Politics & Society

France’s Litmus Test:

Macron’s Government and the European Elections

Of the 720 seats up for grabs in the upcoming European elections, 81 of those will be for French members of the European Parliament. For French voters, the stakes for this election are high, as this is the first time they are able to vote since the 2022 presidential elections.

While left-wing politicians such as Raphaël Glucksmann have been making waves, the dynamic between the far-right Marine Le Pen camp and the French President Macron camp — who faced off in the national elections — has now spilled over into the European elections.

At the time of writing, the predicted results portend a major upset for the French president’s coalition, RENEW Europe. RENEW is expected to lose six seats (they currently hold 23), while Identity & Democracy, the far-right National Rally’s coalition, is expected to gain ten seats (they currently hold 18.)

No matter the final results, the presidential camp should draw lessons from the trends that emerged on the road to these elections. This will be necessary in order to course correct their approach accordingly prior to the 2027 presidential elections.

Lessons to learn

In a poll carried out by IPSOS in March 2024, 52% of French citizens stated that they are going to vote above all to “manifest their support or opposition to the president and his government”. In that same poll, 53% of French citizens stated that they were voting on national questions while 47% were voting on European questions.

Heading the far-right National Rally list is the Le Pen protégé, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella’s charismatic persona has made him a household name in French politics. The majority of his voter base represent a Euroskeptic demographic that want to use the European election ballot to protest the current government. Loic Signor, spokesperson for Macron’s party, stated that “Bardella wants to nationalize the ballot, it’s up to us to Europeanize it!”

Yet, current polling indicates that 30% will be voting for the National Rally, while only 17% will vote for Macron’s party, Renaissance. The last time a French electoral list in the European elections received above 30% was in 1984 under the leadership of Simone Veil, who was elected in 1979 as the first woman president of the European Parliament. 40 years later, the pendulum has swung to the far-right in France. It’s essential to understand what has won over the French electorate.


Globally, 44% of 18 to 24-year-olds use TikTok as their primary news source. Across Europe, there are 142 million people who use the application. TikTok has become key to reach younger voters.

This is no surprise to Jordan Bardella. He has 1.3 million followers on TikTok to date, and his content clearly resonates with his intended French audience. The polls indicate that only 4% of 18-24-year-olds plan on voting for Renaissance, while 31% are planning on voting for the National Rally.

When Bardella posts, he mixes political discourse as well as light-hearted “meme-ified” content. This balance performs well on social media. For example, the video announcing his run for a seat in the European Parliament has over a million views on TikTok, and mixes his party slogan as well as a picture of him with the caption “My captain, my captain”. His posts are lighthearted, easy to digest, and accessible, making him a proficient user of an app primarily destined for youths.

But how does the older — and perhaps less meme-savvy — Macron fare on social media? The French president has often been criticized for being pedantic towards his citizens. To push forward a more inviting image of himself, he’s engaged with various popular social media influencers over the years. The most notable was a two-hour interview with political influencer HugoDecrypte, who boasts 2.67 million followers on YouTube. Other than Macron removing his blazer for the interview, it remained very formal and didn’t offer the ease or familiarity that Bardella’s content does. Meanwhile, on Instagram, Macron’s attempts to have a conversation with French citizens, while short-form, feels inauthentic and scripted. In order to connect with a younger generation, Macron’s camp will have to use a different social media strategy. And if they’re keeping an eye on the polls, then Bardella has to be an inspiration for what works.

Don’t shoot the messenger

While Jordan Bardella is ranked in the top three most popular current political figures for the French — and first place among youth — the Renaissance party decided to appoint the relatively unknown Valerie Hayer to the helm, a decision which may not have resonated with potential voters. Part of Hayer’s strategy has been using fear of the far-right as a motivator for her electorate. In a recent speech, she stated: "Yesterday, Daladier and Chamberlain, today Le Pen and Orbán. The same words, the same argument, the same debates. We are in Munich in 1938." Although her intentions are clear, this might not be the most effective strategy to draw voters in.

In fact, a recent report from Scientific American focusing on doom-and-gloom messaging around climate change indicates that fear motivated people to share news on their social media “where negativity reigns”, but that this messaging “backfired when it came to more effortful behavior. Hearing these messages actually decreased people’s pro-environmental behavior.” These lessons can be applied to broader political rhetoric as well.

At the other end of the positivity-negativity spectrum, the Le Pen camp are firing on all cylinders, all the way down to the slogan. The National Rally’s slogan for the European elections is “France is coming back: and Europe relives!” This statement is overwhelmingly positive, evoking feelings of inspiration and ushering in a new era of power. By comparison, the Renaissance slogan, “Need Europe!”, evokes a sense of lacking and desperation. At a time when so many French citizens are frustrated with the status quo, this was the opportunity to choose a message that inspired change and offered a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

However, there is one official that the current French government can lean on as an effective messenger: their Prime Minister Gabriel Attal. Attal has been pitted against Jordan Bardella a number of times so far. They debated each other, fervently defending their candidates, in the run up to the presidential elections in 2022. This month, they debated on national television about the issues pertinent to the European elections. They are both representative of a younger generation hailing from completely different political perspectives. Overall, Attal takes the lead as the most popular political figure in France, and is ranked second among the younger generation — with Bardella in first place. In this case, using an effective messenger is as key as the message itself.

Now what?

Polling estimates about 44% of French citizens will vote in the European elections. While not as high as the participation in the presidential elections, which was around 72%, it is still a substantial turnout in the country for the European elections.

In June, French voters may vote in protest of specific policy, against the president, or to change the European Union in one way or another. No matter the reason, the European elections offer an opportunity to apply the learnings of the past at the voting booths in preparation for the road to the 2027 presidential elections.


Chloe Ladd

Manager, Transatlantic Relations
Bertelsmann Foundation