Macron’s Election Gamble Triggers Chaos and Anger Inside His Party

(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron’s decision to plunge into an election campaign with his party unprepared and the French public shunning him is causing consternation among the very people he needs to win.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Lawmakers and officials from the 46-year-old president’s Renaissance party were still struggling to come to terms with the plan on Tuesday. Some reacted with rage, others were trying to fathom the political logic, and many were downbeat about their prospects.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the president of the National Assembly, Yael Braun-Pivet, were both opposed to the decision, according to a person familiar with their thinking.

“There was shock and anger within our ranks when Macron announced his decision,” said Christophe Marion, a Renaissance lawmaker. “It felt as if he was sending us to fight a losing battle.”

Macron decided to trigger a parliamentary vote in an effort to regain the political initiative after his party was comprehensively beaten by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in Sunday’s European election. But many lawmakers and officials say the high-risk strategy is more likely to consolidate his party’s losses and undermine any remaining prospects for advancing his economic agenda, while there’s a chance it could even hand Le Pen’s group control.

That risk sent anxiety coursing through the bond markets on Tuesday, fueled by a report that the president had discussed resigning if the election goes badly. Macron insisted in an interview with Figaro Magazine that the result won’t affect his position as president, but the risk-premium over German bunds still reached its widest since the first days of the pandemic in March 2020.

Le Pen’s party is leading polls for the first round of voting with 35%, according to a survey published by Ifop on Tuesday. Macron’s party was trailing by 17 points, in line with the EU election result. The outcome of legislative elections in France is highly unpredictable because of the horse-trading that takes place between the first and second rounds across 577 different constituencies.

All the same, those numbers are sapping the morale of the lawmakers that Macron needs to help turn his campaign around. They already feel like they’ve been hung out to dry and their party is unprepared for the campaign with less than three weeks until the first ballot.

A spokesman for Macron said all the polls carried out since Sunday show that the French are largely behind the decision and the president sees it as an act of confidence.

Listen to The Big Take daily podcast today

Macron was due to hold a press conference to launch his campaign on Tuesday afternoon but that was pushed back by a day. The president is then scheduled to be out of the country for the best part of a week.

He will travel to Italy for the Group of Seven leaders summit which begins Thursday and is then due to attend talks on Ukraine’s future in Switzerland and a dinner with EU leaders in Brussels on Monday. The legislative election will be held over two rounds on June 30 and July 7.

On Sunday night, Macron said that the seriousness of the threat from Le Pen’s party required drastic action to turn the tide. “I can’t pretend that nothing’s happened,” he said. “The rise of nationalists and demagogues is a danger not only for our nation, but also for our Europe, and for France’s place in Europe and the world.”

One lawmaker from the president’s party said they were upset about the prospect of dozens of their colleagues losing their jobs and afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled a traitor or a coward.

A senior official who has worked across different ministries under Macron said the president’s decision is jeopardizing some of France’s international priorities, such as the effort to tackle climate change. A diplomat said France is frantically pushing the EU to close as many agreements as possible this month.

In message groups, civil servants were trying to work out the constitutional implications of a prime minister from the National Rally if that were to happen, and in particular whether Macron would still represent France alone at EU summits.

On Tuesday, Attal met with lawmakers from his party in an effort to rally them. According to a person with knowledge of the discussions, he acknowledged that the president’s decision was “brutal” for the lawmakers and their staff who will have to fight the campaign. He urged them not to believe that the result is a foregone conclusion.

Nevertheless, senior figures in Macron’s movement are publicly questioning the president’s decision. Braun-Pivet, appointed by Macron to preside over the legislature, told France 2 on Monday that she thought “another path” would have been better.

Attal, 35, was appointed prime minister in January as Macron sought to revamp his government. Attal was chosen in part to counter the appeal of the 28-year-old leader of Le Pen’s party, Jordan Bardella, who has helped broaden the appeal of the far-right among young people. Nevertheless, Macron’s party went down in a humiliating defeat.

Macron could have allowed up to 40 days between the dissolution of parliament and the first round of voting. But instead he chose to do it in just 20, dialing up the pressure on his opponents — but also on his own people. Some lawmakers from his party have opted not to run again.

After seven years in power, there’s a growing sense among those closest to Macron that they may be approaching the end game.

“Either there’s a clear majority, or we run the risk of a governance crisis,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told BFM TV on Tuesday. “What’s at stake in a few weeks is the future of the French nation.”

--With assistance from James Regan.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.