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Campaigning kicks off as the French prepare to elect a new parliament

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Campaigning has officially kicked off as France prepares to elect a new Parliament. President Emmanuel Macron dissolved the National Assembly and called the snap vote after the far-right party of Marine Le Pen trounced his centrist party in the European Parliament elections last weekend. The result is shaking up the French political landscape. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Paris to tell us all about it. Eleanor, what are the chances the far right could be elected to power?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, A, they're better than they've ever been. Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National party got 32% in European election polls. No one else in France's fractured political landscape came close. Macron's centrists were at 15%. But Macron is still betting the French were letting off steam in the EU vote, and they won't actually choose the far right to run their country. But many people are scared, especially from the traditional left. You know, there were rallies around France this past weekend to call on voters to come together to block the far right. And I was at a large gathering in Paris. And I spoke with 24-year-old Hugo Fitoussi. Let's listen to him.

HUGO FITOUSSI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So he says, "I'm here because I'm frightened by the rise of the extreme right in France. I've studied history, and this reminds me of the 1930s in Germany and France."

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. What a comparison. So then what would a far-right government mean for both French and wider European politics?

BEARDSLEY: Well, if they do get a majority either outright or through a coalition, it will be divided government in France. That's called cohabitation with Macron as president and a prime minister from the main opposition party, likely the young star of the far right, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella. Basically, Macron will be hamstrung the last three years of his presidency. He can forget his big plans for Europe and big support for Ukraine. And, you know, this far right has also said they want to cancel Macron's retirement form. You may remember Macron raised the retirement age against huge Protest. The right also has big social spending plans to support the working class, and the markets don't like that. The French stock market has already lost value. But, you know, many say Marine Le Pen's party is not the extreme right party of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. She has broken with his racist and extremist rhetoric.

Many say she's really made the party more mainstream. You can see that at her rally, she has more mainstream supporters. But everyone doesn't agree. And this election is clearly unnerving France, because, A, we're seeing some people weigh in who usually have nothing to do with politics, like French soccer star Kylian Mbappe. Yeah, he spoke from Dusseldorf Germany, where France is playing in the 2024 Euro cup.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KYLIAN MBAPPE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. He urged young people to...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MBAPPE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Yeah - to get out and vote, calling it a crucial moment in the history of France with extremists at the doors to power.

MARTÍNEZ: By the way, Mbappe broke his nose in yesterday's win over Austria. There - he's questionable for Friday versus Netherlands. OK, so back to the politics, Eleanor, with such a short lead time for the vote, what does campaigning look like?

BEARDSLEY: It's been a bit crazy, A. The first round of the vote is in 12 days, and the parties only had a few days to get together their list of candidates. The left has come together with their little fragmented parties and made a union. There have been a few shocks and some comedy. Let me tell you what happened to the mainstream right, which is already a shadow of its former self, but now it's ripping itself apart over this election.

The head of the right supported Marine Le Pen's party, but apparently didn't inform the party stalwarts. This is a traditional party of Charles de Gaulle, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac. They do not imagine themselves lined with what they consider low-brow extremists. So they marched over to party headquarters to fire him. He locked himself inside, and they did it all on the street. It was broadcast on television. Announcers were calling it Vaudeville, and we can expect...

MARTÍNEZ: Wow.

BEARDSLEY: ...A lot more amusement before it's done on July 7.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAYA BRASS BAND'S "BUMP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.