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French President Emmanuel Macron calls for snap elections

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In France, the fallout from European parliamentary elections has overshadowed the vote itself. President Emmanuel Macron's party was dealt such a massive defeat by the far right that he dissolved the French Parliament and called for new elections, a move he hopes will muster stronger backing for his remaining three years as president. Well, the move stunned the country as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: About an hour after European Parliament results showed President Emmanuel Macron's party with 15% of the vote and far-right leader Marine Le Pen's with 32%, he dropped the bomb on national television.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I always considered a strong, independent and united Europe a good thing for France," said Macron. "So I cannot accept this."

Macron said he was acting to clarify France's ambitions and give the French people the choice of their parliamentary future through the vote. The two-round poll will take place June 30 and July 7. This morning in Montmartre, 21-year-old geography student Louis Grousset was talking with a friend as they stood under his umbrella. He says Macron's move was massive.

LOUIS GROUSSET: (Speaking French). Yes, it's quite massive, but...

BEARDSLEY: So are you worried about what will happen?

GROUSSET: Yeah, I'm quite worried. Yeah. But I think that we must - to fight them, the younger must vote, and I think that is really, really important.

BEARDSLEY: Grousset says the French are in shock with the far-right Rassemblement National, or National Rally Party, now at the doors to power. Many wonder if Macron will be able to stop the unthinkable. Douglas Webber, who teaches political science at French business school INSEAD, isn't sure he will.

DOUGLAS WEBBER: I regard this being a very, very risky maneuver, and I think it's one that's more than likely to backfire. It's really quite likely that the Rassemblement National will get either a relative or an absolute majority at the end of the day in the parliamentary elections.

BEARDSLEY: If that were to happen, France would have divided government, what's known as cohabitation, and Macron's prime minister would be from the hostile opposition. Traditionally, French voters of all stripes have always come together to block the far right from power, like in 2002, when Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the second round of the presidential election. But Montmartre shopkeeper Antony Bovet doesn't think that will happen this time.

ANTONY BOVET: (Through interpreter) Macron is playing his last hand of poker. But this time, I think he's going to lose. We already voted for him twice in the last two presidential elections, many just to block her. I believe we're going to see the far right in power for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACCORDION MUSIC)

BEARDSLEY: A busker plays an accordion in the Paris Metro. Forty-year-old lawyer David Bergamo is coming home from work. He says many people who vote for the far right are afraid to say so, but he's not. We ride the Metro and talk.

DAVID BERGAMO: (Through interpreter) We can't keep opening our borders and welcoming people. We have no more work. Factories are closing. French humanism is over. We can't afford it.

BEARDSLEY: France's political landscape is extremely fragmented after its mainstream right and left parties imploded several years ago. Macron's party is fracturing. France is entering a period of uncertainty rarely seen before. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

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