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Far-right rout prompts Macron gamble with France snap election

Far-right rout prompts Macron gamble with France snap election

PARIS — France's finance minister said on Monday that the snap election called by President Emmanuel Macron after a bruising loss to the far-right in European Parliament elections would be the most consequential legislative vote in the republic's history.

Macron's shock decision amounts to a roll of the dice on his political future. It could hand a great deal of power to Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN) after years on the sidelines, and neuter his presidency three years before it is due to end.

The legislative vote will take place on June 30, less than a month before the start of the Paris Olympics, with a second round on July 7.

"This will be the most consequential parliamentary election for France and for the French in the history of the Fifth Republic," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL radio.

A source close to Macron said the president hoped to mobilize voters who had abstained from voting on Sunday.

"We're going for the win," the source said. "There's audacity in this decision, risk-taking, which has always been part of our political DNA."

The euro fell 0.5% in early European trade, while Paris blue-chip stocks dropped 2%, led by steep losses in banks BNP Paribas BNPP.PA and Societe Generale SOGN.PA.

Helmed by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, the RN won about 32% of the vote on Sunday, more than double the Macron ticket's 15%, according to exit polls. The Socialists came within a whisker of Macron with 14%.

Analysts said Macron's decision aimed to make the best of his weak position, reclaiming the initiative and forcing RN into election mode faster than it would have liked.

Some RN leaders appeared to have been caught off-guard.

"We didn't think it would be immediately after the European elections, even if we wanted it to be," RN deputy chairman Sebastien Chenu said on RTL Radio. "Elections are rarely a gift and in this context, they aren't."

Bardella will be the party's candidate for prime minister, he added.

The result is hard to predict. The outcome is likely to depend on how committed leftist and center-right voters are to the idea of blocking the far-right from power. Voter turnout on Sunday was about 52%, the interior ministry said.

If the RN wins a majority, Macron would still remain as president and direct defense and foreign policy. But he would lose the power to set the domestic agenda, from economic policy to security.

His Renaissance party currently has 169 lower house lawmakers out of a total of 577. The RN has 88.

Eurasia Group said the RN was no shoo-in for a majority, predicting a hung parliament as the most likely scenario.

"Faced with another hung parliament, [Macron] will try to form a wider alliance with the center-right or center-left, possibly by appointing a prime minister from one of those camps," it said in a note.

"We foresee a losing struggle for serious domestic reform or strict deficit reduction in the remaining three years of Macron's term."

The dismal performance by Renaissance contrasted with the center-right's broader showing across the EU. The center-right European People's Party (EPP) will be the biggest political grouping in the new legislature, gaining five seats to field 189 deputies, a centralized exit poll showed. — Reuters