Jordan Bardella, Emmanuel Macron, France, Elections
Photo credit: Illustration by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED), Esther Vargas / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED), European Parliament / Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0 DEED), and President of the Russia / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0 DEED).

The world is shifting right, and France is at the epicenter. Decoding the forces reshaping global politics in this crucial election year.

This year, 2024, sees over 60 countries holding elections that could redefine the international order that has prevailed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

In a world where the specter of nationalism looms large and the future of democracy hangs in the balance, nowhere is the current rightward shift more evident than in the recently held European Union elections, and in France, where the upcoming national elections may amplify the global surge to the far right.

On this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, we talk with Elvire Camus, editor-in-chief of Le Monde’s English language edition, to shed light on the impact of the EU elections, France’s upcoming “snap” election, and the complexities of shifting alliances across Europe. She discusses France’s challenges of immigration and the rise of nationalism — themes that are reshaping political discourse not just in France and Europe, but everywhere, all at once.

Camus focuses on President Emmanuel Macron’s calculated gamble to dissolve the National Assembly and call for immediate elections. The results, she says, could have far-reaching consequences in France and could potentially serve as a precursor to upcoming elections in the US and elsewhere.

As a seasoned journalist with a wealth of experience at Le Monde and The New York Times, Camus shares her insights on the underlying forces driving this surge in nationalism, and a growing sense of disillusionment and economic unease among French voters.

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Full Text Transcript:

(As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.)

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m your host, Jeff Schechtman. In the ever-shifting landscape of global politics, the year 2024 stands as a significant marker with over 60 countries poised to hold elections that could redefine the international order. From the recent pivotal elections in Mexico, India, and Taiwan to the transformative European Union (EU) elections, the world is witnessing a surge of change that transcends the status quo.

As nations grapple with the complexities of shifting alliances, the specter of war and peace, the challenges of immigration, and the rise of nationalism, these global themes are reshaping the political discourse. Nowhere is this more evident than in the European Union where the recent elections have amplified a profound rightward shift. In France, the far-right party led by Marine Le Pen and her young protege, Jordan Bardella, has made significant gains, prompting President Macron to make a calculated political move by dissolving the National Assembly and calling for immediate elections.

To shed light on these developments, we turn to our guest, Elvire Camus, the editor-in-chief of Le Monde’s English language edition. She’s a seasoned journalist who has spent over a decade at Le Monde as a reporter and editor, and at one time, served in the Paris Bureau of The New York Times. As we explore the implications of these French and EU elections and the forces that are shaping our world in 2024, it is my pleasure to welcome Elvire Camus here to the WhoWhatWhy podcast. Elvire, thanks so much for joining us.

Elvire Camus: Thank you for having me.

Jeff: Well, it is great to have you here. First of all, talk a little bit about what these EU elections represented. What was it that the people of France, people across the EU, were voting on, and what the significance was?

Elvire: I almost forgot that they were EU elections on Sunday because, here in France, it shifted to different elections in one hour. But you’re right that we did vote for the EU Parliament first before shifting to these new general elections called in France. So what these elections were in the EU, it was to elect members of the European Parliament. There were over 360 million people called to vote across Europe in 27 countries to decide who would represent them in the European Parliament.

Jeff: And what is the significance of these elections as it impacts France specifically and politically?

Elvire: So the impact in France is different from the impact in Europe. What happened in France was pretty predictable actually. What happened was that the far-right led by the Rassemblement National Party made significant gains. The Rassemblement National together with other far-right or nationalist parties or movements rather than parties, got almost 40 percent of the vote here in France. Not saying that we knew, but the latest polls predicted that the far-right and the Rassemblement National would make huge gains in these elections and that Macron’s coalition would make significant losses, and this is what actually happened.

So it wasn’t that much of a surprise, but what was really surprising in France was that the President decided to call snap elections right after the results to call the French to the polls in three weeks time taking the risk to make the far-right in a position to form a government in France, meaning that we could, in three weeks in France, have a far-right prime minister. It’s not the only thing that could come out of these elections, but this is the risk that Emmanuel Macron decided to take.

Jeff: And talk about the reasons for that risk. I know much has been reported about the behind-the-scenes machinations that went on for some time before what actually happened. What were, as you see it, the reasons for him taking this risk at this time?

