News | Political Parties / Election Analyses - Western Europe A Hopeful Surprise in France

The New Popular Front’s win shows that a fighting Left is the best prescription against a toxic Right

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Nessim Achouche,

Jean-Luc Mélenchon speaks at the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad in Paris following the NFP's victory in the French parliamentary elections, 7 July 2024.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon speaks at the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad in Paris following the NFP’s victory in the French parliamentary elections, 7 July 2024. Photo: IMAGO / Starface

On the evening of Sunday, 7 July 2024, the Place de la République in Paris was once again filled with a compact crowd, but this time it was joy and shouts of victory that dominated the gathering immediately after the election results were announced.

Nessim Achouche works as a project manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Brussels Office, focusing on socio-ecological transformation, energy democracy, climate justice, and their intersections with left-wing politics.

With 183 seats won, the new left-wing alliance Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP, New Popular Front) is the strongest group in the French National Assembly by number of seats won. If the 13 elected unaligned “Divers Gauche” deputies are added, the left-wing bloc will lead the parliament with 196 deputies.

The second-largest group is Emmanuel Macron's presidential majority Ensemble, which has 163 MPs. The far-right Rassemblement National (RN), led by Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, will be represented by 143 MPs, putting it in third place ahead of the right-wing bourgeois bloc with 66 MPs from Les Républicains (LR) and Divers Droite.

The jubilation and victory were all the greater because the result surpassed the polls, which in the last three weeks had always seen the Rassemblement National far ahead in terms of the number of seats — sometimes even with an absolute majority. In fact, these elections must be analysed in comparison with the last two rounds of the European elections and the first round of the parliamentary elections. With over 31 percent of the vote on 9 June 2024 and 33.3percent a week ago, far-right forces were far ahead in both cases. The resistance that the New Popular Front was able to put up against the far-right bloc on Sunday evening cannot be overestimated.

The Centre Could Not Hold

Compared to the last parliamentary elections in 2022, two phenomena can be observed:  Macron’s presidential camp fell from 245 seats and 8 million votes to 163 seats and 6.5 million votes. Meanwhile, the RN increased its seats from 89 to 143 and was able to multiply its share of the vote from 3.5 million to 10 million votes. The political camp of the current French president will disintegrate in the long term, whereas the Rassemblement National continues to make strong gains despite its defeat.

The left-wing forces will see a slight increase compared to 2022. The left-wing alliance NUPES (Nouvelle union populaire écologique et sociale, the New Ecological and Social Popular Union), which was launched two years ago, was unable to agree on a joint parliamentary group in 2022 and has now come together as a collective electoral alliance of the leading left-wing political parties in the New Popular Front, slightly increased its total number of voters and the number of MPs rose from 157 to 183 seats.

A comparison of the NUPES and the NFP shows that all parties within the respective alliances made gains. La France Insoumise (LFI) remains the majority group with around 80 MPs, while the Socialists more than doubled their number to 61 MPs. The Greens improved from 23 to 32 MPs, while the French Communist Party (PCF) is the only party in the parliamentary group to have come out of the election with fewer MPs.

While the NFP remains quite far from an absolute majority, it must be borne in mind that the principle of parliamentary alliances and coalitions is rather alien to the way the French parliament works.

A double tendency, which seems to be inextricably linked, stands out in the analysis: the defeat of the extreme right, which fell from being the strongest political force three weeks ago (confirmed by the first round of the parliamentary elections) to third place behind the New Popular Front, was defeated by a strengthened Left — if, that is, the Left is more than the simple addition of its components and unites behind a program of awakening.

Other factors that can explain the surprising election results include, as in the first round, the consistently high voter turnout (66.3percent), which apparently benefited some on the Left. The maintenance or revival of the republican firewall can also be cited as an argument: as already announced at the end of the first round of voting, the candidates of the NFP who came in third place in the second round and should actually have competed in a run-off between three parties, withdrew in order to strengthen candidates from the bourgeois camp and block candidates from the RN. The conscious decision to respect the firewall also explains the survival of the presidential electoral alliance Ensemble as a third, albeit largely shrunken, political bloc, and thus represents a third central consequence of this election.

The application of the electoral recommendation was well respected by the NFP candidates and their voters. However, the transfer of votes from the Macron camp (less than 50 percent) was much lower than that of the Left (72 percent): the hesitation of the bourgeois forces and in particular the apparent contradiction between Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who called for a firewall against the RN, and Macron, who tried to separate the LFI from the rest in his call for a republican front, must be held responsible for this low voter migration.

On New Terrain

The question of the composition of the future National Assembly remains open, and with it the question of the future of the New Popular Front. While the NFP remains quite far from an absolute majority, it must be borne in mind that the principle of parliamentary alliances and coalitions is rather alien to the way the French parliament works. However, this does not change the fact that after the first round of voting, many political commentators and relevant players had spoken of the need for a “grand” or “very grand” coalition, which could extend from the NFP to Macron’s majority, and for some even to the rest of the bourgeois right.

This possibility, which La France Insoumise had always rejected, also seems to have been ruled out by the main forces of the NFP, judging by the statements made by the leaders of the Ecologistes (Marine Tondelier) and the Parti Socialiste (Olivier Faure) immediately after the results. Like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, they emphasized the need for Macron to recognize the NFP’s victory by appointing a prime minister from its ranks. This could allow the electoral alliance of the New Popular Front to implement some of the most important measures of its programme, such as repealing Macron’s pension reform, which raised retirement age to 64, or increasing the minimum monthly wage to 1,800 euro. However, a new left-wing government would remain fragile, as Ensemble and the far right could agree on a motion of no confidence, which would result in the fall of the prime minister.

As a majority ranging from Ensemble to the LR is simply not in the cards, France could be facing a period of uncertainty and even parliamentary instability. Meanwhile, La France Insoumise called on its supporters within the New Popular Front to maintain social pressure through the trade unions and broader civil society in order to push through the common demands, identify the central political challenges of the political moment, and lead to a political solution.