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Ahead of parliamentary elections, the French left unites against the right

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The threat of the far right coming to power in France has forced the bickering and disparate factions of the French left to bury the hatchet and come together ahead of a two-round parliamentary vote that kicks off Sunday. French leftists have formed a coalition against what one leader has called the threat of the unthinkable. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The morning after President Emmanuel Macron dissolved the French Parliament in the wake of the far right's sweeping victory in European Parliament elections, stunned leftist party leaders assembled for an emergency meeting that lasted all day and into the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in French).

BEARDSLEY: With worried left-wing activists starting to gather outside, the head of the Ecologist Party came out to announce a deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE TONDELIER: (Speaking French).

(CHEERING)

BEARDSLEY: "We did it. We've agreed on a program," she yelled through a megaphone to chants of, don't betray us. The New Popular Front, as it's called, is named after the historic Front Populaire, a coalition formed against the extreme right in 1936. This modern-day version, an unruly grouping of social Democrats, communists, ecologists and the far-left France Unbowed Party, says it's best placed to beat the far right. One of its main leaders, Raphael Glucksmann, said they had no choice but to join forces.

RAPHAEL GLUCKSMANN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "It was a difficult decision, and it's not a marriage of love," he said. "We haven't erased our differences, but we created an electoral action unit to resist the far right."

JEROME GODEFROY: It's a big mess.

BEARDSLEY: That's veteran political journalist, Jerome Godefroy.

GODEFROY: This kind of left, completely divided, is not strong enough to compete with the far right, which is very strong, very united, and they have a great candidate.

BEARDSLEY: He's talking about 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, the head of the far-right National Rally and possibly France's next prime minister if his party obtains a majority in the National Assembly.

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JORDAN BARDELLA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: A TikTok star, here Bardella distills a two-hour debate into a much more exciting two-minute video, highlighting his plans to cut immigration and hand the French back their purchasing power. Godefroy.

GODEFROY: He's a bit shallow, but in the time of TikTok and social media, he is good-looking. He speaks quite well, even if he says a lot of stupid things, but he has the look. When you have the look these days in politics, it works.

BEARDSLEY: The left is still bickering over a possible prime minister candidate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEAN-LUC MELENCHON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The firebrand leader of the France Unbowed Party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, would love the job. He's run for president twice. But he's become more radical and divisive of late, scaring many undecided voters as much as the far right, says political analyst Jean Garrigues.

JEAN GARRIGUES: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "His provocations, insults and invectives have made political discourse more brutal," he says, "and Melenchon's hostile diatribes against Israel are seen as antisemitic." The New Popular Front just unveiled its multibillion-euro economic program. It plans to freeze prices on key consumer goods, hike the minimum wage and lower the retirement age back down to 60 and pay for it all by reinstating a tax on the super-rich and taxing corporations' super profits.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

BEARDSLEY: At this small-town market in Burgundy, olive seller Said Bouchaid says he likes the left's social plan. He says Macron has been a big disappointment.

SAID BOUCHAID: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Taxing super profits to help the poorest, it's a good idea," says Bouchaid. "We've never tried it." The son of Algerian immigrants says he also identifies with the values of the left. He calls the far right racist. Sunday's first-round vote will be a measure of the true strength of the far right, which polls currently show in first place. The left is next, with Macron's centrist a distant third. The final and second round of voting takes place July 7. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Burgundy, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.