Elvire: I wish I knew exactly the reasons, but I don’t, of course. What we suspect is happening is that Emmanuel Macron doesn’t have a majority in parliament in France since he got re-elected in 2022 for a second five-year term. And it’s been very difficult for him to conduct everyday business in parliament to pass laws. He has to make alliances. It’s proving to be even more difficult to the point where these Sunday elections show that the gridlock is not going anywhere in the sense that he has made such big losses that he has very little room [to] maneuver. And there are three years to go before the next election, so it’s a very long time.

Three years left for his second term, and he can’t run again, but three years is a very long time to run a country without a majority and with a totally gridlock[ed] parliament. So he decided to break that gridlock or try to, at least, and called snap elections right away. There are, of course, reasons that we’ve written about in terms of why take such a big risk with the far-right so big right now in France, why not wait?

Macron has been saying that he’s a risk taker, that politics is about risk, and the situation couldn’t go on like this, and he had to act. And also, everybody sees how Macron– He thinks he’s going to win. He doesn’t think he’s going to lose. He’s going in it to win. Well, he hopes to be, and I think he believes that he can be the French president to have beaten the far-right three times within seven years: the first time in 2017; the second time in 2022; the two presidential elections; and then in 2024 in the upcoming legislative elections.

Jeff: It’s not a binary situation win or lose because he could certainly wind up in a situation where the right makes some gains, they don’t really emerge totally victorious, as he would hope, but that the gridlock could be a lot worse.

Elvire: Absolutely. There are three ways in which these elections could clarify the political situation in France and end the gridlock. And then there is one way in which it could lead to even further uncertainty, which is probably the most likely situation at this point. The first thing that could happen is that the far-right wins a majority of seats in the Assemblée nationale prompting Macron to ask Jordan Bardella, the head of the party, and Marine Le Pen’s lieutenant, to form a government. The second option would be that Macron’s coalition manages to come out on top in these elections and win a majority with Macron, as I said, before emerging as the president who beat the far-right three times until the next election.

The third outcome could be that the left-wing alliance wins the majority of seats in the Assemblée nationale and becomes in a position to appoint a prime minister from their rank. In that case, the president would be in a cohabitation, meaning that it would have a prime minister from a different political camp with a left-wing prime minister this time. So the same situation is that the Rassemblement National gets to appoint a prime minister but, of course, very different too because you’d have someone governing with a very different sense of respect for the democratic institutions, probably.

And then the highly likely fourth option at this hour, and I want to emphasize on the fact that things are shifting very quickly, we don’t know at this point who Macron is going to be allied with, who the far-right is going to make an alliance with. We don’t know what the left-wing alliance is going to look like. So it’s really difficult to predict anything at this point, but a very likely option given the current situation is that the Assemblée nationale ends up being divided into three different blocks of Macron’s coalition, a far-right or right-wing coalition around the Rassemblement National, and then a left-wing coalition with no end of the gridlock in sight.

Jeff: Certainly, the idea of having a president and a prime minister from different parties is something that’s happened before in France. This wouldn’t be the first time that that happened.

Elvire: It would not be the first time, but it’s a rare situation. It has happened five times since 1962. And the last time we had a president and the prime minister from two different camps was in 1997 when conservative president, Jacques Chirac, was in a cohabitation with a socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about the issues that underlie this movement that has been going on, this ongoing movement towards the right in France. Certainly, [what] we’ve talked about earlier is something we’ve seen throughout Europe but, specifically, with respect to France, what are the issues themselves that are driving the success of the right at this point?

Elvire: It’s a mix of different things and it certainly appears more complex than it seems. What our reporters have been telling us and what we’ve been writing during this EU election campaign, which in France was very domestic-centered, the themes that dominated the campaign didn’t have a lot to do with Europe. So it’s a mix of different things. There’s a strong feeling of being neglected on the part of some of the people who vote for the far-right. They feel that traditional parties who have been in power for a long time don’t take their lives and everyday struggles into consideration enough, including Macron, who himself campaigned back in 2017 on the idea of breaking up the traditional right-left divide. He’s seen as someone who’s been showing a lot of contempt for people and there’s a strong rejection vote in part because of that too, rejection toward him. And in fact, Macron’s camp in this parliamentary campaign is pushing the fact that these elections are not a referendum on him that he will remain president. They’re trying to take the focus away from him a little bit.

