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In Calling Elections in France, Macron Makes a Huge Gamble

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News Analysis

The president has challenged voters to test the sincerity of their support for the far right in European elections. Were the French letting off steam, or did they really mean it?

President Emmanuel Macron of France has called early legislative elections, a move that a center-left leader described as "a dangerous game."Credit...Kenny Holston/The New York Times

On the face of it, there is little logic in calling an election from a position of great weakness. But that is what President Emmanuel Macron has done by calling a snap parliamentary election in France on the back of a humiliation by the far right.

After the National Rally of Marine Le Pen and her popular protégé Jordan Bardella handed him a crushing defeat on Sunday in elections for the European Parliament, Mr. Macron might have done nothing. He might also have reshuffled his government, or simply altered course through stricter controls on immigration and by renouncing contested plans to tighten rules on unemployment benefits.

Instead, Mr. Macron, who became president at 39 in 2017 by being a risk taker, chose to gamble that France, having voted one way on Sunday, will vote another in a few weeks.

"I am astonished, like almost everyone else," said Alain Duhamel, the prominent author of "Emmanuel the Bold," a book about Mr. Macron. "It's not madness, it's not despair, but it is a huge risk from an impetuous man who prefers taking the initiative to being subjected to events."

Shock coursed through France on Monday. The stock market plunged. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, a city that will host the Olympic Games in just over six weeks, said she was "stunned" by an "unsettling" decision. "A thunderbolt," thundered Le Parisien, a daily newspaper, across its front page.

For Le Monde, it was "a jump in the void." Raphaël Glucksmann, who guided the revived center-left socialists to third place among French parties in the European vote, accused Mr. Macron of "a dangerous game."

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