French President Macron can no longer play God after losing majority in national assembly

Having lost majority in national assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron must weave a new coalition and consensus as a lame duck president

French President Macron can no longer play God after losing majority in national assembly

Ashis Ray/ London

President Emmanuel Macron of France turned down this week an offer of resignation from his Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne. She was appointed PM only in May this year, the first woman in 30 years and only the second in France, to hold the office.

While Borne’s move was not inconsistent with the precedence of French prime ministers handing in their papers after a legislative election as a formality –often before being asked to continue -- in this instance the submission was seen as a manifestation of the results of last Sunday’s elections to the country’s Assemblee Nationale.

Macron’s Ensemble spearheaded by his party La Republique En Marche failed to retain their absolute majority. The Elysee Palace, office of the French president asked Borne to continue in office ‘so that the government remains on task’.

France has entered relatively uncharted territory – rule by a minority government. This is not unprecedented as the Socialist Party under its President Francois Mitterand in 1988 was unable to muster an absolute majority either.

Emmanuel Macron was re-elected as president of the country in April – the first incumbent in over two decades to achieve this. But in the legislative elections which traditionally follow two months later, his Ensemble only managed to emerge as the largest single party. He is therefore compelled to build parliamentary consensus with opposition parties to implement a meaningful programme over the next term. The conservative French daily Figaro rather sweepingly declared Macron was now ‘faced with an ungovernable France’.

 French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne

In an apathetic turnout-- with 53.77% of voters abstaining -- Ensemble fell short of 44 seats to reach the target of 289 seats in a house of 577. The result was not altogether unexpected in the closing stages of the campaign. However, the outcome has given rise to challenges the French political system is unaccustomed to tackling.

Macron reached out to the traditional right-of-centre Republicans party (who could on its own bridge the gap, thereby creating a right leaning government), the Socialists and the Communist party, who in response called on him. But it was uncertain if the charismatic veteran of French politics Jean-Luc Melechon, 70, who stewards the radical left-wing La France Insoumise, would extend this courtesy.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right National Rally who was his rival in the run-off to the presidency, though, met Macron as well. She may back the latter’s proposed measures to alleviate the cost of living crisis, if some of her ideas are accommodated in the agenda.

On a bruising night for Ensemble, three of its ministers bit the dust. Indeed, Prime Minister Borne’s future is insecure, with opposition parties gunning for her as a price for cooperation. Macron’s intention to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 is perceived to be one of the elements in his party's manifesto that apparently proved unpopular. The pre-poll alliance (intergroup) between Melechon’s Insoumise, the Greens, Socialists and Communists – christened the Nouvelle Union popularise ecologique et sociale (NUPES) -- won 131 seats, which would, if they declared themselves as one bloc (group), make them officially the principal opposition force in the Assemblee Nationale. But Melechon’s suggestion that ‘the NUPES should form a single group in Parliament’ was not received well by fellow constituents in the coalition. They were in fact hostile.

If the intergroup does not weld into one group in the Assemblee, Le Pen’s National Rally with 89 seats will earn the right to be labelled the main opposition formation. The deadline for formalising groups is 6 pm Central European Time on 28 June. That morning the 16th legislature of Fifth Republic will open its first session at the Palais-Bourbon, which houses the Assemblee.

The prime minister is scheduled to address the Assemblee on July 5 to set out the new government’s policies. In other words, Borne’s fate would need to be decided well before this to enable a cogent head of gover nment speech. Constitutionally, the Assemblee elections should not impact on French foreign policy, as a president can conduct this according to his or her thinking.

But both the hard left and hard right are Europhobic, while the National Rally is in favour of accommodation rather than confrontation with Russia. The net consequence could be that further integration between the 27 member states of the European Union will make slow progress, since this is likely to require ratification by the Assemblee Nationale.

As long as a balanced Democrat or Republican is occupying the White House in Washington, Franco-US relations will prosper, notwithstanding last year’s hiccup when Paris took umbrage at the creation of the Australia, United Kingdom and United States (AUKUS) security pact to counter China, which left out France and ignored Canberra’s alleged volte face on buying French nuclear submarines worth billions of euros.

Further afield, such as ties with India, are unlikely to be affected, although no government in France can meddle with a prosecutor’s investigation, like the one underway to probe the Rafale India deal signed between the government preceding Macron’s -- in which he was a minister -- and the Narendra Modi regime.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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