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Surprise leftist victory: Who is France's New Popular Front?

July 8, 2024

The leftist New Popular Front was cobbled together to prevent the far-right National Rally from sweeping up all the votes. Now it's won a surprising majority of the vote in France's runoffs.

A group of supporters holds up signs and flags that read 'Union Populaire' and 'Front Populaire'
The leftist alliance New Popular Front (Nouveau Front Populaire, NFP) surprisingly won the most votes in France's runoff electionImage: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

Following European parliamentary elections in June, France's voters witnessed two surprising developments at home. First, in light of the defeat he suffered at the European polls, French President Emmanuel Macron moved to dissolve France's parliament, the National Assembly, and called snap elections.

A day later, France's political left, traditionally splintered into numerous small parties, announced it was forging a new alliance, the New Popular Front (NFP) in order to prevent the far-right National Rally (RN) from winning at the polls.

They appear to have achieved that goal, emerging from Sunday's runoff election with the most seats in parliament. "The New Popular Front is ready to govern," said Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the NFP's largest party, the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party, on Sunday evening.

Leftist alliance wins in French legislative election

Marine Tondelier, the president of the Green Party and one of the key initiators of the NFP alliance, backed Melenchon's claims: "We've won, and now, we're going to govern," she said in response to election results.

She's backed by Olivier Faure, head of the Socialist Party, who said, "the New Popular Front must take the lead in this new chapter of our history." His speech also revealed what roadblocks might lay ahead: Faure does not want to collaborate with centrist Macron's business-friendly alliance, Together.

Who's in the left's alliance?

Within the NFP alliance, the Socialist Party has the most experience in government, with Francois Mitterrand (1981-1995) and Francois Hollande (2012-2017) both having served as president.

The party also has experience in governing under the awkward power-sharing regulation known in France as "cohabitation," in which the president's party does not have the absolute majority in parliament and must work alongside an opposition government. This was the case between 1997 and 2002, when Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin served under Conservative President Jacques Chirac.

But the Socialist Party is only the second-strongest party in the NFP alliance, with Hollande's dismal approval ratings having paved the way for the rise of Melenchon's LFI. The firebrand, himself a former Socialist, now leads a party that is much more left-leaning and eurosceptic.

Jean-Luc Melenchon raises his first in a gesture of victory while standing at a podium, as supporters applaud
Jean-Luc Melenchon is the head of the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party, which is the strongest member of the winning New Popular Front Image: Arnaud Journois/dpa/MAXPPP/picture alliance

In the past, Melenchon has drawn criticism with statements about Israel's military operation in Gaza that were interpreted as antisemitic. Before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he professed understanding for Moscow's claims of feeling threatened by the expansion of NATO's military alliance.

Overall, Melenchon has been critical of NATO's integrated military command, from which he has repeatedly recommended France withdraw.

Behind the LFI and Socialists, the Greens, formally known as Europe Ecology  — The Greens (EELV), are the next-strongest party in the alliance. They're followed by the French Communist Party (PCF) and a long list of smaller parties, including a tiny faction fighting for the independence of the overseas territory French Polynesia in the South Pacific.

Will the new alliance suffer the same fate as its predecessor?

This new alliance now joins a long list of similar past attempts to bring the left together to govern. In 2022, for instance, Melenchon called upon France's leftist parties to campaign together as President Macron faced off against far-right populist Marine Le Pen of the National Rally (RN) in the country's last election.

Back then, Melenchon's New Ecological and Social Popular Union (NUPES) became the second-strongest group in parliament, but failed to translate its position into political power, as the Socialists, Communists and Greens proved reluctant to sacrifice their respective party sovereignty to join a formal oppositional alliance under Melenchon's leadership.

But things are different this time around. Melenchon is no longer the prominent figurehead of the alliance — instead, the heads of each party in the alliance have come together to form a collective leadership.

Sophie Pornschlegel, policy expert at the Brussels-based think tank Europe Jacques Delors, believes this new alliance has a better shot at success than its predecessor.

"They have better reasons to stick together," she explained, "because they actually have a chance to form a government and exercise executive power." She also pointed out that the Socialist Party had gained more clout within the alliance after the election, and that a younger generation of less egocentric politicians had now taken over the reigns within their respective parties.

Will the alliance become a coalition?

It still remains to be seen if the new leftist alliance will be able to turn Sunday's electoral success into tangible political power. Before the election, representatives from several parties in the alliance had spoken about favoring a government that was unified with Macron and against Le Pen. 

Torn up electoral posters showing the faces of Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen
While it's still unsure how unified the New Popular Front will remain as talks to form a new government begin, the alliance appears unanimous in its aim to keep Le Pen from powerImage: Laurent Cipriani/AP/picture alliance

While Melenchon's LFI seems unwilling to compromise on some of its political demands, Macron has already signaled that he is unwilling to work with Melenchon in the first place

"The question is really, who will receive which position in the new government," Pornschlegel said. "It's unlikely that [France Unbowed] will provide the next prime minister, because Macron will not let that happen. But negotiations are still coming up, so it's still hard to say what will happen."

The NFP alliance has said it wants to pick a candidate for prime minister this week. But Tondelier added that the more important question should be, "Which policies will the new government pursue?"

Ella Joyner contributed to this article, which was originally written in German.