Early parliamentary elections in France: what to know

President Emmanuel Macron threw French politics into disarray on Sunday when he unexpectedly called for early elections.

The surprise move came after his party was defeated by the far right in the European Parliament elections. Macron dissolved the lower house of the French parliament and announced that the first round of legislative elections would be held on June 30.

France now finds itself in unpredictable territory, with the future of Macron's second term potentially at stake. With less than a month to go until the election, parties are now struggling to field candidates, refine their messages and, in some cases, forge alliances.

Here's what you need to know about early elections.

France's far-right anti-immigrant Rassemblement National party, led by Marine Le Pen and her hugely popular protégé, Jordan Bardella, rose to first place in Sunday's European Parliament elections with around 31.4% of the vote . Macron's centrist Renaissance party came in second place, with about 14.6%.

Macron acknowledged the crushing defeat in a televised broadcast to the nation that night.

“France needs a clear majority to move forward with serenity and harmony,” said Macron, explaining why he decided to call legislative elections.

This involved the extremely rare move to dissolve the 577-seat National Assembly, a presidential prerogative in France. Macron is the first president to do so since 1997.

When Macron was elected for a second term in 2022, his party failed to gain an absolute majority. The centrist coalition he formed governed with a slim majority but struggled to pass some laws without opposition support.

Macron had no obligation to dissolve Parliament, even if the European vote left him with a diminished figure three years after the end of his presidential term. Analysts are still analyzing his motivations, though many suspect he believed the dissolution had become inevitable: Conservative lawmakers were threatening to overthrow his government in the fall. Shocking the country with a snap election could also be a way for Macron to prevent his opposition from organizing – and to present voters with a difficult choice between him or the far right.

The move is seen as a gamble: if the Rassemblement National repeats its performance in the national elections, France could become almost ungovernable, with Macron clashing with a Parliament hostile to everything he believes in.

Le Pen welcomed the election announcement and expressed confidence that her party could win a majority. “We are ready to turn the country around,” she told supporters in Paris on Sunday evening.

The presidency is France's most powerful political office, with broad capabilities to rule by decree. But most major domestic policy changes and key pieces of legislation, such as spending bills or amendments to the Constitution, require the approval of Parliament, and in particular the National Assembly.

Unlike the Senate, the other chamber of the French Parliament, the National Assembly is directly elected by the people and can overthrow the French cabinet with a vote of no confidence. He also has more leeway to legislate and challenge the executive, and typically gets the final say if the two chambers cannot agree on a bill.

Macron's party and its centrist allies currently hold 250 seats in the National Assembly, fewer than the 289 required to gain an absolute majority. The National Rally party holds 88 seats, while traditional conservative Republicans have 61. A weak alliance of far-left, socialist and green lawmakers holds 149 seats. The rest are held by smaller groups or lawmakers not affiliated with any party.

Elections for the 577 seats of the National Assembly will be held in two rounds: the first on June 30 and the second on July 7.

France's 577 electoral constituencies, one for each seat, cover the continent, overseas departments and territories, as well as French citizens living abroad. Unlike many of its European neighbors, France awards seats to candidates who win the most votes in each district, not based on a percentage of the total vote across the country.

This means that there will be 577 separate races, with local dynamics and peculiarities, unlike the European parliamentary elections in which each party presented a single list of candidates at national level.

Any number of candidates can compete in the first round in each district, but there are specific thresholds to reach the second round. While in most cases the ballot will feature the top two voters, on rare occasions it may feature three or even four candidates. Whoever gets the most votes in that runoff wins the race. (Under some conditions, a candidate who gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round wins outright.)

Since the elections have only just been announced, there are no reliable opinion polls yet.

Despite its triumph in the European elections, it is unclear whether the National Rally will be able to win significantly more seats in the lower house of the French parliament.

“It is difficult to project the results of European elections onto legislative elections,” said Luc Rouban, a senior researcher at Sciences Po's Political Research Center in Paris. “It is not certain that the National Rally will be as successful.”

With little time to campaign, left-wing parties are scrambling to unite as they did in 2022, avoiding competing candidacies in every district. But the unity of the French left may be elusive, and it is unclear whether the parties will be able to reach such an agreement.

If Macron fails to secure a strong parliamentary majority, he could find himself in a rare “cohabitation” scenario, in which the presidency and the National Assembly are on opposite political sides.

In this scenario, Macron would be forced to choose a prime minister from a different political party, which could potentially block much of his domestic agenda. Foreign policy, which is a presidential prerogative, would theoretically remain mostly intact.

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