Macron Wants To Lead Europe. Now, He Must Focus on France

FEmmanuel Macron, the president of France, hoped his April reelection would secure his place in power and support his plans. But Macron was dealt a major blow during Sunday’s legislative elections in France.

Macron’s centrist alliance won 245 seats—more than 40 short of the 289-seat threshold needed for a majority in parliament, critically undermining his ability to pass key reforms. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftist alliance, Nupes, scooped up 131 seats, while Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party came in third with 89 seats, a ten-fold increase. The parliamentary make up lies in stark contrast to the prior legislative vote in 2017, where Macron’s alliance won a 350-seat majority. It is the first time that a president can govern in this manner since 1980s.

Here, what the vote means for Macron’s agenda:

Roadblocks in domestic reforms

Although Macron’s alliance is the largest group in parliament, he will struggle to pass his most controversial reforms—including an overhaul of the pension system and raising the retirement age from 62 to 65—without negotiation and compromise. Mélenchon has pledged to lower the retirement age to 60, while Le Pen has promised to maintain the current threshold, and reduce it to 60 for those who started working before the age of 20.

“Macron is not accustomed to, as we say in French, ‘put water in your wine’—making compromises,” says Alice Billon-Galland, a European policy research fellow at Chatham House. “It will take a lot of his time and energy to build consensus bill by bill, and that will tie his hands in terms of what he’ll be able to achieve.”

And with such large opposition groups on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Macron will find himself “between a rock and a hard place,” says Philippe Marliere, professor of French and European politics at University College London. Both the right and left will pressure Macron to focus on social inequality and green investment. On the other hand, far-right reforms will be demanded. “It’s going to be a very noisy crowd in parliament, particularly on the left with lots of household names, people coming from showbiz, arts trade unionists, anti-racist campaigners, lots of female lawmakers as well,” Marliere says, referring to the new and diverse crowd of lawmakers within the Nupes alliance entering parliament.

Continue reading: Emmanuel Macron on the Track for Re-Election It could be more difficult.

Macron’s preferred ally will be the traditional right-wing party, the Republicans, which won 61 seats on Sunday. However, it may prove challenging to win their support for reforms which are not popular with voters, according analysts. This is because the party wants to prevent further losses at polls. French citizens are now more inclined to embrace the economic populism of Nupes or the National Rally, due to record high inflation and the associated cost-of-living crisis.

Billon Gallard said that it shouldn’t be surprising that Billon Gallard won the election. “Over the past five years, people felt like their voices weren’t being heard in politics.” This frustration culminated in 2018 with the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement. Initially sparked by proposed fuel tax hikes, the demonstrations morphed into a sign of wider frustration at Macron’s pro-business policies and reputation as a “president for the rich.”

Analysts believe that the election results could revive parliamentary democracy, giving voters the feeling that they are being heard. “Maybe some of these political battles will be fought not only in the streets with the demonstrations, but actually within the National Assembly,” Billon-Gallard says.

Macron began meeting leaders of the main opposition parties Tuesday at the Élysée presidential palace, including Christian Jacob of the Republicans, Olivier Faure of the Socialist Party, and Le Pen of the National Rally. On Wednesday, further meetings will be held.

Macron’s leeway on international issues

The E.U. could be in trouble if a French president gets bogged down with domestic politics. The war in Ukraine was a critical time for the bloc. A month before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, France took over the rotating presidency of the E.U., affording Macron the opportunity to play the bloc’s unofficial leader—particularly after Germany’s longtime chancellor, Angela Merkel, stepped down in December after 16 years in office.

Macron is a committed Europhile. He has maintained strong ties with European leaders of all stripes since his election in 2017. No doubt, he will seek to consolidate his position within the bloc. But both Mélenchelon and Le Pen have previously expressed Euroskeptic views, and there are some international issues that will need parliament’s backing, says Marliere.

Continue reading: Marine Le Pen Is Finding Support in Rural France by Following Donald Trump’s Playbook

The president enjoys greater freedom to negotiate with France in matters such as diplomacy or defense. That means Macron won’t have to seek approval from parliament for every piece of legislation, Billon-Gallard says. “If domestic politics become very messy and complicated, Macron could shift his focus to foreign policy because this is where he has a freer hand.”

“In his project, a strong Europe, and a strong France playing a big role in that, is part of his agenda,” Billon-Gallard says. “I don’t think we’ll see him giving up on that.”

Macronism’s future

Macron will likely have to concede defeat on Macron’s vision for France’s political center. Macron pledged to eliminate all political axes when he was elected president in 2017. But a two-year pandemic and growing frustration at inequality has turned voters off Macron’s centrist vision.

The future of Macron’s Renaissance Party, previously known as En Marche!, is also uncertain in a post-Macron era.

And the sharp rise in support for Le Pen’s party will give her the political clout to lobby for hardline measures, including a total ban on the headscarf that is worn by a minority of Muslim women in France. This issue is a major source of energy for her old base.

Marliere says that while Macron has championed centrism he should be held responsible for voters’ shift to the right, too. Macron’s previous term was five years long. He supported strict measures to limit immigration, and pursued discriminatory legislation. Rights groups criticised Macron for this. “If you ape the far-right on its traditional issues—law and order, immigration—you legitimize the far-right,” she says.

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