France thrown into limbo after humiliating setback for Macron – POLITICO

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

Macron’s center-alliance Ensemble is missing 44 seats from a functioning majority in the National Assembly after the second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday. The results mark the first time since the current French system of government started 64 years ago that a newly elected president so far lacks a clear majority.

President François Mitterrand and three prime ministers managed to rule for five years without a majority in 1988-93, but they lacked only 14 seats. The rules then allowed a government to steamroller legislation through parliament without a line-by-line vote. Those rules have since been tightened considerably.

Center-right Les Républicains (LR) has enough seats (64) to give Macron a majority when the new assembly is asked to vote on its confidence in the government – on July 5 or shortly after. The weakened LR is, however, very unlikely to enter into any kind of permanent coalition with a newly elected but already unpopular president.

Such a close affiliation with Macron would, they fear, ruin the party’s chances of rebuilding a strong, conservative identity and successfully running for president in 2027. In any case, the party is toxicly divided between moderate, Macron-compatible and hard-line, Macron-repellent wings.

To avoid an immediate crisis, LR deputies can at least agree to abstain and have the trust proposal adopted early next month.

Beyond how France will be governed, and by whom, for the next five years is anyone’s guess. Sources close to Macron suggested to the French media that he could be tempted to print another election. At a reading of the French constitution, he has to wait 12 months. Another interpretation suggests that he could do so whenever he wished.

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

The crushing blow of these losses comes amid a war on the European continent and a growing threat of global recession. One of the curiosities of this parliamentary election was that the dark context – the Ukraine war and worldwide economic downturn – was hardly mentioned.

It was like watching a family paddle a canoe against a giant waterfall while arguing about whether to paddle left or right or a bit of both. That canoe has now collided with the bank. And the giant waterfall is not far away.

Macron bears much of the blame for his alliance’s election mistakes. He and they conducted a non-campaign, apparently hoping to maintain momentum from Macron’s election victory in April by doing as little as possible, a miscalculation that they paid dearly for at the ballot box over the weekend. They put some of their own voters to sleep – but not the fiercely anti-Macron voters of the hard left and the extreme right.

Macron came to power five years ago and promised to dissolve the political extremes in France. He now confronts a national assembly where the opposition benches will be occupied by 73 members of anti-NATO, anti-EU, anti-capitalist France Unbowed and 89 members of the Marine Le Pens National Rally. It is the largest foothold of the far right in the national government of France since the fall of the Vichy regime in 1944.

Several options are now open to Macron – none of them very promising. His people are convinced that about 20 to 30 of the new LR deputies will be ready to join a formal coalition or at least support the government in key business areas and legislation. Unfortunately, 20 to 30 extra votes are not enough.

Some voices in the LR, such as former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former party leader Jean-François Copé, are calling for a permanent government pact with Macron. The current LR leader, Christian Jacob, says his party will “remain in opposition”, but suggests they may be prepared to support Macron from time to time.

Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne could also stumble upon an early election sometime next year | Pol photo by Ludovic Marin / AFP via Getty Images

However, Jacob is resigning as LR leader. He could well be replaced by one from the tough, anti-Macron wing, such as the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez.

Another option for Macron would be what Mitterrand’s 1988-92 prime minister, Michel Rocard, called a “stereo majority” – attracting votes on various issues from different blocs in the assembly. Would some of the more moderate left-wing MPs support Macron on some issues? Maybe, but it would be a dilapidated and fragile event.

Alternatively, Macron and his prime minister Elisabeth Borne could stumble upon an early election sometime next year. There would be no security that would give a better result, but Macron could still be tempted. Without a new popular mandate, Macron’s hopes for a reform-driven and successful second and final term are dead. Being a lame duck as a 44-year-old is not an attractive prospect.

Even if he attracts ad hoc votes in the assembly for e.g. pension reform, he will face even more violent resistance on the streets than usual.

Macron’s best hope may, paradoxically, be a steep decline in the global economy, which will allow him to print a crisis election early next year. At the time, French voters and political classes may have heard the sound of the waterfall.

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