European Implications of the French Elections

July 08, 2024
The results of the French elections come with many unknowns for European partners, but they may open a window of opportunity for new leadership in Europe.

The clear “non merci” from the French to a far-right government was received with a collective sigh of relief in most European capitals and in Brussels. A government of the National Rally (RN) would have been a worst-case scenario for many, given that it would have posed the risk of paralysis at best, and manifested centrifugal forces within the EU at worst.

However, the results also bring uncertainties for France’s partners in Europe. The diversity of parties within the New Popular Front (NFP) and potential allies makes its foreign policy priorities difficult to predict. Many of the positions voiced by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Unbowed (LFI), are clearly anti-EU or anti-NATO, and ambiguous on Russia and China. However, these positions are far from consensus in the left bloc. Overall, most forces in the left bloc, as well as in the centrist presidential camp, share views on the importance of the EU and support for Ukraine. 

Furthermore, France’s role in the EU will depend on the future balance of power between the president and the prime minister. The political practice in the Fifth Republic, and especially under Macron, has led to a centralization of power in the hands of the president in this area. Although it seems unlikely that the left bloc would prioritize foreign policy over socio-economic issues at home, this adds uncertainty for France’s partners. 

The biggest uncertainty, however, stems from the upcoming budget negotiation. This is a massive challenge for a new government to tackle, given France’s tight state finances. The country’s ability to play a leading role in European defense or support for Ukraine will depend on whether the governing parties are willing to allocate funds for these purposes.

Despite these uncertainties, the elections can also constitute a window of opportunity for enhancing cooperation with France’s key partners in Europe if there is a stable government in France. After the election in the United Kingdom last Thursday, three major European countries—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—are now led by progressive governments, and this coincides with the election of a pro-European government in Poland last year. Despite diverging visions on the best way to get there, they all agree on the importance of collective European security, and should not forgo the opportunity to jointly lead on this issue.