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Fighting to keep his job amid a bleak outlook for centrists, PM Attal urges France to vote for balance

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal urged Marseille voters to reject extremes on Friday. Early polls show the far right and far left have a significant lead on President Emmanuel Macron's centrists ahead of snap legislative elections on June 30 and July 7.

MARSEILLE, France (CN) — On Friday morning in the quiet Saint-Barnabé neighborhood of Marseille, a crowd swarmed around the narrow entrance of a hair salon as French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal walked in to urge its owners to vote.

Mic booms craned toward the door, TV cameras stood in position, and security guards urged people off the road. Attal made a last-minute visit to campaign for the upcoming snap legislative elections in just over a week.

He was appointed prime minister by French President Emmanuel Macron, and remains a popular part of his centrist coalition — but Attal stands to lose his post if his party doesn't perform.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal campaigning in Marseille ahead of the upcoming legislative elections. (Lily Radziemski/Courthouse News)

After European Parliament elections on June 9, when it became clear that Macron's party would suffer an embarrassing defeat to the far-right National Rally, or RN, spearheaded by Marine Le Pen and her protégé Jordan Bardella, the president announced the dissolution of the government.

No one saw the move coming. Attal was reportedly not on board with the president's decision. To say it’s a gamble is a vast understatement.

The elections will determine the new composition of the country’s National Assembly, its lower chamber of parliament, in two rounds of voting on June 30 and July 7. Macron is expected to appoint a prime minister from the ranks of the winning party, and his coalition will almost certainly lose.

If a political group wins an absolute majority, they will have control over the country’s domestic agenda. This would be a first for the RN.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal talked to locals in the Saint-Barnabé neighborhood of Marseille on June 21, 2024. (Lily Radziemski/Courthouse News)

When Attal strolled out of the salon Friday morning, people on the street chanted, “We’re going to win!” and he smiled. But the polls tell another story.

Two leading forces have emerged in the countdown to elections: The far right and the left. The RN rode the wave of its European elections win. A fractured left scrambled to form a coalition that emerged as the New Popular Front, uniting four parties. The center has been lagging.

Early polls project the RN will win roughly 30%, the New Popular Front will trail slightly behind at around 28% and Macron’s centrist coalition will take somewhere around 18%. Some in Macron’s camp are holding out hope that voters won't want to entrust the nation's internal affairs to untested parties.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal spent the morning of June 21, 2024 talking to local residents of Marseille ahead of the upcoming legislative elections. (Lily Radziemski/Courthouse News)

The young, openly gay prime minister was a stand-in for Macron during the EU elections and is more popular than the president.

“I’m so excited that Attal is here,” Isabel Grimaud, a local resident who voted for Macron, told Courthouse News. “It’s an opposition of two extremes with the rise of the left and right.”

There are a few sticking points for the current government across the board. A big one is immigration. The left criticizes Macron’s government for being too restrictive on immigration policy, while the right argues that his coalition is not strict enough.

In December, parliament adopted a controversial new law to tighten the rules, which Marine Le Pen lauded as an “ideological victory.” The New Popular Front wants to repeal the measure as part of their new mandate. In Saint-Barnabé Friday, the debate was a recurring theme.

One woman, who asked not to be named because of her personal friendship with Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, the local candidate Attal came to support, pinpointed immigration as a major issue.

“We have to attack immigration; it’s a big problem to finance. How can we explain that we can’t fund students or retirees?” she told Courthouse News. “Immigration costs money — this is what you hear everywhere.”

Éveline Cerespo stood on the outskirts of the crowd surrounding Attal. She found him very charming in person, and was excited that he visited the neighborhood — but the local resident remains firmly against his policies.

“I’m not for his party because of the retirement laws — and there are too many immigrants,” she told Courthouse News. “They have all of the rights that we have.”

Cerespo declined to share who would have her vote in the upcoming elections.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and local candidate Sabrina Agresti-Roubache talk to a local resident about immigration policy. (Lily Radziemski/Courthouse News)

An elderly woman approached Attal to ask how his government would handle immigration. Though security was pushing Attal to move, he brought the woman with him, insisting that it was an important topic.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal talks to locals and reporters in Marseille. (Lily Radziemski/Courthouse News)

Surrounded by a crowd of reporters and local residents, Attal launched into a discourse on avoiding political extremes.

“Most French are looking for more balance,” he said. “The RN … every day there’s a new mandate that comes out.”

Attal has previously criticized Bardella as all talk and no action, and floating around policy ideas that don’t have a sufficient rollout plan. On the flip side, he touched on the financial repercussions that would impact voters if the left-wing coalition came into power.

“The extreme left announced 50 billion euros in tax increases,” Attal said. “This is going to touch the middle class.”

He put his hands on peoples’ shoulders, urging them to vote, before getting back into his car. Attal was campaigning in Avignon, a nearby city, later Friday.

Follow @lilyradz
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