We’ve published a long piece before the EU elections looking at the reason why young voters like the far-right candidate, Jordan Bardella, because we’ve seen that he has a very good image among the French, the younger voters. And one of the people interviewed in that piece said that Macron’s ministers never make trips outside of Paris. They stay far from the other territories but, in fact, ministers do make trips outside of Paris. Maybe not enough, maybe they don’t do it well, but they do do trips. And Bardella and Le Pen do come to meet normal people according to these people we’ve interviewed, which they rarely do. So this underlines how much more difficult it seems to be for the governing coalition to make these trips efficient compared to the Rassemblement National.

Jeff: It does seem that Macron is trying to stake out a position in the middle and that the price he pays for that is that he’s being attacked both from the left and the right. Talk about that.

Elvire: He has been playing a difficult game. And his strategy, because the far-right, as I said in the beginning of this conversation, has been rising in France for a number of years, Macron’s strategy is to fight the far-right. He’s been saying ever since he got re-elected and even before that for a five-year term, that his sole objective was to prevent the far-right from winning in France. And many questioned this strategy of him going on the far-right’s themes to fight this battle. For instance, with the immigration bill and these kinds of policies.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about the economy of the country and whether or not Macron has been good for France’s economic conditions, and if he has been, what benefit is he gaining from that politically?

Elvire: The economy is a central issue in every election. Of course, you’re right to point that out. It’s not just about a feeling. Our reporters have documented how quality of life decreasing over the last few years has had an impact. Hospitals are struggling. Childcare, care for the elderly, are not in a good shape. Public services altogether are not in a good shape. And the left is having a hard time attracting voters on these issues. But that alone doesn’t give us the whole picture, probably because what is striking with these elections is also that the far-right is leading almost everywhere in France, with the exception of a few big cities showing how it has managed to put forward an image of France that a lot of people agree with and see themselves in a France that used to be but isn’t anymore, even in terms of ideology and values.

And one of our reporters also noted how Le Pen and Bardella campaigned on the issue of the electric car, which some French people who are attached to their old diesel car that they’ve had forever, and don’t see how they could switch practically and financially to an electric car. And let’s not forget that the Gilets Jaunes movement started in France with cars and fierce opposition to a carbon tax that was seen as unfair to part of the French population who can’t do without a car. So this definitely played a part as well.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about French nationalism and the feelings about the EU in general. Certainly, one of the things that we’ve heard from Le Pen and that Bardella talked about in the EU elections was a kind of contempt for the EU as far as France is concerned. It feels a lot like what went on in the UK during Brexit. Is there a similar trend going on in France right now?

Elvire: Immigration also was an important issue during this campaign and these elections. And I’m saying that because we ran a story this week about how immigration is perceived as a European issue rather than a national issue, and it appears that it was nearly half of voters said that immigration had been a decisive issue in their vote according to an exit poll right behind purchasing power. And after Macron’s immigration bill was voted, Le Pen said that it was a victory for the values defended by her own party, and we tend to see that people prefer the original to the copy.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about Bardella and his role. Now, he’s a member of the European Parliament. At the same time, campaigning against the EU. How is that working?

Elvire: Bardella proved to be a good choice to lead this campaign for the Rassemblement National. He put forward his working-class origins, the fact that he grew up in a poor Paris suburb with a high number of inhabitants coming from an immigrant background that he says he knows what it’s like. This certainly helped. He’s also very popular on TikTok, which sounds silly but is not. It’s a very good place to reach a younger audience, of course. And it’s important to be good on that platform as well.

And what’s interesting is that many young people or reporters [I] met with often can’t cite one measure that Bardella’s program of the far-right program is putting forward. It’s more on his character that they are supporting him. And it certainly isn’t one on what he has done because it has widely been reported, as a former MEP, he has not done much, [which is] not to say nothing. And it’s funny that he just won or he came on top of the European elections. So he got elected as an MEP and then the next day, he said that he was running for prime minister.

