Macron, on the other hand, is not so much stretching the cordon sanitaire as potentially snapping it altogether – ironic for a leader who shaped his political identity as the pro-European politician who could stop the far right’s rise.

Snap elections could install Le Pen, a radical Eurosceptic with a protectionist and nationalist agenda at odds with EU membership, in the prime minister’s office within weeks. The president would be forced to share power in a humiliating and probably tumultuous cohabitation with his nemesis.

The RN is already the biggest opposition party in the National Assembly. It has a formidable campaign machine and now electoral momentum after Sunday’s crushing victory.

Macron may calculate that things may only get worse for his centrist alliance. Its stunning defeat this weekend – a hitherto resilient 20-25 per cent core electorate is disintegrating – is likely to stir a war of succession among those of his supporters with presidential ambitions.

His Renaissance party has had no parliamentary majority for two years and retains little prospect of forming a coalition under current conditions. The prospect of an imminent RN victory could instead encourage other parties to strike electoral alliances.

Macron may be hoping that, as in the last two presidential elections, when presented with the choice of installing the RN in office, French voters will once again balk. He may be calculating that if the RN did win a snap poll, it would prove so chaotic in government that it would puncture the aura of inevitability around a Le Pen victory in 2027.

Macron could argue that in France’s vertical political system, where the president holds most of the power, an RN government would not do much damage to the country or to the EU. To many people in France and elsewhere in the EU, it looks like a desperate throw of the dice.


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