What's next for Macron and Scholz, the big losers of the European elections

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two losers of last week’s European electoral test, have embarked on different paths, hoping to emerge successfully from the political quagmire in which they have become entangled. Both face an adventure full of challenges in which their political future is at stake.

Outside France, Macron embodies the elegant and self-assured European politician. However, in France, he is increasingly seen as a culprit, and even his allies no longer want to feature him on their electoral posters. While all eyes are on what is happening in the Hexagon, in Germany, the question is no longer whether Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government will survive, but how long it can last.

Everyone is running away from arrogant Macron

Following Macron's explosive decision to call early elections after losing the battle for the European Parliament, the president's allies fear that he could lead them to disaster.

"You won't see Macron's face on my campaign posters, that's what I can tell you," said a parliamentarian from the president's coalition to Politico. "The Élysée Palace really doesn't understand the anti-president mood in France," said another member of Macron's Renaissance party.

Surveys show that the French view Macron as disdainful and authoritarian, but also as a lightning rod for anti-elite sentiments that have intensified following numerous crises, such as the Yellow Vests revolt and the Covid pandemic. His reluctance to change his approach in the face of widespread protests against last year's pension reform has reinforced the perception that he is distant and disconnected, while his tone may seem arrogant and elitist.


This reaction crystallized on Sunday in the European parliamentary vote. The far-right National Rally party won 31.4% of the votes, more than double the 14.6% obtained by Macron's party. A poll conducted on the day of the vote showed that nearly half of the voters cast their ballots for one thing: to express their dissatisfaction with Macron and the government.

Macron responded by shocking Europe. He dissolved the French Parliament and called for national elections to take the initiative and silence the far right. However, the vote risks not only overturning the French government but also blowing up European politics at a critical moment, in the third year of the war in Ukraine.

The enormous risk President Macron is taking

While Macron believes that early elections are the only way to stem the tide of the far right and rally voters from the mainstream, there is growing fear within his camp that the exact opposite could happen.

"If the president throws himself forward, it's a huge risk. What is certain is that if he gets involved, he will mobilize people against him," said Mathieu Gallard, an analyst at Ipsos.

Surveys indicate that Macron's party could suffer another defeat in the two rounds of parliamentary elections on June 30 and July 7. A real prospect is taking shape - the presidential coalition could potentially be demoted to the level of the third force in French politics, behind the far right and potentially the left.

For many allies and former supporters, Macron's extraordinary self-confidence is now turning into a denial of reality that makes him blind to the antipathy he provokes. The decision to return to the polls is "the delirious action of a man who is finished by defeat," said a former Elysée official.


The tensions within the coalition supporting Macron are so strong that the most influential voices are now urging the president to take a step back. François Bayrou, a key ally and one of Macron's early supporters, was at the Élysée Palace on Monday evening to convey the message that "he shouldn't get too involved in the campaign," said a centrist parliamentarian. Bayrou even discussed with his parliamentarians the necessity of "de-Macronization," the source added.

There is an unprecedented change in the dynamics of French parties - Macron's party, which practically emerged with him, has remained merely an echo of its leader and could not survive without him. And now the leader at the Élysée Palace is dragging down the party. "The more he talks, the more he loses percentage points (in polls)," said an adviser to a parliamentarian from the Renaissance Party.

Macron's Problems

While it is common in France for the president to lose popularity, Macron carries a burden that he has created himself.

He has been accused of mishandling a series of crises, some of which were created by his own government. Last year's protests against pension reform, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to oppose raising the retirement age, did not faze him at all. He effectively ignored those voices, using a constitutional trick to pass the law without going through Parliament.

Additionally, Macron is widely perceived as a president more for the wealthy than a man from the French people meant to lead them. Before entering politics, he was an investment banker, and some of his tax reduction policies have fueled the opinion that he is primarily concerned with helping billionaires like Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH, the world's largest luxury goods company and one of the richest people on the planet.


He also has an issue with his manner of address - sometimes, his eloquence works against him, making him appear didactic, professorial, superior.

Macron's Plan

Despite the fears within his party, Macron has campaign plans for the early elections. According to the French press, he aims to flood the media with three appearances per week. "I'm going into battle to win," he declared to Le Figaro on Monday.

Throughout his political career, Macron has often taken risks, whether facing hostility or making announcements that were not fully thought out. His rise to power, from a mere economic advisor to the presidency of France, is also a story of luck and well-played stakes.

