EU foreign policy chief issues fresh rebuke to Hungary’s Orban

PARIS: France holds a second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday that will reconfigure the political landscape, with opinion polls predicting that the far-right National Demonstration (RN) will win the most votes but is unlikely to win a majority.
Such an outcome could plunge the country into a chaotic hung parliament, seriously undermining President Emmanuel Macron’s authority. Likewise, if the nationalist, Eurosceptic RN wins a majority, the pro-business, pro-European president could find himself forced into a difficult ‘coexistence’.
Marine Le Pen’s RN scored a historic gain when it won last Sunday’s first round of voting, raising the specter of France’s first far-right government since World War II.
But after centrist and left-wing parties joined forces over the past week to create an anti-RN barricade, Le Pen’s hopes of the RN winning an outright majority in the 577-member National Assembly appear less certain.
Polls suggest the RN will emerge as the dominant legislative force, but fall short of the 289-member majority that Le Pen and her 28-year-old protégé Jordan Bardella believe would allow them to claim the premiership and pull France sharply to the right.
Polling stations open at 8:00 a.m. (06:00 CEST) and close at 6:00 p.m. in cities and towns and at 8:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. CEST) in larger cities, with the first forecasts expected after voting closes based on partial enumerations from a sample of polling stations.
Much will depend on whether voters follow the calls of leading anti-RN alliances to block the far right from power, or support far-right candidates.
Raphael Glucksmann, the MEP who led France’s left-wing party in last month’s European vote, said he saw Sunday’s second round as a simple referendum on whether “the Le Pen family will take over this country”.
“France is on the edge of a cliff and we don’t know if we will jump,” he told France Inter radio last week.
Long an outcast for many because of its history of racism and anti-Semitism, the RN has boosted support amid voter anger at Macron, tight household budgets and concerns over immigration.
“The French really want change,” Le Pen told TF1 TV on Wednesday, adding that she was “very confident” of securing a parliamentary majority.
Although trailing, the RN looks set to more than double the 89 seats it won in the 2022 legislative vote and become the dominant player in an unruly hung parliament that will make governing France more difficult.
Such an outcome would threaten political paralysis until Macron’s presidency ends in 2027, when Le Pen is expected to make her fourth bid for France’s highest office.

WHAT’S NEXT WITH MACRON?
Macron stunned the country and angered many of his political allies and supporters when he called early elections after the RN bowed out in a parliamentary vote in the European Parliament last month, hoping not to crush its rivals in the general election.
Whatever the final outcome, his political agenda now appears dead three years before the end of his presidency.
Bardella says the RN would refuse to form a government if it doesn’t win a majority, although Le Pen said she might try if she fails.
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who is likely to lose his job in the post-election upheaval, has rejected proposals by Macron’s centrists to seek a multi-party government if parliament is suspended. Instead, he would like moderates to pass legislation on a case-by-case basis.
Most RNs would force Macron into an uncomfortable “cohabitation” with Bardell as prime minister, with thorny constitutional tussles and questions on the international stage about who really speaks for France.
If the RN is stripped of its majority and refuses to form a government, present-day France would find itself in uncharted territory. Coalition building would be difficult for either bloc given the political differences between them.
French assets rose on expectations that the RN would not win a majority, banking stocks rose and investors are demanding a risk premium to reduce French debt. Economists question whether RN’s massive spending plans are fully funded.
An RN-led government would raise big questions about where the European Union is headed, given France’s powerful role in the bloc, although EU laws will almost certainly limit its plans to crack down on immigration.
For many in France’s immigrant and minority communities, the RN’s exit has already sent a clear and unwelcome message.
“They hate Muslims, they hate Islam,” said 20-year-old film student Selma Bouziane at a market in Goussainville, a town near Paris. “They see Islam as a scapegoat for all of France’s problems. So it will definitely be negative for the Muslim community.”
The RN is committed to reducing immigration, relaxing legislation to deport illegal migrants and tightening rules on family reunification. Le Pen says she is not anti-Islam, but that immigration is out of control and too many people are taking advantage of France’s welfare system and creaking public services.

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