In his first public remarks since legislative elections stripped his governing coalition of a majority, French President Emmanuel Macron called on reinvigorated opposition blocs to find solutions to the political stalemate in a televised speech on Wednesday. But opposition forces on the left and right have their own difficulties, and it is unclear to what extent they will be willing – or able – to work with Macron.
This political setback marks the first time in more than 20 years that a French president has lost an absolute majority in parliament. Although Macron’s Ensemble (Ensemble) alliance remains the largest, with 245 MPs out of 577 in total, the loss of its majority has forced the president to turn to coalition building as he hopes to continue his ambitious agenda. domestic reforms.
Macron implored opposition parties on Wednesday to make “compromises” in “national unity”. But he also called for the emergence of allies, saying Together will have to “extend” its reach in parliament, either by “building a coalition agreement or creating majorities, bill by bill”.
However, the spirit of compromise proved elusive: no party accepted Macron’s offer. The president had two days of talks with opposition leaders at the Élysée, in particular with the leader of the far-right National Rally party Marine Le Pen, to find a way out of the crisis. And while one of the most viable solutions would be an alliance between Macron’s centrists and traditionally conservative Republicans, party leader Christian Jacob ruled out any deal and said his party preferred to stay in opposition after talks with Macron on Tuesday.
Compromise as a guiding principle may also not sit well with Macron. With the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958, Charles de Gaulle made the presidency what many call an “elected monarchy”, placing at the heart of the Republic the old regimeThe focus is on a strong head of state who would have little reason to compromise. Macron – who took on the Gaullist mantle – was the archetypal powerful head of state of the Fifth Republic in his first term.
TUSEN returns to the positions of the three major opposition blocs. To varying degrees, they all face obstacles in reaching an agreement with Macron.
The republican front – the tendency of French voters to turn out en masse to vote against the far right in the second round – did not make a strong impression in the second round of legislative elections: Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) made a historic breakthrough, winning more seats than ever. The RN will be the first opposition party in the National Assembly with 89 deputies. Although the newly formed left-wing coalition – the New Union Popular Ecological and Social (NUPES) – has more seats at 131 – it remains an alliance of various left-wing parties, not a party that will vote as a single bloc.
Le Pen will be one of the few big names to sit in the National Assembly this term – and she is keen to make the most of Parliament as her party’s main platform, handing over the leadership of the RN to her youngster protected Jordan Bardella to focus on leading his bloc of deputies.
“Le Pen intends to project an image of respectability and use her unexpected parliamentary strength to restore her image as a serious national stateswoman with the 2027 presidential race already in sight,” said Jim Shields, professor of French politics at Warwick. University.
“Folding back into systematic opposition would not serve this purpose, so we can expect her to be willing to work with the government on issues that fit her party’s agenda.”
But forming a government pact with the far right remains taboo. “Let’s be absolutely clear, there can be no alliance, even circumstantial, with the National Rally,” Macron’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune told Europe 1 radio on Wednesday. idea in common with the National Rally.”
“If the Macron government sought the support of the RN, it would really be the end of the point of view of the members of this government,” noted Paul Smith, professor of French politics at the University of Nottingham.
It would always be frowned upon to pass legislation on the back of the RN even without asking for it, Smith continued.
“The idea reminds me of a moment in the Fourth Republic when Pierre Mendès France was in power [as prime minister from 1954 to 1955]. Mendès France is said to have had nothing to do with the Communists, and there was a vote that his government only won thanks to them – but he refused to consider the Communist votes valid.
The NUPES coalition – which formed in May to challenge Macron, bringing together La France Insoumise (France Insoumise), the Socialist Party, the Greens (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts) and the Communist Party under the leadership of the figurehead of the far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon – more than doubled the score obtained by his various parties during the round of the 2017 legislative elections.
While ruling out any agreement with the far right, Beaune did not rule out the possibility of any agreement with the far left, pointing out that the Macron government is closer “to a deputy of the pro-European Socialist Party than of the RN”. Nonetheless, Beaune suggested that the ideal left-wing coalition partner would be nothing like the eurosceptic Mélenchon, who came third in the presidential elections and now leads the NUPES coalition.
