PARIS, France — President Emmanuel Macron made history in the French legislative elections Sunday, just not in the way he hoped.
Most observers predicted that Macron would win a majority of parliament seats after his April reelection. This is what presidents have done for many decades. But Macron did not reach the 289 seat threshold, even though his bloc remains the largest.
That means that while Macron may be able to keep control of the executive branch, he will have a hard time passing legislation, putting much of his agenda in peril — including plans to increase the retirement age and deliver tax reforms.
“This situation is a risk for our country given the challenges we are facing both nationally and internationally,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said. “The right compromises must be built to act for France.”
Continue reading: French President Emmanuel Macron Reelected, Surviving a Wide-Right Challenge from Marine Le Pen
Macron’s group won 245 seats. Nupes, a leftist alliance led by JeanLuc Melenchon and which has 131 members, is the second-largest parliament group. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, did much better than anticipated with 89 seats. The center-right Republicans (and their allies) took 61.
The president’s cabinet will also be shuffled. Three ministers failed to be elected and officials in Macron’s office have previously said anyone in that position would have to relinquish their jobs. Amelie De Montchalin, the Ecology Minister said that Sunday night she would resign from government.
France’s current political system, known as the Fifth Republic, was set up by Charles de Gaulle in 1958 to avoid the disruptions from a parliamentary system that couldn’t create a stable majority. For example, Michel Rocard, the Socialist, ran a government that failed to attain an outright majority in late 1980s France.
Marine Le Pen (Far-right Leader in France) talks to journalists at Henin Beaumont on June 12, 2022.
Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images
Macron’s support base has shrunk after the past five years, with protests against his pension reform, social inequality and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. His second term was already off to a rocky start, with allegations of sexual harassment against one of his ministers and criticism of the government’s policing doctrine after chaos at a football stadium sparked anger in the U.K.
Lisa Thomas-Darbois, a specialist in French politics at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, said Macron won’t be able to lean on the extremes, whether it’s the far right or the far left, which will oppose pretty much systematically every proposition from the government.
But he could cobble together alliances on specific topics — his position on raising the retirement age is similar to that of the center-right Republicans, for example.
“The good thing is there are areas where they could agree, from the environment to public services to the need to engage citizens better,” said Annabelle Lever, a professor at Sciences Po, describing different ad hoc configurations of the parties in the coming parliament. “The bad thing is they might just not want to agree.”
Election defeat clips Macron’s powers
If that doesn’t work, Macron might be tempted to use article 49.3 of the French constitution, which under certain conditions allows him to put a law in place even without approval from parliament.
Even though Nupes won’t implement their economic program (which includes higher wages, cutting hours, and massive public spending), the coalition will have an impact on parliament and the public debates. At a time of climbing interest rates around the world, it has “the potential to undermine investor confidence in the French fiscal outlook,” according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Maeva Cousin.
The National Rally has sufficient seats to influence the committees and have a set amount of time for its views to be heard. This is an important step in Le Pen’s decade-long attempt to get the party at the centre of French politics.
Jean Garrigues, an historian writing about French politics said Macron’s results might be a blessing in disguise. “It could force the president to negotiate,” he said, “eroding the image of a self-centered ruling style that’s been sticking to him since 2017.”
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