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French gov’t faces confidence motions ahead of EU vote

By AFP - Jun 03,2024 - Last updated at Jun 03,2024

France’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (centre}at the National Assembly in Paris on Monday (AFP photo)

PARIS — France’s government on Monday faced two confidence challenges in parliament as political temperatures rise ahead of European Parliament elections set to mark a major victory for the far-right in the country.

The bids to unseat Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and his government, which have little chance of passing, come from opposite ends of the political spectrum — the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) and the far-right National Rally (RN).

An Ipsos poll released Monday suggested 33 per cent of people could vote for the RN list in the June 9 polls, double the likely score for President Emmanuel Macron’s governing Renaissance, whose 16 per cent placed them just ahead of the chasing Socialists.

Launched in rebuke of ministers over budget cuts decreed without parliamentary debate, Monday’s votes are a last major political set-piece before campaigning is overshadowed by the 80th anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings for the rest of this week.

“I hear the criticisms from the RN, from [the left], but not one of you is presenting an idea of how to do better or differently,” Attal told parliament.

“Both of you are opposed to everything that supports our growth, our economic activity and the European internal market,” he said.

Attal’s government has been in place for just a few months and looks set for embarrassment on Sunday.

The RN’s lead candidate Jordan Bardella urged voters “not to be spectators of [France’s] decline” at a weekend rally that drew around 5,000 people in Paris.

The 28-year-old’s challenge to Attal, 35, has been cast as a battle for dominance of the next generation of French politics.

 

‘Phone a friend’ 

 

Attal was criticised Monday for intervening uninvited in Franceinfo’s radio debate with lead candidates, shunting aside Renaissance’s Valerie Hayer who has largely failed to score with the public.

“Hello, sorry I’m bursting onto the stage,” he told the audience, before a short stump speech on how many key issues “can only be tackled through Europe”.

“This is the new ‘phone a friend’ lifeline that [Hayer] seems to be using more and more,” said Francois-Xavier Bellamy, candidate for the conservative Republicans party, referring to the quiz show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

“Clearly people around her think they’re better at campaigning... there’s a bit of a macho aspect to all this,” he said.

Macron has also been attacked for using the weight of his office to intervene in the campaign, including with a major speech on Europe in April.

The president will give a prime-time TV interview Thursday when he is expected to address the elections, the war in Ukraine and the conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

He will be front and centre throughout this week as he hosts figures including US President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky for the anniversary of the 1944 amphibious invasion that kicked off the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi German occupation.

 

‘Bankrupt’

 

Monday’s debates in parliament will see the government defend its pursuit of tighter budgets, days after France’s debt was downgraded by ratings agency S&P.

“Macronism is bankrupt,” LFI lawmaker Matthias Tavel told parliament.

“You can’t escape the rebuke of the people, because Sunday’s vote will be the start of what comes after Macron,” he added.

Attal told MPs that France had “no difficulty financing itself” and “we have a clear and realistic plan for the public finances”.

An absolute majority of at least 289 would be needed to topple the government in Monday’s votes.

Even combining the strength of the RN and the spectrum of left-wing parties, the hurdle cannot be reached without support from the conservative Republicans Party — who for now are expected to sit on the sidelines.

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