‘Extremely unsettling’: Fears for the Paris Olympic Games in the wake of France’s snap election

The world’s attention will be on Paris in just a few weeks as the Olympics begin with an unprecedented opening ceremony involving a flotilla of barges carrying athletes along the iconic Seine.

But the spirit of positivity and unity that underpins the Games is now under threat after French President Emmanuel Macron called a surprise early election, to be held just weeks earlier.

There are now concerns about everything from national security to transport infrastructure, with the outcome of the parliamentary vote appearing uncertain and unlikely to result in a clear majority.

That raises the risk of civil unrest, at a time when Paris hopes its 2.1 million residents will unite to welcome the world to its city.

Macron dissolved parliament on Sunday in the aftermath of a resounding victory for far-right candidates in the European Union parliamentary vote.

France’s ultra-conservative National Rally party surged to victory, taking 31% of the vote – more than double Macron’s centrist alliance.

“I have listened to your message and I will not let it go without a response,” Macron said in a televised address.

“France needs a clear, serene and harmonious majority.”

Macron said he would not resign himself to the progress of the far right “everywhere on the continent”. The country will now go to the polls in two rounds, on 30 June and 7 July. The Paris Games will begin on July 26.

Paris Mayor Anna Hidalgo said she had “difficulty understanding” why the president chose to call early elections just weeks before the Olympics.

“Like a lot of people, I was stunned,” Ms. Hidalgo said Monday.

“A dissolution right before the Games is really something extremely disturbing.”

The impact of the election is unclear

There are fears that a change of government – ​​or worse, an unclear outcome – could leave crucial services such as transport and internal security unattended.

“The vote could lead to political instability in the event of another hung parliament in which no party wins a majority, or a sea change if Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party emerges as the largest party nationwide.” , France24 reported.

Any civil unrest linked to the results could also cast the French capital in a negative light as Olympians and fans from around the world arrive.

Last year, violent riots erupted across the country after a French-Algerian teenager was shot dead by police in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Paris.

At the height of the unrest, hundreds of tactical officers swarmed the popular tourist area of ​​the Champs Elysées in central Paris as angry crowds gathered.

David Roizen of the Jean Jaurès Foundation told AFP that new election-related unrest could detract from the positive and united spirit of the Olympics.

“There is a risk of ending the positive dynamic in the sense that people only talk about the Olympics from a safety perspective,” Roizen said.

There are already concerns about security measures for the opening ceremony, which will be held on open-air boats on the Seine.

Some unions have also threatened to strike during the Games, which could throw the city into chaos.

But Paris 2024 boss Tony Estanguet said his team is “more determined than ever” to make the Games a resounding success.

“There have been about 10 elections since we launched the bid for the Olympics and we have figured out how to work with public actors,” Estanguet said.

And International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach denied the election would impact the Games.

“France is used to holding elections – it will do so once again,” Bach said. “There will be a new government and everyone will support the Olympics.”

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra may be out of work before the opening ceremony but said politicians must unite to support the Games.

“We have waited a century for these Games,” Ms. Oudéa-Castéra said.

“It is essential that our country takes care of its image and the message it sends to the world at a time when it welcomes athletes from all over the world.”

Macron’s mega political bet

Macron’s announcement came as a dramatic surprise to political experts in France and Europe.

Only two years have passed since his second term as president. His party does not have a majority in parliament and governs with an alliance.

The risk of a vote of no confidence after the European Parliament vote loomed large.

Rassemblement National leader Marine Le Pen said the party was “ready to take power if the French give us their trust.”

“We are ready to wield power, to end mass immigration, to prioritize purchasing power, ready to revive France,” Le Pen told a crowd of supporters in Paris.

The party’s platform includes calling a referendum to crack down on immigration, ban the wearing of headscarves in public, repeal birthright citizenship and revoke residency from unemployed migrants.

It also pledged to eliminate income tax for French workers under 30 and to increase pensions and allow early retirement at 60 for those who have worked for 40 years.

A political poll conducted on Monday indicated National Rally would win between 235 and 265 seats in parliament, up from the current 88 seats.

That would leave him short of the number needed to win an absolute majority – 289.

The Toluna Harris Interactive poll for Challenges, M6 and RTL found that Macron’s centrist alliance would see its seats halved from the current 250 to 125-155.

“We are still in shock,” Emmanuel Pellerin, a member of Macron’s Renaissance party, told Reuters.

“Everything suggests that the RN will obtain a relative or absolute majority. But this forces the French to reflect on what is at stake.”

Regardless of the result, Macron will remain president for another three years as presidential elections will be held separately.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the morning after his bombshell announcement, Macron wrote: “I have faith in the ability of the French people to make the right choice for themselves and for future generations. My only ambition is to be useful to our country that I love so much.”

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