No middle ground: New Popular Front to face National Rally in French election

The left-progressive alliance New Popular Front continues its campaign in a final attempt to prevent Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally from gaining power in France

July 02, 2024 by Ana Vračar
Demonstrations against the far right after the announcement of the results of the first round of election, June 30, 2024. Source: Manuel Bompard/X

France is facing a critical decision on Sunday, July 7, following the far-right National Rally’s capture of a third of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France Unbowed, addressed thousands in Paris on Sunday, stating: “A fundamental choice must now be made: either the extreme right or us. There’s nothing left in between.” Mélenchon stood alongside candidates from the New Popular Front (NFP), a left-progressive alliance that secured the second-highest vote share.

During his seven years in office, President Emmanuel Macron has implemented policies that dismantle the social security network in the country and undermine the wellbeing of the working class. This has resulted in significant losses for liberals in both the recent European Parliament elections and the first round of parliamentary elections. These policies have also paved the way for the National Rally, which has made the most of Macron’s shortcomings by promoting Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments.

The NFP advocates for a departure from both Macronist policies and the xenophobia of the National Rally. They propose strengthening public services and reindustrializing the country. Their platform includes creating 500,000 spots for children in nurseries and ensuring healthcare availability in what are currently medical deserts.

Read more: Health activists in France warn that the extreme right is a danger to health for all

Worker rights are central to the NFP’s agenda. They pledge to annul the controversial pension reform within 15 days of taking office and to freeze prices of essential goods to combat the cost of living crisis.

The National Rally’s initial promise to lower the retirement age has been downplayed by its prime ministerial candidate, Jordan Bardella, who recently suggested it may not be feasible. Manuel Bompard, an NFP candidate elected in the first round, implied that this inconsistency highlights the far right’s lack of genuine concern for the working class.

“The question I pose to everyone is: starting from next Monday, would you prefer a government that will increase salaries and freeze prices, or a government led by Mr. Bardella, who has gradually abandoned all his promises on purchasing power,” Bompard said.

In matters regarding pension reform and other economic and social policies, the National Rally does not significantly differ from Macron’s positions. In fact, analysts suggest Marine Le Pen’s strategy to adopt mainstream conservative stances has helped normalize the party. A pro-business discourse like the one endorsed by liberals figures prominently among these stances.

In contrast, the NFP plans to introduce a billionaire tax and invest heavily in public services, clashing with the EU’s impending austerity measures. They intend to challenge the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, aiming to reshape both French and European policies. Their vision includes increased funding for education and healthcare, and a shift in immigration policy to ensure full access to social support for everyone arriving in France.

Read more: Europe’s shift to the right must be countered with mass mobilization and politicization

The NFP also distinguishes itself in areas of sovereignty and peace. While Macron has aligned France more closely with NATO and the National Rally promotes a pro-Israel, pro-securitization agenda, the NFP offers a platform of peace, advocating for France to play a role in ensuring lasting peace in both Europe and Palestine. They also promise to repeal the controversial electoral reform in Kanaky (New Caledonia), which has sparked months-long protests.

To prevent the National Rally from winning a majority, the NFP has urged liberals to withdraw their candidates in constituencies where they are likely to split the vote against the far right. The NFP has taken similar steps in areas where they came in third place. “Our guidance is clear: not a single vote for the National Rally,” said Bompard. “We are withdrawing from constituencies where we are in third place and the National Rally is in the lead. I’d like to see the same clarity from the Macronist camp.”

However, liberal candidates and former officials have offered mixed strategies for the second round. Despite emphasizing the importance of preventing a far-right victory, they have not committed to withdrawing their candidates. “The Macronists’ refusal to clearly block the National Rally is irresponsible. It’s the attitude of privileged people who don’t care about the country,” stated Manon Aubry, a France Unbowed representative in the European Parliament.

Despite potential setbacks, the NFP remains resolute in its opposition to the far right. “The National Rally hasn’t won yet. There is anger. The left must fight to win back votes and bring about the social transformation France needs,” Aubry said.