by John Lichfield
Monday, 20
June 2022
Analysis
08:00

Calamity for Macron two months after his re-election

The French President is staring down the barrel of a hung parliament
by John Lichfield
Will this man get his parliamentary majority? Credit: Getty

You can’t say the French don’t have a sense of humour.

Two months ago they voted to make Emmanuel Macron the first president in 20 years to win a second term. Yesterday they voted to humiliate Macron by denying him a clear, or even a near, majority in the National Assembly.

President François Mitterrand fell 14 seats short in 1988; Macron will be 44 seats short after  the second round of parliamentary elections yesterday.

Two months ago French voters rejected Marine Le Pen as President for the second time. Yesterday, they gave Le Pen’s party its biggest ever bloc of seats in parliament — at least 88. This is the largest far-Right presence in national politics in France since the fall of the Vichy regime in 1944.

More than half of all eligible French voters failed to vote yesterday. Those who did, in effect, rejected all potential governments of Left, centre or Right.

Macron’s Ensemble centrist alliance will have by far the largest number of seats but faces days — and maybe weeks — of heated negotiations before it can hope to form a secure administration.

It may fail to do so. There may be a hung parliament. There may be a prolonged, political crisis in France as the world faces multiple crises in Ukraine, in the international economy and in food supply to Africa.

It is possible that Macron will be forced to call a new election — with the outcome equally uncertain — next year.

Alternatively, the centre-Right — the only force in the new parliament which Macron can reasonably expect to help him — may demand a change of Prime Minister as the price of its  support.

If so, Elisabeth Borne, France’s second female Prime Minister, will become, after one month in office, the shortest-lived premier of the Fifth Republic (i.e. since 1958).

Why did Macron’s alliance do so badly? A month ago the polls were pointing to a comfortable majority for him in the new assembly. The logic of the Fifth Republic institutions is that a new President is given a majority in parliament. Otherwise, France slips back in time to the often-messy parliamentary regimes of the pre-war Third and post-war Fourth Republics.

Two or three things happened. Macron miscalculated disastrously and fought a non-campaign, thinking that this would somehow freeze the momentum of his presidential victory on 24 April. 

The Left and Greens formed what seemed (and ideologically was) a ramshackle alliance. They scored no more votes in the first round than they did in 2017 when they were divided into four parties.

But having one candidate in each constituency gave them a tactical advantage and momentum. They won something like 144 yesterday — far short of what they needed to impose a Left-wing PM on Macron but enough to form the biggest anti-Macron bloc in the new assembly.

Thirdly, the centre-Right and far-Right vote turned out in unexpectedly large numbers and took many seats that were expected to go to, or stay, with the centre.

More broadly, the rapid advance of inflation (though not yet so severe as in other EU countries or the UK) rekindled the small town and provincial resentment towards Macron first seen in the Giles Jaunes protests of 2018-9. 

The opinion polls said one thing. The big petrol and diesel price totems outside French filling stations — climbing back above two euros a litre in recent weeks — told another story.

Even more broadly, the vote yesterday reflects France’s shift from Left-Right politics to tripartite politics — mutually loathing blocs of Left, Right and centre. None is big enough to command a parliamentary majority. 

As Right and Left have become more radical, they no longer tolerate alliances with the Macron-dominated Consensual Centre. 

A poisonous debate which will break out from today in the centre-right Les Républicains (LR), a party which stands astride the fault-line between Consensual Centre and Radical Right.

Should the 60 plus LR deputies join a coalition to “save” the country from chaos? Or should they refuse to save Macron’s skin? The next few days and weeks will reveal a lot.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 days ago

Perhaps Le Pen’s clear defeat in the second round of the presidential election in April really galvanised RN’s supporters and that’s why they came out in force yesterday. Or perhaps a large number of French sympathise with RN’s basic direction & arguments but can’t quite stomach the idea of Le Pen being the visible figurehead of the country – they have certain ideas about the division of labour, so to speak.

Pierre Henri
Pierre Henri
10 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It is hard to say, because the voter turnout was so low at the legislative election. Le Pen’s Rassemblement National got around 4 million votes yesterday, compared to Marine Le Pen’s 8 million votes in the first round of the presidential election two months ago.

Ess Arr
Ess Arr
10 days ago

Maybe his “don’t humiliate Russia” comment at the very moment Russia was pounding Ukraine to smithereens, was a bit much for even the famously self-absorbed French.

