French far-right makes big demands on Macron after small win

Far-right National Party leader Marine le Pen delivers a speech at the campaign headquarters, Sunday, May 26, 2019 in Paris. Exit polls in France indicated that Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party came out on top, in an astounding rebuke for French President Emmanuel Macron, who has made EU integration the heart of his presidency. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS (AP) — If French far-right leader Marine Le Pen gets her wish, her National Rally party, victorious in the European Parliament election, will force a dissolution of France’s own parliament and lure opponents to her cause. But there’s one major roadblock: French President Emmanuel Macron .

His government immediately made it clear Monday that Macron won’t dissolve the National Assembly and will continue to implement reforms aimed at modernizing the French economy.

Le Pen narrowly defeated Macron’s centrists by less than a point — 23.3% to 22.4% — in France’s European Parliament vote Sunday — reversing her bitter loss to Macron in the 2017 presidential race.

The victory Sunday fueled Le Pen’s vision of creating a nationalist force that counts in both France and Europe.

Her National Rally captured 22 seats in the 751-seat European Parliament, one more than Macron’s Republic on the Move party, according to a provisional count. That’s two less than in the 2014 election, which her party handily won. Macron’s party did not exist in 2014.

But Sunday’s win added value because her main opponent was the president of France and her populist allies in Europe, on a roll but not a wave, opened the door to enlarging their small group in the European Parliament.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who knows and supports Le Pen, said “a victory is a victory.”

The pro-EU Macron “is the president of France and, importantly, is the heir to (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel,” Bannon said in an interview, noting Macron’s vision of a strong, united EU. “He gambled big and lost.”

Bannon sparked anger from Macron’s party with claims he was stumping for Le Pen, via a series of interviews he gave the French press and meetings with National Rally officials ahead of the EU election.

Back in Paris, he described his relationship with Le Pen as a “colleague and a friend” with whom he shares his “best thoughts” — and said he saw some party higher-ups, but not her.

Macron considers his party’s score honorable, given that European elections have often served domestically as a protest vote. The president has faced down weekly protests for six months from the grassroots yellow vest movement , seeking social and economic justice that protesters say cannot be found in the overhaul Macron is doing to modernize France’s economy. The critics see Macron as the “president of the rich.”

Le Pen insisted she wasn’t seeking revenge against Macron.

“I’m not at all in the spirit of revenge,” she told reporters late Sunday. “I’m already in the future, not looking back.”

In addition to demanding that Macron dissolve the French parliament, Le Pen wanted a proportional voting system more favorable to her party installed in France’s lower chamber — where she serves as one of eight party lawmakers.

Macron has made no comment since the election. He was going to Brussels on Tuesday for meetings with European leaders, now focusing on trying to build a pro-European majority at the EU Parliament.

His Republic on the Move party was upbeat despite its second-place status, with government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye saying Monday the election outcome did not trigger “a political crisis.”

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the EU vote showed that Macron’s centrist party — which was only created in 2016 — is now a “stable and undeniable reality.” But he conceded that the far-right “is rooted in the French political landscape.”

Macron’s party considers the low scores for France’s traditional political parties — from 8% for The Republicans conservatives to 6% for the Socialists — as a positive development for his strategy to build a strong centrist majority.

Indeed, both Le Pen and Macron have their eyes on the future, notably the 2022 presidential election, but also municipal elections next year, then regional voting.

For Bannon, the European Parliamentary vote amounted to a midterm election for Macron.

“The presidential election in France started today,” he said.

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For more news from The Associated Press on the European Parliament elections go to https://www.apnews.com/EuropeanParliament

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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