France throws up cohabitation unfriendly to Modi

France Unbowed’s leader Jean-Luc Melenchon’s tolerance of Modi's track record on democracy, freedom and human rights is potentially minimal, writes Ashis Ray

PM Modi and French president Emmanuel Macron (photo: National Herald archives)
PM Modi and French president Emmanuel Macron (photo: National Herald archives)

Ashis Ray

It’s another dose of indifferent news for Narendra Modi after the social democratic Labour party won a landslide in the British elections on Thursday, 4 July. On Sunday, 7 July a left wing New Popular Front, with the Hard Left France Unbowed as the largest single party in the new French parliament, emerged on top.

France Unbowed’s leader Jean-Luc Melenchon’s tolerance of Modi's track record on democracy, freedom and human rights is potentially minimal - notwithstanding France’s economic benefits from India, including significant defence orders - which could in turn impact on the most reliable strategic understanding India possesses with any permanent, veto-power carrying member of the United Nations Security Council.

Melenchon might also be inclined towards the French government’s co-operation with the French Prosecutor’s office to unlock the stalled investigation into Modi’s alleged corruption in the 2015 multi-combat aircraft Rafale deal.  

However, either the leader of the comparatively moderate Socialist Party or the Green Party in the New Popular Front could surface as a consensus candidate for the post of prime minister rather than Melenchon, thereby preventing an embarrassing expose of Modi.

According to French media, Modi favoured Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group, an entity with no experience in aircraft manufacturing, as the main Indian offset partner in the Indo-French agreement at the expense of the historically tried and tested Indian government-controlled Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.         

The electorate of France – a country which enlightened the world with the revolutionary motto of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite or Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – have, in fact, thrown up a wide spectrum conundrum – in their sensual spin, a cohabitation within a cohabitation!

Not only will the political persuasions of Macron and a constitutionally fairly empowered incoming prime minister be quite contradictory. But within the parliament now elected, it will be a post-election grand alliance between differing pre-election alliances to reach the magic majority mark of 289 in a National Assembly of 577 lawmakers.

The indication from 544 actual results reported by the Financial Times was: the New Popular Front have won 179 seats, Macron’s centrist Ensemble party 157 seats and the Far Right National Rally 143 seats.

Previous cohabitations, rendered necessary by parliamentary majorities opposed to a sitting president, occurred in France in 1986 to 1988, 1993 to 1995 and 1997 to 2002. However, the presidents and prime ministers belonged to either the right-of-centre Republican Party or the Socialist Party, not to any alliance of parties. Both the Gaullists and Socialists are today diminished in strength. Therefore, the upcoming structure is envisaged to be more complicated, likely unstable.

The division of responsibilities in the French constitution entrusts the president to lead on foreign affairs. But if Melenchon is to be believed, there will be no rapprochement with Macron, which could mean a French foreign policy without unified endorsement within. To somewhat reflect that, the euro currency fell marginally against the US dollar.

Melenchon’s antagonism towards the European Union is next only to the National Rally’s. His appreciation of the capitalist United States not enthusiastic either. He has, besides, stoutly refused to condemn the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas’ 7 October infiltration into Israel and its taking of civilians as hostages, which has conflagrated into a bloody outbreak of hostilities.                   

The French prime minister Gabriel Attal, only appointed in January of this year, offered to step down. But is likely to continue in a caretaker capacity as the rival alliances bargain to stitch together a government under Macron, with the not exactly small matter of an Olympic Games scheduled to get underway in Paris on 26 July. It will of course be uncharted territory if the parties are unable to agree on a coalition. Macron cannot under the French constitution call another parliamentary election for a year.  

On Sunday evening, joyous crowds gathered in the thousands at the iconic Place de la Republic in one of the central districts of the French capital, to celebrate the outcome of the elections, mirroring a mood of relief in that the National Rally had been kept out of government with a 67 per cent voter turnout – the highest in 50 years.

The outcome defied pre-election predictions. But the jury is out on whether co-operation within the European Union, between the Group of seven industrialised nations – the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Canada – and in the western military pact, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – which holds a summit in Washington this week - will remain intact.

The outcome was as anticipated a hung parliament. A jubilant Melenchon, 72, posted on X: ‘The united Left saved the Republic (of France).’ The leftist grouping had come second in the first of the two-round French system of elections. But in the second and decisive round – which is a run-off between parties or formations with at least 12.5 per cent of the popular votes in the first round - they not only emerged on top, but Ensemble unexpectedly subdued the National Rally to third place. The situation, though, still a'quandary' for Macron, as a Reuters commentary put it.         

Donald Tusk, formerly president of the European Council and now the prime minister of Poland, though, summed up: ‘In Paris enthusiasm, in Moscow disappointment, in Kyiv relief. Enough to be happy in Warsaw.’

Macron surprisingly called a snap midterm parliamentary election – which is independent of the French presidential election – after the National Rally won the most number of seats among French political parties in last month’s elections to the European parliament. The gamble was not expected to pay off; and obviously didn’t. The Left front have come first. However, Macron succeeded to the extent that he cut the burgeoning Far Right back to size.

A government with the Left bloc enjoying clout would be committed to raise the minimum wage in France to 1,600 euros a month, abrogating Macron’s divisive pension reform and to legislating an option of a retirement age of 60 from currently 64.    

But the underlying message of the just concluded elections is, immigration remains a major issue. French voters’ verdict in the European elections and in the first round of the parliamentary elections – in which the National Rally led with 33 per cent votes - was a warning to French parties to address the matter. Overlooking that message could hand over the keys of Elysee Palace, the French presidential mansion, to the prospective National Rally candidate Marine Le Pen.

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