Paris Two months after his lackluster re-election as President of France, Emmanuel Macron has suffered a heavy defeat: his center-alliance clearly lost a majority in the National Assembly on Sunday. France is heading for a political blockade, and the country could become a factor of uncertainty within the EU.
In the crucial second round of the parliamentary elections, the Macron camp was projected to be the strongest with 230 to 240 seats, but it fell short of an absolute majority in the 577 members of the National Assembly. The strongest opposition force was the New Social and Ecological People’s Union (Nupes), led by left-wing nationalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which was also joined by Socialists and Greens. The Left Alliance can count on 150 to 175 seats.
Marine Le Pen’s right-wing national Rassemblement National performed better than ever in a parliamentary election and will in future have between 80 and 90 MPs – around ten times as many as before. The conservative-bourgeois Republicans dropped to 62 to 68 seats. Only 46 percent of French voters cast their ballots on Sunday.
Macron initially did not comment on the defeat of his electoral alliance Ensemble (Gemeinsam), which includes several parties from the political center. His Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said: “This situation poses a risk for our country.” However, the result must be respected. “We have to draw the conclusions from this and face up to this special responsibility.”
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The French media saw the outcome of the election as a major setback for Macron. “The slap in the face” was the headline in the newspaper “Libération” and stated the “fall of Macronie”. The headline of the Monday edition of the newspaper “Les Échos” read: “The earthquake”.
Macron looking for partners
Even if the final distribution of seats in the National Assembly was not certain by late Sunday evening, the consequences are already foreseeable: without its own majority in Parliament, Macron’s government will have to seek support from other political camps. The President begins his second term with limited powers.
Coalitions, which are part of the political norm in Germany, are actually not planned in the French political system. The parliamentary elections usually deliver clear results – either the president’s majority is confirmed, or control of the National Assembly falls to an opposition force.
A relative parliamentary majority, on the other hand, is extremely rare. This situation last occurred during the presidency of François Mitterrand between 1988 and 1991. It was initially unclear whether Macron would rely on changing majorities to implement his policy or whether he would look for a permanent partner.
The Republicans would be an option for the latter option. But on Sunday evening it was initially unclear whether even this constellation would receive an absolute majority. In addition, party leader Christian Jacob said immediately that the Republicans see their role “in the opposition”.
“This is an unprecedented democratic shock in the Fifth Republic, which reflects the very strong insecurities of the French,” said Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire. Nevertheless, Macron continues to benefit from the strong position of the French President, especially in foreign and security policy.
In addition, Article 49.3 of the Constitution allows him, under certain conditions, to enact laws without parliamentary consent. After a constitutional reform in 2008, however, the president can only use this move for budget laws – and once a year for a different political project.
Borne assured on Sunday evening that he would work immediately to form a majority in parliament. “There is no alternative to lead the country and tackle the necessary reforms.” But France is threatened with a phase of political instability. For example, it is far from certain whether Macron will now receive parliamentary support for the promised pension reform.
French national debt as a risk
The high national debt in France could also become a risk factor. The interest rate turnaround by the European Central Bank has raised concerns about a new euro crisis, and financing costs for heavily indebted countries are rising. It is questionable, however, whether Macron will be able to push through a stricter budgetary policy – especially if he has to approach the left camp in his search for majorities.
The demands of Mélenchon’s coalition include raising the minimum wage from 1,100 to 1,500 euros, introducing a minimum pension of 1,500 euros, lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60, and state caps on rents and prices of essential everyday goods. The Parisian think tank Institut Montaigne has calculated the costs and comes up with a sum of more than 300 billion euros per year.
At the same time, the new left-wing alliance had announced its willingness to “European disobedience” if EU treaties and rules “contradict the implementation of our program legitimized by the people”. This applies above all to the Maastricht criteria on deficit and debt. In the past, Mélenchon had repeatedly denounced a “German dictate” in European financial and economic policy.
>>Read more about this: Alliance with EU critic Mélenchon: SPD and Greens have a problem with their sister parties
On Sunday evening, Mélenchon spoke of a “devastating and total defeat” for Macron. However, the jubilation conceals the fact that he himself also missed his goal of an absolute majority for the left-wing alliance. Mélenchon’s boastful announcement that he would force the president to form a new government with him as prime minister is likely to fizzle out.
The right fringe recorded even greater gains than the left camp. “The people have decided to send a very strong faction of Rassemblement National MPs to Parliament,” said Le Pen. “This is by far the strongest faction in the history of our political family.”
Macron is likely to reshuffle his government in the coming days: Environment Minister Amélie de Montchalin and Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon, who had applied for a seat in the National Assembly, were unable to win their constituencies on Sunday. The Élysée Palace had stipulated that members of the government would also have to vacate their cabinet posts if they failed in the general election. A number of ministers and Prime Minister Borne, on the other hand, were able to win a seat in the National Assembly.
More: “We will end hell” – the anti-capitalist Mélenchon puts pressure on Macron