Le Pen Ally Rejects Becoming French PM Without Absolute Majority

(Bloomberg) -- National Rally leader Jordan Bardella said he will not become prime minister if his party doesn’t get a resounding victory in France’s snap election, setting a high bar for the far right to take the reins of policymaking.

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While polls indicate Marine Le Pen’s party is best placed to become the largest group in the National Assembly following two rounds of voting starting June 30, projections don’t show it winning more than half of the 577 seats.

French President Emmanuel Macron has three years left in his term, meaning a National Rally victory in the legislature that’s short of an absolute majority would complicate government duties in a so-called cohabitation. This setup could slow down or even derail the passage of Le Pen’s agenda.

“If I don’t get an outright majority, I will refuse being appointed as prime minister,” Bardella said in an evening interview with France 2 TV. “I want to be able to act,” he added, echoing similar comments made to Le Parisien newspaper.

“Who could believe that we would be able to change the daily lives of French people in cohabitation with a relative majority?” he told the newspaper. “Nobody. I’m saying to the French people: to try us, we need an absolute majority.”

France’s constitutional structure means that sometimes the presidency and the legislature can be controlled by different parties, although it’s happened rarely. The last time was in 1997. In that situation, the president is responsible for foreign policy and defense, but it’s the prime minister who controls domestic issues such as fiscal policy.

Macron last week dissolved the National Assembly and called for a new vote after his political group was trounced by the National Rally in European parliamentary elections. The French president lacked an absolute majority in the outgoing legislature, which made it difficult to pass laws.

The prospect of the National Rally forming the next government with Bardella as prime minister sent shock waves through the country’s political establishment and rattled investors who sold off French assets. Bardella is the party’s president, while Le Pen is its most prominent figure and the daughter of the founder.

The extra yield investors demand to hold French debt over German peers — a gauge of the nation’s risk — is hovering near a seven-year high. That comes after a record surge last week, according to data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 1990. A selloff also wiped $258 billion from the market capitalization of French firms.

“France has turned into investors’ most unloved European equity market,” BofA strategists including Andreas Bruckner said in a note.

In the Parisien interview, Bardella sought to show a more responsible approach to economic policy. He reiterated that his first move as premier would be to conduct an independent audit of public finances that would determine the capacity for economic reforms and an overhaul of public services.

Asked about the sharp widening of French borrowing costs compared with Germany’s since Macron’s surprise election call, he said they would “come back to normal and stabilize.”

“Markets don’t like uncertainty,” Bardella said. “My ambition is to develop our measures and show our fiscal seriousness.”

According to Bloomberg’s poll of polls, the National Rally is expected to win 32.7% in the upcoming election, a new left-wing alliance called the New Popular Front would get 26.3%, with Macron’s Renaissance party trailing in third.

Still, the National Rally’s first measure would be a revised budget to deliver on its pledge to slash sales taxes on energy and fuel, costing the state around €12 billion ($12.9 billion).

Speaking Tuesday in a separate interview on CNews, Bardella said his proposals would be financed by fighting tax fraud, “drastically” reducing spending on immigration, and cutting contributions to the European Union budget by €2 billion. He also said he would seek to end a tax break for shipping companies that the National Rally estimates costs the state as much as €6 billion.

“If I become prime minister in a few days I will inherit a financial situation of near bankruptcy, so my duty will be to bring order both to the streets and public finances without increasing taxes,” he said.

Other high-profile election promises, including cuts to other sales taxes, would come in October for the 2025 budget. According to Bardella, a National Rally government would also abrogate Macron’s pension reform in the fall, allowing people who started working before their 20th birthday to retire as early as 60.

In the longer-term, he said his party still aims to revise wealth taxes to shift some of the burden to financial transactions from real estate. Le Pen’s 2022 presidential election campaign pledge to abolish income tax for under-30s would also be put off to a later date.

“All the measures are still on the agenda,” Bardella said. “Before promising anything and everything, I’m telling French people we will examine state finances, be transparent about it, and we’ll take decisions accordingly.”

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the announcements mean there is nothing left in the National Rally’s program to support households’ real incomes and that cuts to sales taxes would benefit company margins more than consumers.

He said Macron’s party would help households by increasing the ceiling on tax-free bonuses for workers and cutting taxes for home-buyers.

“It’s stupefying with the disappearance of all the measures proposed during the EU election campaign — it’s no longer the National Rally, it’s the National Renunciation,” Le Maire said on TF1.

(Updates with fresh comments from Bardella)

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