Pierre Henri
Pierre Henri
10 days ago
Reply to  Ess Arr

According to a survey by the ECFR, 41% of the French are in the “peace camp” (Europe should seek to end the war as soon as possible – even if it means Ukraine making concessions ) versus 20% who belong to the “justice camp” (the most important goal is to punish Russia for its aggression and to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine) : https://ecfr.eu/publication/peace-versus-justice-the-coming-european-split-over-the-war-in-ukraine/

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 days ago

but surely LBGT, racism and global warming are the only issues anyone cares about, if the meeja are to believed?… Clearly not in France?!… If only our politicians would realise too that no- one actually cares a jot, but they do about economics and freedoms..

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
10 days ago

I think the simplest explanation is COVID. As we get further away from the pandemic (which everyone, bar a few diehards, if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun) thinks is over, the actions of most Western governments look increasingly absurd. I think very few leaders in power in 2020

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
10 days ago
Reply to  Dave Weeden

Sorry, posted by mistake, and my phone won’t let me edit. Continued … very few leaders in power in 2020 will survive a general election. Macron did, because he was fortunate in his opponent, and this is what he gets.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
10 days ago

There has been much talk of the capture of mainstream political parties by their extremist ends. I am not sure that this is a problem in France, but if it is perceived to be then a policy of electing people in such a way to hamstring the political leadership so that they cannot accomplish much is a very fine idea, and indeed the whole point.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
10 days ago

As we unravel what has happened in France over the past two months, maybe it can be summed up as John regarding something as “Consensual Centre”, whilst perception of other voters is of a “Global/EU-first and France-second” bloc with disproportionate power?
Millions of voters don’t want to be dismissed as second-class for having that different view, rather they just want the democratic process to be used to push back on some of the failures and excesses of issues, that are clearly beyond the control of their own country’s legislature.
That same process has pushed the UK to a more ‘consensual’ view on contentious issues in the past but seems to have been lacking since around 1997. So France interests me because I feel the same strains will become visible in the UK over time.
I can see that this could produce an unsatisfactory situation for France, which is not good for any of us. But we have to find a safety valve of restoring checks and balances or you’ll get explosions of discontent which will create gridlock at a national decision making level.
Even Andrew Neil was at a loss to explain Le Pen’s vote. My only suggestion here is that a rapid change in demographics is driving voters to go for the previously “unvoteable” because, rightly or wrongly, they ‘perceive’ time is running out for their children and grand-children.
Not anti-EM at all by the way, as his thoughts and views on the future of the EU are consistently more interesting and joined up than the average 2 line tweet of a UK FBPE Twitter account, still fighting last decade’s war.
I’m no France expert, and look forward to comments of people with more scholarly and/or knowledge of France, as sober analysis seems hard to find in UK media this morning. I did try something called the New European but, curiously, it’s sole focus seems to be about a tiny number of politicians on a small island that voted to leave the European Union…

Last edited 10 days ago by Dustin Needle
Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
9 days ago

His repellent arrogance played a big role. You would think the hunky Morrocan bodyguard would have said something, or his pedophile wife.

Pierre Henri
Pierre Henri
10 days ago

The Vichy regime was a dictatorship without parliamentary elections, which makes the comparison difficult.

M. M.
M. M.
10 days ago

John Lichfield wrote, “Two months ago they voted to make Emmanuel Macron the first president in 20 years to win a second term. Yesterday they voted to humiliate Macron by denying him a clear, or even a near, majority in the National Assembly.”

Emmanuel Macron should work with Marine Le Pen to establish an alliance between Ensemble and National Rally. This alliance would have a solid majority in the National Assembly.

He should appoint her as Minister of the Interior and give her free reign on matters of immigration. She will improve the quality of life in France by deporting illegal aliens and halting further immigration from the Middle East and Africa.

Supported by MPs from Natonal Rally, Macron can continue his economic reforms and military reforms. The latter is an ongoing project to establish a European military structure that is independent of NATO. Such independence will be vital for the security of the European Union after the United States, due to its open borders, ceases to be a Western nation by 2040. It will be a Hispanic nation (i.e., a nation in which Hispanic culture is dominant).

Get more info about the immigrant problem in France.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

Do you just copy and paste that nonsense into every story? Nobody cares about the supposed demographic changes to America when discussing an article about the French elections