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France’s dissolution of parliament, snap elections: What happens next?

French President Emmanuel Macron announced on June 9 that he was dissolving the National Assembly and calling for new parliamentary elections following the far right’s landslide victory in the European elections. The elections for France’s lower house of parliament, conducted over two rounds, will be held on June 30 and July 7.

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Macron reacted to the far right’s overwhelming victory in the European elections with the risky decision to dissolve the National Assembly. The far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally or RN) won 31% of the vote, more than twice that of the president’s Renaissance party, at 14.6%.

In his televised address on Sunday, Macron said that the European vote was “not a good result for the parties that defend Europe […] So I cannot pretend that nothing has happened”.

An early election to ask voters to choose a new parliament would allow what he called a “clarification” of the political scene.

What is a dissolution?

According to article 12 of the French Constitution, the president can dissolve the National Assembly before the end of its term, leading to snap elections. The current parliament was set to continue in office until 2027.

The article also says that “general elections shall be held not less than twenty nor more than forty days after the dissolution”.

Legislative ‘work in progress’

The dissolution of the Assembly means that all legislative proposals currently being examined are suspended.

The government would have to restart the legislative process from scratch on proposed laws in the new parliament.

Does France still have a government?

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s government remains in place until the day after the second round of legislative elections: July 8.

‘Early elections’

Macron’s move to call snap elections recalls similar moves by his predecessors in office, presidents Charles de Gaulle (1962 and 1968) and François Mitterrand (1981 and 1988), both of whom bolstered their strength in parliament after twice dissolving the National Assembly.

But the most recent gamble on early elections, in 1997, did not work out well for then-president Jacques Chirac. The comfortable majority of Chirac’s centre-right coalition in parliament evaporated after snap elections when a coalition led by the Socialist Party made huge gains and took control of the Assembly.

‘Two-round system’

Candidates winning more than 12.5% of the votes in the first round on June 30 will go through to the July 7 second round of voting. The second round run-off is generally between two or three candidates. 

‘Looking for coalition partners’

Macron’s ruling Renaissance party has 169 lawmakers in the National Assembly, the biggest grouping in the 577-seat chamber. Le Pen’s RN is the largest party in opposition, with 88 seats.

To win an outright majority in the French lower house, the RN would need to see its number of lawmakers rise to 289.

The New Ecological and Social Popular Union (NUPES), a leftwing alliance that emerged in the run-up to the 2022 legislative elections, won 151 seats before gradually splintering. Leftwing parties are now trying to build a similar “Popular Front” coalition.

Possible ‘cohabitation’

In the event that Macron’s Renaissance party is unable to form a majority in the National Assembly, he will have to appoint a new prime minister from the party or coalition which can assemble one.

France has known three periods of “cohabitation” – when the president and his prime minister come from different political parties – since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958

This last happened in 1997, after Chirac’s government lost the snap election to the Socialist-led coalition and named the Socialist leader Lionel Jospin as prime minister.

In this scenario, the president retains the lead role on defence as commander-in-chief and on foreign policy – the constitution says he negotiates international treaties – but he loses the power to set domestic policy.

If the snap election doesn’t go well for Macron’s party, he won’t be able to dissolve the National Assembly again.

Article 12 stipulates that “no new dissolution may be carried out in the year following these elections”.

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters)


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