which mark a “weakening of France” as well as a rightization of Europe. Thibault Muzergues also evokes the possible scenarios of the dissolution decided by Emmanuel Macron, estimating that with this very risky bet, the president “puts himself back at the center of the game”, but that even in the event of victory of the RN, he could be “the guarantor of institutions, which would allow him to be a little more loved by the French”.

L’Express: Can France escape a populist experience?

Thibault Muzergues: We had eight years of Barack Obama which led to the victory of Donald Trump in the United States, two years of Matteo Renzi which allowed Matteo Salvini to come to power in Italy. There is no reason why seven years of Macron should not give us a Le Pen or Bardella government. At the same time, given the situation, we can wonder if this is not the least bad scenario, to the extent that Marine Le Pen has accelerated her refocusing. She has become less populist, without being post-populist like Giorgia Meloni. And if Jordan Bardella were appointed Prime Minister after these legislative elections, he will be a head of government under surveillance, the president remaining the guarantor of the institutions. We could then witness a scenario in which the RN explodes in mid-air, as was the case in Austria for Jörg Haider after his electoral success in 1999. Or, there could be a phenomenon of romanization of “barbarians”, as we saw it in Italy with the populist 5 Star Movement which, very quickly, became a party of notables.

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But it is not certain that the RN will win, since a Republican front phenomenon will come into play, even if we do not yet know to what extent. Emmanuel Macron still challenged the French by telling them “OK, you hate me, but are you ready for the consequences of your rejection?” Let’s see how the French will respond to him.

We must also observe how the RN will react. Will they lead a populist campaign, as was the case at the start of the European campaign? Or will they lead a much more post-populist campaign, allowing elements of the right to rally behind the RN?

Does the very large victory of Jordan Bardella compared to his rival Marion Maréchal confirm that these are social and non-social issues (abortion, end of life, GPA, etc.) which mobilize voters?

We had already noted in the last European elections in 2019 that the traditional Catholic right, embodied by François-Xavier Bellamy, did not represent more than 7% of the electorate. There, part stayed with Bellamy, the other turned to Marion Maréchal. But the identity vision of this right is, by far, not sufficient to form a majority, we have proof of this today.

“There is a good chance that Zemmour’s political career will have ended on Sunday”

According to you, Marine Le Pen benefited from the excesses of Eric Zemmour like those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, by appearing less radical than them…

Eric Zemmour is a bit of a joke. We saw her grimaces when, during election night, Marion Maréchal made it known that she was ready to discuss with Marine Le Pen. There is a good chance that Zemmour’s political career ended on Sunday, even if he doesn’t know it yet. In any case, it allowed Marine Le Pen to pass as a non-extremist figure, to gain respectability. But Marine Le Pen will probably not become post-populist, because she and Macron need each other. He represents the establishment, she populism.

As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon and LFI, they still managed to be very close to 10% thanks to their “everything for Gaza” strategy. But their “bordelization” of Parliament has, here too, given guarantees of respectability to the RN. We also know that in the event of a second presidential round between Le Pen and Mélenchon, there would be no photo…

Will this dissolution accelerate the return to a more traditional left-right divide? The left-wing parties have already announced single candidacies…

As I told you, Macron and Le Pen want to remain in the populism versus establishment divide. But the fact that the RN chose Jordan Bardella proves that there is an opening to return to a left-right opposition. Which would mean that in the event of a victory for the RN, we could witness an implosion of Macronie, everyone returning home, left or right.

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But Emmanuel Macron can still get by. On the other hand, even if he wins these legislative elections, he will need a “responsible” left and part of the right. Even if he wins, it will be difficult for him to continue to exist. He would perhaps benefit from cohabitation with the RN in which he would be the guarantor of the institutions, which would allow him to be a little more loved by the French.

So you do not share the harsh criticism of his decision, abrupt and taken on the sly, to dissolve the National Assembly?

This is a very risky bet, because he can lose a lot. But Macron also had to do something to regain control. Knowing the character’s instinct, nature, taste for permanent brilliance, and sometimes reckless risk-taking, it was ultimately quite logical that he dissolved the Assembly. There is also a real calculation behind it, which is not necessarily stupid. The first is to regain control, which he had clearly lost. Macron puts himself back at the center of the game. And then, even if he loses the legislative elections, he can still pose as a guarantor of the institutions.

“At the level of the European Council, Macron’s speeches will be greeted with smiles”

What are the consequences of these European elections for France’s place in the European Union?

This place is very much diminished. There will be a delegation of only six French MEPs within the EPP [NDLR : Parti populaire européen], while at European level, he is the big winner of these elections. It will be complicated for France to have influence in the European Parliament. Raphaël Glucksmann will compensate a little within the Social Democrats group, and that is good news. But at Council level, Macron’s speeches will be greeted with smiles by his colleagues who won these European elections. Germany and France clearly emerge weakened from this sequence. On the other hand, the one who is largely strengthened at European level is Giorgia Meloni.

How do you explain the success of Meloni, whose list came first in Italy with more than 28% of the votes, two points more than in the 2022 legislative elections?

Meloni is lucky to have very weak opposition. On the left, the Democratic Party had a good result, but the 5 Star Movement fell to less than 10%. On the right, the coalition formations are weak. Forza Italia is the party of a dead man, Silvio Berlusconi. And Salvini, who chose the populist one-upmanship, paid the consequences, obtaining only 9% of the votes, far below his score in 2019. It would not be surprising if the Northern League made a change at his head.

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Meloni’s winning recipe is to completely embrace the return to a right-left divide, by showing herself to be respectful of institutions, even if there is also a populist side to her. But, generally speaking, Meloni has decided to overcome the populist divide to return to a more classic right-left opposition, even if she is very right-wing on societal issues. However, while being far from the outrageous positions of Zemmour in France, Meloni thus occupies all the space in Italy. She is also very intelligent, as we saw when she greeted the president of the Campania region by telling him “I am that bitch Meloni”, referring to the latter’s insulting remarks in the Chamber of Deputies. Italian feminists, while in opposition to her on abortion, appreciate her showing strength in the face of dominant males. This gives him sympathy among women.

On the other hand, the Sweden Democrats, which you also included among the post-populist groups that were able to evolve their initially very radical positions, suffered a setback during these European elections, just like the True Finns. Do they both pay for their participation in the government or the ruling coalition?

For these parties, there is undoubtedly a price to pay for normalization, especially in the context of a European election. The Sweden Democrats and the True Finns performed less than they expected. It’s a real reflux. But in Sweden, the leading party among young people in this election is the Sweden Democrats. This still shows that if they have experienced a disappointment, it is not a collapse, and that their electoral base is still there.

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What lessons do you draw from these elections from a global point of view, at European level?

We have a European Parliament that really tilts to the right. The EPP, much more than expected, ECR [NDLR : Conservateurs et Réformistes européens] and ID [Identité et Démocratie] all win seats, while the left loses some. The socialists managed to hold on, but the ecologists and liberals lost a lot. No doubt the latter are paying for their position too left, particularly on the Green Deal, at a time when Europe is moving to the right. Which is also very logical, since the continent’s population is aging and therefore becoming more conservative.