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European Leaders React to French Election with Relief and Concern
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By Associated Press
Published 2 weeks ago on
July 8, 2024

European leaders express relief but also concern over the French legislative election results, which left France with a hung parliament and potential political paralysis. (AP/Laurent Cipriani)

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BERLIN — Leaders across Europe reacted with relief but also some concern to the result of the French legislative election, which leaves a key European Union country facing the prospect of a hung parliament and political paralysis.

Relief and Concern From Election

Relief, because the far-right National Rally didn’t come out as the strongest party, as many pro-European leaders had feared — but also concern because no political grouping has a majority in the National Assembly.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, which together with France has long been viewed as the engine of European integration, said it would have been a major challenge if French President Emmanuel Macron would have had to work with a right-wing populist party, German news agency dpa reported.

“That has now been averted,” the chancellor said.

Scholz expressed hope that Macron and the newly elected members of parliament would succeed in forming a stable government.

“In any case, I am also pleased with regard to the important Franco-German friendship, and I can personally say that I am also pleased with regard to the good personal relationship that I have with the French president,” Scholz said.

“Germany has an interest in the success of the European Union like no other country,” the German chancellor said. “This is only possible together with France.”

After the first round of the French election last month, in which the National Rally had gained the most votes, Scholz had spoken publicly of his worry that a second-round victory for the nationalist party could affect French-German relations.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a former European Council president, sounded even more euphoric in his reaction to the election outcome.

“In Paris enthusiasm, in Moscow disappointment, in Kyiv relief. Enough to be happy in Warsaw,” he posted on X late Sunday.

In London, a government spokesperson said that British Prime Minister Keir Starmer was prepared to work with the French leadership regardless of political affiliation.

“France is obviously one of the U.K.’s closest partners — as NATO and G7 members we have many shared interests,” a spokesperson said. “The prime minister has said previously he will work with any government in Europe and across the world.”

Leftists Kept Right From Power

Final results in France show that a leftist coalition that came together to try to keep the far right from power won the most parliamentary seats in the runoff election. There was high voter turnout Sunday.

Macron’s centrist alliance came in second. The far right, which came in third, drastically increased the number of seats it holds in parliament, but fell far short of expectations.

Several countries in the EU, including Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, have veered to the right in national elections as voters chose euroskeptic parties promising nationalist solutions for European issues such as inflation, migration, and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that has brought in millions of refugees looking for shelter.

Some pro-European politicians warned that the French result was nothing to celebrate.

“The march of the right-wing nationalists and right-wing extremists has been stopped. This is to the great credit of the French,” Michael Roth, a German foreign policy expert and national lawmaker with Scholz’s Social Democrats, told daily newspaper Tagesspiegel.

“But it is still far too early to give the all clear, because the nationalist populists on the right and left are stronger than ever,” he added. “The center is weaker than ever. Emmanuel Macron has therefore failed resoundingly.”

While it’s not clear yet which party will provide the next prime minister, Macron will still hold some powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defense, in line with the French Constitution. He has a presidential mandate until 2027 and has said he won’t step down before the end of his term.

French President Weakened By Vote

Nonetheless, the French president has been weakened by Sunday’s vote and that will have repercussions for Germany and all of Europe, said Ronja Kempin, an analyst of Franco-German relations at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“I think that Germany will have to adapt to the new balance of power in France,” Kempin said. “We have a weakened president who is much more forced to listen and react to the parliamentary majority, who can no longer act as freely as he has done for the last seven years.”

In Italy, the main ally of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, far-right populist League leader Matteo Salvini, lauded her party’s overall result in parliament as its best-ever and criticized what he called Macron’s “all against Le Pen” drive to deprive her party of a governing majority.

He claimed that there were “thugs attacking the police with stones” in several cities after the results were released, blaming them on “communists and social centers, pro-Islamists and antisemites.”

Salvini is a junior partner in the right-wing government of Premier Giorgia Meloni and has long shared Le Pen’s anti-migrant positions.

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