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Friday Briefing: What to Watch in the French Election

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, shocked his nation when he dissolved Parliament and called for a snap election after his party was trounced by the far right during European elections. On Sunday, voters head to the polls for the first round of voting as French politics reels.

For insight, my colleague Daniel Slotnik spoke with Roger Cohen, The Times’s Paris bureau chief.

What’s at stake?

Roger: Well, President Macron has taken a huge gamble. The immediate possibility is that the far-right National Rally could win a majority, or even an absolute majority, in the national Parliament. That would represent the end of a postwar absolute taboo in France against the far right attaining the highest offices of government.

Why would Macron call this vote after he was beaten soundly in the E.U. parliamentary elections?

Some think he may be calculating that if the National Rally enters government now, the party will be discredited by the 2027 presidential elections, because it’s much more difficult to govern than to rail from outside the gates of power.

Do you think it’s a sound strategy?

No. I think, first of all, it’s unnecessary. Second of all, it’s extremely high-risk. Third of all, the Olympics are about to start in less than three weeks, and all eyes will be on France. Fourth, it raises the possibility, if the far right does win, of violence in the streets, of protest, of chaos. So the fifth question is, is the president really ready for France to present an image of chaos when the Olympics begin?

Now, none of that may happen. But was it wise? Was it prudent? Was it rational? I don’t really think it was.