Bardella has also been very quiet during this campaign as has Marine Le Pen been since the last elections in 2022. During the debates on the immigration bill, she didn’t say much. She’s been hard at work for years to soften the image of her father’s party who’s been repeatedly convicted for anti-semitic remarks. And it seems that the less Marine Le Pen and her troops talk, the more people vote for them. And some commentators have also been saying that the more Macron talks, the less people vote for him. And some of Macron’s supporters on the campaign trail have also seen and said that it was not always his government that people rejected, but him and his actual face on campaign leaflets.

Jeff: There certainly has been this rightward tilt throughout Europe. We saw it in these EU elections. Is France at the forefront of that, or has France been following a broader trend?

Elvire: Yes, it appears that Euro-skeptic forces, movements, [and] parties surged in these elections. It appears that all but two European countries which are Malta and Slovenia now have far-right MEPs. But it also looks like not all of the EU placed far-right candidates on top. As our regional correspondent in Vienna reported this week, in many younger democracies, the far-right did not come out on top. It came out on top in France, in Belgium, in Italy, in what it made important gains, in Germany, in the Netherlands as well, but not in Poland, for instance.

Where the war in Ukraine was at the heart of the campaign and fear of war is probably stronger there, and it probably had an impact on the votes. Immigration, again, was also cited in my colleagues’ analysis as being one of the reasons to explain the surge for the far right in countries that have been the arrival point of migration routes such as France and Germany as well. And according to the poll I was citing earlier, immigration is seen more as an EU issue rather than a national issue. And the fact that Euro-skeptics surge in certain places and not in others or not as much in others might play a part in the balance of power in the EU. Yes, definitely.

Jeff: Given all of this, what is your sense or what are your reporters sensing is the basis from Macron’s gamble? He’s talked about that he likes to take risks, but what’s at the heart of this gamble that he’s taking here? What is he hoping for?

Elvire: That’s the million-dollar question. I’ve just come out of a meeting with the entire newsroom, our weekly meeting where we brainstorm on what we’re going to be covering in the next few days. And we can’t say that we know. And Macron himself, what he’s been saying is that he can win. There is a feeling that if he himself leads the campaign, which isn’t clear whether he’ll do or not because he’s sending mixed signals. He can manage the feat of winning again but it is puzzling to see that very few people actually think that this gamble is a good idea.

Jeff: If Macron loses this gamble, what’s going to be the impact? Not just on politics and in the National Assembly, what do you see as the impact on people in France?

Elivire: That’s also not an easy question to answer. The far-right has an agenda. And Marine Le Pen quickly after the election results on Sunday said that if they were to win these next elections which is not a given– We don’t know that it will happen. Again, things are shifting super quickly, and a lot of things can still happen in this very short campaign until the first round of the votes on June 30th. But what she said is that they will implement the far-right’s agenda and not a version of the conservatives’ agenda if they do ally with part of the French right. But it’s a little difficult to know precisely what they will do because they’ve been going back and forth on some central issues.

These last EU elections, for instance, they did not campaign on exiting the Euro. After Sunday’s result, Marine Le Pen said that she would go forward with a referendum on immigration and that remained a high priority. Jordan Bardella also said on Tuesday or Wednesday that he would not repeal Macron’s pension reform after all when they were saying during the debates that they would lower the retirement age to 60 if they were to come to power. So it’s not easy to understand exactly what they would do.

They’re also starting a narrative saying that, given the state of the country, they’re going to have a hard time implementing their agenda, implementing the measures that they want to, so it’s difficult to know. And as reporters and as journalists, we also have a difficult time covering this because we’ve been talking about that a lot too if they might win the next election and we might get a far-right prime minister, but they might also not win the next elections. And so we want to be careful when we write about these elections. We want to be careful to cover every possibility and not write too much stuff that could happen when we don’t know what will happen

Jeff: If Bardella were to be successful and become prime minister, do you sense that people would feel any different that they would feel suddenly that they’re being heard, that they’re being listened to? Would anything really be very different?

Elvire: It’s hard to know.

Jeff: Because, as you say, in many ways, it’s not so much about policy as it is about a feeling.

Elvire: What’s certain is that part of the country and depending on the results of this election, [a] big part of the country will be very happy if he wins.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about how these snap elections will work. There’s two rounds of them. Explain to our listeners how the process works.