However, Macron has already suffered two consecutive defeats - in the 2022 parliamentary elections and on Sunday. And now he risks facing a third.

What Happens If Macron Loses

The French president has decided to play the "all or nothing" card. If he wins, he will achieve what he set out to do, defeat the far right. But if he loses, it will be a disaster that will be difficult to manage.

For the first time, the National Rally party will become the main political force, and Macron's coalition would end up alongside the left bloc. Dozens of parliamentarians from his party would lose their mandates.

A party advisor summed up this scenario in simpler terms: "We'll be thrown off the bus because of his mistake."

Scholz's Coalition on the Verge of Breaking

While the French president has called for early elections, the German chancellor has categorically rejected this option. However, if Olaf Scholz believed he could avoid being held accountable after his party humiliatingly landed in third place, losing to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), he is likely mistaken.

Scholz says that early elections are not on the table, but that probably doesn't depend on him, notes Politico.

Despite efforts by his camp to shield him, it cannot be denied that the result of Sunday's elections - which showed that only 31% of Germans supported one of the three parties in the German coalition amidst record voter turnout - was a fiasco.

After just two and a half years into his term, Scholz's conflict-ridden government has reached a breaking point. Due to internal strife and, in the view of most critics, incompetence, Scholz has led the most unpopular government in modern German history, with over two-thirds of Germans expressing dissatisfaction with the coalition.

Scholz's approval rating has also hit a record low, with over 70% of Germans dissatisfied with his performance.

After mishandling a landmark reform to transition Germany's heating infrastructure from fossil fuels to renewable energy, Scholz's government suffered a humiliating defeat from the country's highest court, which ruled his budget unconstitutional. The November decision left the coalition without tens of billions of euros it was counting on to fund the rest of its governance program.

The alliance has since been marked by conflict, with the two left-wing parties, Scholz's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens, in constant battle with the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a fiscally conservative party led by Finance Minister Christian Lindner. In short, the SPD and Greens want to spend more money, while the FDP, citing the constitutional debt brake and its own fiscal orthodoxy, disagrees.

This deadlock will come to a head in the coming weeks as the coalition parties head into the final round of negotiations on next year's budget. The parties aim to reach an agreement by early July, before the summer break, but despite their efforts to salvage their political gains, an agreement seems unlikely.

Failing to reach a compromise could give the FDP, which has been the "elephant in the room" of the coalition from the start, the opportunity to leave the government. Despite persistent tensions on fundamental issues like the budget, the FDP has been hesitant to leave the ship, fearing to upset voters.

However, following the bleak results of the SPD and Greens in the European elections, the political calculus may change for the FDP.

How Scholz Could Lose His Position

In most parliamentary systems, the unwritten rules of democracy would require the country's leader to organize new elections after such a crushing defeat as the one Scholz suffered on Sunday.

Not the case in Germany. Fortunately or on the contrary, the governments in this country are almost impossible to overthrow.

To avoid a repetition of the weak political system from the Weimar era, which contributed to the rise of the Nazis, the authors of post-war Germany's constitution sought to ensure stability by creating a political system that requires conflict resolution with as few disruptions as possible.

As such, they set a high standard for early elections. There are two ways to call for a vote of confidence in Germany. In the first, known as a "constructive vote of no confidence," the parliament can remove a chancellor, but only if they vote for a replacement within 48 hours.

Considering that the main issue of the current coalition is the parties' inability to agree on key policies, rather than the chancellor, this option seems unlikely.

In a second scenario, the chancellor can call for a vote of confidence - for example, if a party leaves the governing coalition. If the chancellor loses the vote, the president is then to decide whether to call for new elections.

Therefore, even if Scholz were to call for a vote of confidence and lose, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, instead of calling for new elections, could ask the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) to form a government based on the 2021 election results, when the party finished second. If they fail to build a coalition, Scholz can then request new elections.

This convoluted process is why votes of confidence in post-war Germany are rare (there have only been five) and usually represent tactical moves by chancellors to solidify their political position, a strategy also used by Helmut Kohl to remain in office.

Since the Christian Democrats currently enjoy a 14-point lead in polls, which, if confirmed at the polls, would allow them to dominate any coalition, they could follow a similar path. The party's leader, Friedrich Merz, has not called on Scholz to initiate the process, but has made it clear that he is ready to take over.

Calls for early elections are likely to intensify in September, when three elections will take place in the eastern part of the country, where the AfD is strongest, and they might win them all. Another reason why Scholz's days as chancellor could be numbered.


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