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Voyage By Pauline: “Your tailor-made journey to France.”

If you follow French news, you probably know that the political situation in France at the moment is… complicated, to say the least. In fact, in a recent conversation with Emmanuel (our CEO and certified French person), I was told that even French people who follow politics are having a difficult time taking apart what has happened in the past few weeks, and what could possibly happen as a result. So I thought I’d offer a quick breakdown for Americans who don’t really know what’s going on, but want to understand why everyone is freaking out so much.

At the beginning of June, member states of the European Union held elections for the European Parliament. Many countries, including France, saw a strong showing from the far right. In retaliation, French President Emmanuel Macron (who leads France’s Renaissance centrist party) called for a surprise election in France. Basically, he was betting that French voters would prove that they aren’t caving to this European-wide far right shift.

Most people thought Macron was shooting himself in the foot, and that his opposition, the far right Rassemblement National, would come out on top. Led by Marine Le Pen and her young protegee, Jordan Bardella, the Rassemblement National (also known as the National Rally), is characterized by their nationalist and anti-immigration policies, and a “France First” ideology. (Le Pen, who took over as France’s far right leader from her father, has been considered the more palatable—and so, more insidious—face of a party that has deep xenophobic and antisemitic roots.) France’s far right has been slowly rising in influence, as Macron’s unpopularity with the French people only deepens.

But no one predicted what would actually happen as the French people were asked, once again, to declare their political sympathies. This weekend, the second round of snap elections took place, and the top party to emerge was France’s far left Nouveau Front Populaire. But the Parliament is now split almost in thirds between the far left, centrist, and far right. And, to make things more confusing, the Nouveau Front Populaire isn’t a political party, but a coalition of several parties, which banded together to prevent the far right from taking over. So despite winning more seats in Parliament than the centrist or far right groups, they are a mosaic of conflicting political opinions, further fracturing the French National Assembly.

Since parliamentary elections usually take place right after presidential elections in France, it is usually the president’s party that takes the majority. Now, Macron has to appoint a prime minister who could be immediately censured by a split Parliament. If this happens, the government would effectively grind to a halt, incapable of passing laws or doing anything but maintain the political status quo. Everything will be in gridlock until the next elections, which can’t take place for at least a year. France has no precedent for this kind of situation, so no one knows at this point what might happen.

Macron is despised by much of his country. Le Pen is feared. And the far-left leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is a figure who comes with his own laundry list of controversies, and a proclivity for stirring the pot.

All of this creates something of a strange atmosphere under which to celebrate le quatorze juillet, aka the Fête Nationale (aka Bastille Day, as Americans prefer to call it). But celebrations will go on. Whether you’re in Washington D.C., San Francisco, or Texas, we’ve got recommendations for festivals, dinners, dance parties, and more.

In New York, an abundance of events will take place, including the Bal Français, a free French music concert in Central Park, and an enormous street fair in Manhattan hosted by L’Alliance New York (formerly FIAF).

Looking for a history refresher ahead of the holiday? Check out our list of French Revolution flicks, or read into why Americans celebrate Bastille Day to begin with.

Ciao,
Catherine Rickman

Stay in touch! I’d love to hear from you: [email protected].

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