France plunged into limbo after humiliating setback for Macron – POLITICO

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A very strange French parliamentary election ended in humiliation for President Emmanuel Macron and it could well turn into a slow-motion calamity for France.

Macron’s centrist alliance, Together, is stuck 44 seats from the working majority in the National Assembly after the second round of legislative elections on Sunday. The results mark the first time since the start of the current French system of government 64 years ago that a recently elected president has come this far from an absolute majority.

President François Mitterrand and three prime ministers managed to govern for five years without a majority in 1988-93, but they were only 14 seats short. The rules then allowed a government to pass legislation through Parliament without a line-by-line vote. These rules have since been significantly tightened.

The centre-right Républicains (LR) have enough seats (64) to give Macron a majority when the new assembly is called to vote on his confidence in the government – ​​on July 5 or soon after. The weakened LR is, however, highly unlikely to enter into any sort of permanent coalition with a newly elected but already unpopular president.

Such a close association with Macron would, they fear, destroy the party’s chances of rebuilding a strong, conservative identity and successfully running for president in 2027. The party is, in any case, toxicly divided between moderates, compatible with Macron and hard. line, Macron-hating wings.

To avoid an immediate crisis, LR deputies could at least agree to abstain and let the motion of confidence pass at the beginning of next month.

Beyond that, how France will be governed, and by whom, for the next five years is anyone’s guess. Sources close to Macron have hinted to French media that he may be tempted to call new elections. On a single reading of the French constitution, he must wait 12 months. Another interpretation suggests that he could do so whenever he wishes.

An already perilous situation for the president is complicated by the fact that he lost two of his most experienced parliamentary operators yesterday. The outgoing President of the National Assembly (President) Richard Ferrand and the parliamentary leader of Macron’s Renaissance party, Christopher Castaner, lost their seats.

The crushing blow of these losses comes against the backdrop of war on the European continent and the growing threat of a global recession. One of the curiosities of this parliamentary election was that the dark context ⁠ — the war in Ukraine and the global economic slowdown ⁠ — was barely mentioned.

It was like watching a family paddling a canoe towards a giant waterfall while arguing over whether to paddle left or right or a bit of both. This canoe has now collided with the shore. And the giant waterfall is not far.

Macron bears much of the responsibility for his alliance’s electoral failure. He and they fought a non-campaign, apparently hoping to preserve the momentum of Macron’s election victory in April by doing as little as possible, a miscalculation they paid dearly for in the voting booth over the weekend. They put some of their own voters to sleep ⁠—but not the virulently anti-Macron voters on the far left and far right.

Macron came to power five years ago promising to dissolve political extremes in France. He now faces a National Assembly in which the opposition benches will be occupied, among others, by 73 deputies from the anti-NATO, anti-EU and anti-capitalist parties. France Unbowed and 89 members of the National Rally of Marine Le Pen. It is the largest far-right presence in the national government in France since the fall of the Vichy regime in 1944.

Several options are now available to Macron, none of which are very promising. His people are confident that around 20-30 of the new LR MPs would be willing to join a formal coalition or, at least, support the government on key issues and legislation. Unfortunately, 20 to 30 additional votes are not enough.

Some voices within LR, such as former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former party leader Jean-François Copé are calling for a permanent government “pact” with Macron. Current LR leader Christian Jacob says his party will “stay in opposition” but hints he might be ready to back Macron from time to time.

Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne could also stumble into a snap election next year | Photo Pol by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Jacob is set to step down as LR leader, however. He could well be replaced by someone from the hardline and anti-Macron wing, like the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez.

Another option for Macron would be what Mitterrand’s Prime Minister in 1988-92, Michel Rocard, called a “stereo majority” – drawing votes on different issues from different blocs in the Assembly. Would some of the more moderate left-wing MPs support Macron on certain issues? Perhaps, but it would be a ramshackle and fragile arrangement.

Alternatively, Macron and his Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne could stumble into a snap election next year. There would be no certainty which would give a better result but Macron could still be tempted. Without a popular new term, Macron’s hopes for a successful, reform-minded second and final term are dead. Being a lame duck at 44 is not an attractive prospect.

Even if he attracts ad hoc votes in the Assembly for, say, pension reform, he will face even fiercer than usual opposition in the streets.

Macron’s best hope, paradoxically, could be a sharp downturn in the global economy that would allow him to trigger a crisis election early next year. By then, perhaps, the French electorate and the political classes will have heard the sound of the waterfall.

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