Mélenchon declined Macron’s invitation to opposition leaders and instead sent one of his lieutenants to the Elysee Palace for Macron’s coalition talks this week, which was seen as a dismissive move. He then derided Macron’s televised address on Wednesday by calling it “ratatouille” – a varied vegetable stew from the south of France that offers something for everyone.
Macron has “few illusions” about working with Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (LFI), Shields said.
And the other members of NUPES, the Socialist Party and the Greens, have still not been able to give Macron the very important threshold of 289 seats for a majority – they have 26 and 16 MPs respectively, and are much weaker than LFI with 72 seats.
Socialist leader Olivier Faure lambasted Macron on Wednesday, saying he “decided things for himself” and “wasn’t answerable to anyone” during his first term. But unlike Mélenchon, Faure hinted that the Socialists could work with Macron on some issues, saying it would be “pretty healthy” if Macron could “negotiate” and “try to find points of agreement”.
Mélenchon’s desire to unite the left in parliament provoked resistance from more moderate parts of NUPES. That dispute would work in Macron’s favor if he tried to peel off part of the center-left, Shields suggested. They even rowed to sit together or separately in parliament, which “exposes the true nature of NUPES as a purely electoral arrangement lacking the ideological, strategic or political coherence of a lasting coalition”, so Macron can expect that NUPES “separates now that it has served its electoral purpose”.
However, Macron has a thwarted history with the Socialists – he served as economy minister under their last president, Francois Hollande, before turning on his boss and seizing the Élysée Palace in 2017.
“There is a residual feeling among socialists that Macron is the man who killed their party,” Smith said. “So they are a bit allergic to Macron.”
Many Greens also see Macron as a defector, Smith continued, but more on political issues: “They’re extremely cautious about Macron because he made big promises on the environment that didn’t amount to much. .”
The overall trajectory of Macron’s first term presents perhaps the greatest obstacle to a deal with anyone on the left. Upon entering the Élysée Palace, Macron chose his first prime minister, Édouard Philippe, and finance minister Bruno Le Maire from France’s traditional conservative party, Les Républicains (LR). Then the centrist president moved to the right, with the center of French politics, on issues like immigration and security.
Given that LR is the party closest to Macron ideologically, it has long been speculated that he would strike some sort of deal with them – rumors which intensified ahead of the legislative elections, thanks to the warm support of the party. former President LR Nicolas Sarkozy to Macron in the second presidential election. round and meeting him at the Élysée Palace after his re-election.
As former US President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, the most important skill in politics is “being able to count”. LR has the numbers to give Macron his majority – they won 61 seats in the legislative elections. It’s shoddy by historical standards for this descendant of Gaullist parties, but it’s a much better performance than expected for a party whose candidate, Valérie Pécresse, secured a dismal 4.8% of the vote in the election. ‘presidential election. The party has spent the past five years in the tight ideological space between Macron and the far right.
Former LR chief Jean-François Copé called for a “pact” with Macron when the results of the second round were announced. Such a deal would provide “the most consistent path out of the parliamentary deadlock,” Shields noted.
But current (albeit outgoing) LR leader Christian Jacob ruled out such a deal following talks with Macron on Tuesday – having done so on several occasions during the campaign.
Many Republican MPs have a lot in common with Macron politically and see themselves as belonging to the natural party of government, much like the British Conservatives. “Jacob is about to leave, he has served his sentence and his statements aim to preserve the best possible role for LR in alliance with Macron. LR’s kingmaker role gives them considerable opportunity to push their priorities, and Macron is likely to lean to the right to woo those Macron-compatible LR MPs,” said Andrew Smith, a professor of French politics. at the University of Chichester, in an interview on Sunday. .
Yet challenges await any attempt at a Macron-LR deal. Not all Republican congressmen see helping the president govern as the best way to act as the natural party of government again. For some of them, Shields observed, that would mean becoming a “vassal party.”