Elvire: So the country has even less than three weeks now to organize 577 elections which is the number of seats in the Assemblée nationale. We need paper to print election propaganda, stewards to oversee the actual elections. Politicians have less than three weeks to campaign, even less to make alliances because the candidacies have to be finalized by June 16th I think, by this Sunday in any case. It will be a snap election but the campaign will be even quicker. And it’s already getting pretty tense with the right tearing itself apart and the left trying to “stop with the bullshit” as one of their leaders said on Sunday evening. And the first one will take place on June 30th, and the second on July 7th.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old, the heart of the right’s campaign here.

Elvire: He is really emphasized on his image as a young dynamic person who really knows what the French people are going through. He’s emphasizing on his origins. We’ve also run a piece about his immigrant grandparents who are Italian and how he’s been careful in the way he talks about that and using this experience he has to say that we can’t treat every immigrant the same way. Some have good intentions and others don’t and, yes, differentiate people.

Jeff: Before we wrap up, tell us a little bit about Le Monde, and particularly, Le Monde in English which is celebrating its second anniversary but tell our listeners a little bit about it.

Elvire: Right. So Le Monde in English was launched in 2022, absolutely, so we’re a little over two years old. We launched right before the first round of the French presidential election, so that the coming parliamentary elections sound familiar to the parliamentary elections that we covered when we were very, very young. Not in the sense that they’re going to be the same but we remember now how we’ve covered election nights and everything.

The idea behind the English edition of Le Monde is to basically give access to Le Monde’s journalism to an English-speaking audience which means [a] much broader audience than the French-speaking world and also an audience who might not have access to our perspective on global news, our French and European perspective. And we can access it through our website. We also have an app, newsletters, and we have accounts on all of the main social media platforms.

And what we’ve been seeing since the launch is that our readers have an appetite for how we cover global news. And the EU election and Macron’s decision to call snap elections was a big draw as well because we’ve seen that, for instance, when the war in Gaza started, we had a big surge in viewers, and people are also interested in all things French, I would say. And so this is a very interesting moment for us to be here. And [the] coverage that we’re putting forward, of course, is very different or much more complete than what foreign correspondents are doing in France because, of course, there are so many of us here compared to foreign bureaus.

Jeff: Explain a little what you mean by the French perspective. What do you think that people get differently when they read Le Monde?

Elvire: Well, for instance, one of the pieces that we published since Sunday which I think is for us, even for the French side, of course, but for us is very, very important, is a piece on how Macron made his decision to call a snap election and who influenced him, who he listened to in the end. And I think it showed Macron under a very different perspective than the foreign press sees him because, of course, here, we have tens of journalists who work on French politics and who have sources and the kind of access that the foreign press doesn’t have, of course.

And so this is something that we are the only ones to put forward and it was also very interesting to cover the pension reform or the immigration bill to have a wide number of angles on this global issue of work and how long people want to work and how much work is important compared to time when you don’t work, be it vacation, retirement, what it means to put a lot of effort into work, what it means to need to have a bit of time to do something else. And these are all important issues I think all over, and the French people certainly don’t see things the same as everyone else.

And one other thing for the pension reform I remember we did, which was I think very interesting was, again, the foreign press was covering, the English-speaking press was covering, mostly Macron’s political strategy and the impact that it would have on finances. And we were able to do more angles again which is again logical given the number that we are. And we did a page on how we would impact specifically women, for instance, or people because women have a career that is not as regular as men because of pregnancies and because of inequalities of different kinds. So this was also a piece that I think was very interesting for us to have at this time and show a broader audience because, of course, our job is to help people understand the news, make sense of the news. And it’s very exciting and I think important to be in the global landscape today.

Jeff: Well, I thank you so much for spending time with us. Elvire Camus, the editor-in-chief of Le Monde English language, celebrating actually its second anniversary. Thank you so much for spending time with us here on the WhoWhatWhy podcast.

Elvire: Thank you for having me.

Jeff: Thank you. And thank you for listening and joining us here on the WhoWhatWhy podcast. I hope you join us next week for another radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to


  • Jeff Schechtman

    Jeff Schechtman’s career spans movies, radio stations and podcasts. After spending twenty-five years in the motion picture industry as a producer and executive, he immersed himself in journalism, radio, and more recently the world of podcasts. To date he has conducted over ten-thousand interviews with authors, journalists, and thought leaders. Since March of 2015, he has conducted over 315 podcasts for

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