She's now the only person the President can do business with
The last time we checked in with Emmanuel Macron, he’d just lost his majority in the National Assembly.
His obvious next move was to forge an alliance between his centrist block and the French conservatives, thus re-establishing a presidential majority. But things haven’t gone to plan. As well as having to reshuffle his government for the second time in six weeks, it’s become increasing clear that the conservatives are determined to stay in opposition.
So what does Macron do now? His Presidential powers give him some latitude — especially over foreign policy, but his domestic agenda relies on the Assembly passing legislation. Without a majority that can only happen by cobbling together temporary coalitions on a bill-by-bill basis.
In this respect it helps that the political groupings are much looser than their British equivalents. The four biggest blocks — the Left, the Macron-supporters, the conservatives and the far Right — are, to varying extents, split between different parties. Furthermore, some of these parties are themselves somewhat flaky.
Macron will therefore try to peel off the more moderate members of the other blocks. However, he’s already picked the low-hanging fruit. His LREM party, and the wider “Together” alliance, includes recruits from the centre-Left and centre-Right.
So if his bid to expand the centre fails, what other options does he have? It is not in the nature or the interest of Jean-Luc Mélenchon — the most powerful figure on the Left — to cooperate. His success is entirely based on belligerent opposition to the neo-liberal establishment. Indeed, his party’s name — La France Insoumise — translates as “France Unbowed”. The only way he’s going to bow to the President is if Macron makes him Prime Minister. However, that would effectively destroy Macron’s entire political project.
The only remaining option, a deal with Marine Le Pen, would do the same — with knobs on. That said, her party has just managed to secure two of the six vice-presidencies of the National Assembly, leading some to suspect that the centrists are dealing with the far Right on the sly. Unlike Mélenchon, it suits Le Pen to be seen negotiating with the President. Her political project is based on normalising the far Right — and, right now, she’s succeeding beyond all expectations. Furthermore, having stepped down down from the formal leadership of her party, she’s free to concentrate on exploiting her leverage in the National Assembly.
The president, therefore, is trapped. His best hope of escape lies with the Republicans, the biggest Conservative party. They’re due to elect a new leader and Macron must hope that Christian Jacob’s successor might more willing to do a deal.
However, it suits the conservatives to leave Macron without a majority. The only way that the Republicans will ever return to their former glory is if the president’s party continues to decline. By deflating the Macron bubble, the traditional centre-Right could re-constitute itself — and become the main alternative to the far Left and far Right.
Macron will not want to spend the next five years as a lame duck president. But as things stand he looks stuffed.