A Fragmented Parliament Brings Macron Back Down to Earth


PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron governed like Jupiter in his first term, using the full powers of France’s executive branch and largely ignoring Parliament.

But big gains by opposition groups in Sunday’s legislative elections are likely to force Mr. Macron to regularly seek compromise in his second term, making it more difficult to push his domestic agenda through a reinvigorated lower house and deeply changing a political landscape dominated by the presidency for the past two decades.

Having lost an absolute majority in the National Assembly, the lower and more powerful house of Parliament, Mr. Macron — who adopted a top-down governing style in his first term and who was often referred to as a “Republican monarch” — must now cajole his coalition partners and win over opposition lawmakers, particularly in the center-right.

He will also face stiff challenges from resurgent leftist and far-right forces that have vowed to block his legislative agenda, fueling fears of prolonged political obstruction.

Mr. Macron’s centrist coalition finished first overall in nationwide voting on Sunday, with 245 seats, but it fell far short of the absolute majority that it enjoyed in the 577-seat National Assembly during his first term.

The results came two months after Mr. Macron was re-elected to a second term in a runoff against the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen. Many voters, especially on the left, supported Mr. Macron simply as a way to block Ms. Le Pen from power.

But he did little in recent weeks to woo them, appearing strangely disengaged from the legislative campaign and even going to Eastern Europe just days before the parliamentary vote to visit French troops and express support for Ukraine.

Traditionally, in legislative elections held soon after the presidential ballot, voters have given the newly elected president a political mandate by giving him a strong majority in the National Assembly.

But the message delivered by voters on Sunday was hardly an endorsement of Mr. Macron — whose leadership style earned him the nickname “Jupiter,” the king of the gods who ruled by hurling down lightning bolts.

Instead, a left-wing alliance, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the hard-left France Unbowed party, came in second place, with 131 seats. And Ms. Le Pen’s far-right National Rally took a record number of seats for the party, 89, in contrast to the handful it held previously.

“Emmanuel Macron’s bet, which was to coast along with the institutional logic and tell himself that the French would give the elected president a majority, has failed,” said Gilles Ivaldi, of the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po in Paris.

Much was still uncertain after the elections, which produced a complex and fragmented political landscape. “My biggest fear is that the country will be blocked,” Olivia Grégoire, a spokeswoman for Mr. Macron’s government, told France Inter radio on Monday.

At the same time, the left and the far-right share little in common, making a sustained, united anti-Macron front all but impossible. There are deep fissures even among the left-wing parties that make up Mr. Mélenchon’s alliance, over issues like France’s nuclear policy or its place in the European Union, that could prevent coordinated moves.

Those tensions were already on display on Monday, after the other parties in the alliance — the Socialists, Greens and Communists — rejected Mr. Mélenchon’s call to sit as one group in the lower house.

Mr. Macron must now contend with parliamentary constraints that he had mostly been able to circumvent during his first term. His party will not be able to readily dismiss opposition amendments, and legislative debates could be much harsher.

“It’s like going from a very strong presidential regime to a parliamentary regime,” said Chloé Morin, a political scientist at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a progressive think tank. “It moves the center of power to the National Assembly.”

During Mr. Macron’s first term, the lower house of Parliament was widely considered a rubber-stamp of the presidency, as the president and a small circle of advisers drove France’s political agenda.

The left-wing coalition and the National Rally both have enough lawmakers to bring a vote of no confidence, but they would need to muster an absolute majority to bring down the government, which seems unlikely. Still, the potential for gridlock in the National Assembly could prompt Mr. Macron to dissolve the body and call new parliamentary elections next year.

France’s presidents can rule by decree on some issues, and they have a relatively free rein to conduct foreign policy. But major domestic overhauls promised by Mr. Macron during his re-election campaign require the approval of Parliament, such as his contentious plans to raise the legal age of retirement to 65, from 62.

Mr. Macron will most likely be forced to seek a coalition or build short-term alliances with opposition forces, but none of them seem inclined to help him.

“It’s not completely blocked, it’s a suspended Parliament,” said Vincent Martigny, a professor of political science at the University of Nice, adding that Les Républicains, the mainstream conservatives, could become kingmakers to pass bills, as they are most likely, on paper at least, to support Mr. Macron’s pro-business policies.

But leaders from the conservative party, some of them worried that a long-term coalition with Mr. Macron could anger their base, have already ruled out a partnership.

“We are in the opposition,” Christian Jacob, the party’s president, told reporters on Monday, adding that “there is no question of a pact, coalition or agreement of any kind.”

The two largest opposition forces in Parliament, the broad coalition of left-wing parties, and Ms. Le Pen’s far-right party, have vowed to challenge Mr. Macron relentlessly. Some quickly called for the resignation of Élisabeth Borne, the prime minister appointed by Mr. Macron last month.

“The government as formed by Emmanuel Macron cannot continue to govern as if nothing had happened,” Manuel Bompard, a member of France Unbowed — the biggest force in the left-wing coalition with 72 seats — told the French channel BFMTV.

It was unclear what Mr. Macron, who has not said anything publicly about the results, will do. He had vowed that ministers who lost their parliamentary races would have to quit; three fall into that category. The president, who lost key allies in the National Assembly, could also decide to address voter frustrations by reshuffling his cabinet more extensively.

Opposition forces are now expected to fill strategic positions in the lower house and to control key committees, such as the powerful finance committee that oversees the state budget.

“They can do everything that Emmanuel Macron doesn’t like, that is, force his hand on some amendments, force him into debates,” Mr. Martigny said.

Ms. Le Pen was handily re-elected to her own seat alongside a record number of far-right lawmakers, who are now about 11 times as numerous as they were during Mr. Macron’s previous term.

“Yes, we are asking for everything that an opposition group is entitled to, the finance committee of course, the vice presidency, of course,” Ms. Le Pen told reporters on Monday. “Will Emmanuel Macron be able to do what he wants? No, and so much the better.”

The National Rally can now form what is known as a parliamentary group, giving it more speaking time and other powers. It will also bring a financial windfall to a party that has long been indebted, thanks to increased public funding based on its election results.

The party is expected to receive almost 10 million euros, about $10.5 million, in public funding every year, compared to around €5 million during the previous term. That could be enough to finally pay off the remainder of a €9.6 million loan the National Rally contracted with a Russian bank in 2014, prompting accusations that it is too close to the Kremlin.

Mr. Ivaldi said the far-right’s results did not come as a complete shock, given Ms. Le Pen’s strong showing in the presidential election and her ability to attract anti-Macron voters.

But the National Rally has usually struggled with the legislative elections. In 2017, it reached 120 runoffs but got less than 10 seats, he noted.

On Sunday, though, the traditional opposition of voters to far-right runoff candidates appeared to have crumbled, after years of Ms. Le Pen’s efforts to normalize the party, Mr. Ivaldi said.

“It’s a party that is now well-anchored in the political landscape,” he said.



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