Pro-Europeans heaved a sigh of relief on Monday, May 7. Emmanuel Macron, a political centrist, now leads France. But Macron still faces a major political hurdle on the way to enacting his centrist agenda: he needs to establish a majority in a Parliament that currently has zero members from his party. Without this majority, Macron may not be able to pass his more controversial legislative measures or coordinate fiscal policy.
Left, Right, or Middle?
Macron's party, now La République En Marche! (literally “Republic on foot,” but more figuratively “the Republic on the move”), was started only eleven months ago. En Marche! has no deputies in Parliament. It has an agenda, but no real political base. The two main parties in France, the leftist Socialist Party and right-leaning Les Républicains party, have 295 and 196 seats respectively in the National Assembly of 577 members. But as the presidential elections made clear, their dominance is now being challenged by two non-traditional parties, Macron's En Marche! and Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front. Centrist voters will once again have to choose whether to be faithful to their own parties or to these new political groups. And although Macron was once a Socialist, his party’s centrist and business-friendly policies have already upset many in the Socialist Party. Meanwhile, his socially liberal stances worry some in the center-right Les Républicains party, especially party vice-president Laurent Wauquiez.
All members of the National Assembly, one of the two branches of France's bicameral legislature, will be chosen in a two-round vote on June 11 and 18. Macron has already secured En Marche! candidates in 428 out of 577 constituencies. If the party’s candidates can survive the first round, their centrist platforms will help them win in the second round because they will attract moderate voters who are otherwise loyal to the established parties. But, to be able to survive the first round, En Marche! will have to best the Socialists and Les Républicains. Though En Marche! was able to accomplish this during the presidential elections, receiving 24 percent of the first-round vote compared to the Socialists’ 20 percent and Les Républicains’ 20 percent, respectively, a survey by French TV news channel La Chaîne Info found that only 40 percent of French citizens believe it is somewhat or extremely likely that Macron gets a majority—and 49 percent do not even want him to have a majority. So while OpinionWay-SLPV Analytics expects 249 to 286 seats to go to En Marche! at the end of the second round, political parties that have the support and resources that En Marche! lacks are still a major threat to the party’s attempted capture of parliament.
Many skeptics point out that half of the En Marche! candidates have not held political office before—they range from lawyers to teachers to managers in agriculture. Macron has even expressed some degree of wariness in including full-time politicians in his party, saying he would not feel bound to endorse sitting members who want to rally behind his cause. Without a pre-existing base in parliament, many voters question Macron's legitimacy and may vote for other developed parties who are only a few percentage points behind in the polls. La Chaîne Info’s current predictions put Les Républicains only 2 percentage points behind En Marche! and the National Front only 3 percentage points behind in the first round elections—in other words, the second election is more up for grabs than the first. Whatever the reasons, some French citizens are clearly still supporting their entrenched, rightist parties in this election, which raises the stakes that much higher for Macron and his party.
Since France has more than two competitive parties, there is also the possibility that no dominant faction will win a majority. In this event, En Marche! would have to build a coalition with one of the established parties in order to have a majority. Although the likelihood of successfully building a coalition behind a centrist group is fair, enough can be said about the danger of a political rupture in the French system in which Parliament would be divided between ideological extremes: center, far-right, and far-left. In nominating centre-right Edouard Philippe as prime minister, it appears that Macron hopes to ally with the conservative party in his scheme to gain a majority. This way, he can strengthen ties to Les Républicains while still holding on to his political support with the Socialists, whom he has historically aligned with.
For Macron to succeed, it is essential that he have a parliament willing to align with his policies, and this might require building a coalition with other parties. Although his stances are mainly pro-European and business-friendly—positions that command broad support—some of his policies, such as loosening France’s tight labor code, increasing taxes, and abolishing the direct wealth tax on assets, are much more divisive.
The Socialist Party has already signaled that it will not compromise on some issues. The Socialists have refused to allow the reform of the labor code by ordinance, brought up by Macron, and are wary of his policies to cut down on restrictions against businesses. The first secretary of the Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, went so far as to say that it would be “impossible” to be a Socialist Party member and run for office in Macron’s movement. “If some want to leave and go apart, they can do so and let us work,” he said.
Les Républicains are also ready to fight Macron on taxes and social welfare. François Baroin, the party’s election campaign manager, claims he has “deep disagreements” with Macron on tax cuts, and he will offer a program of his own.
On the other hand, some politicians have recently allied with Macron, including centrist François Bayrou, now part of his cabinet. Macron’s centrism both alienates and overlaps with each of the traditional parties. His call for action against global warming is shared by the Socialists and his plans to loosen labor laws are shared by Les Républicains. His cabinet reflects this mix, as it is a balance between center-right and center-left. At least for now, there is much more ideological unity among En Marche! voters, though not as much agreement on specific policy questions.
Additionally, there are signs that the shock delivered to both of the major parties in the presidential elections has made them more willing to compromise, as each party is concerned with its continued survival. Dominique Reynié, a former Les Républicains candidate in regional elections, says the Socialist Party's future will depend on its results in the legislative elections. “The PS [Socialist Party] will have to profoundly reform itself … they will push for the party to defend itself on the ground and not abandon everything. It will be the same for Les Républicains.” With this mentality, Macron might have an opportunity to push past party lines.
For Macron to put his plan into action, his vision for France needs to align with Parliament’s. But it is unclear whether his voters, or the deputies, are on board. Those in the center are likely to support Macron. Those who are loyal to party lines, however, will be deciding factors for Macron to get a majority in parliament. The decisions in June will either bolster Macron's political success or propel France into more political divisions in the years to come.
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