French politics is beginning to look very similar to the Italian version with increasing fragmentation, the eclipsing of the right and left’s traditional centrist parties, and the prospect of early elections constantly on the political radar.
After winning the French presidency quite comfortably about two months ago, President Emmanuel Macron was humiliated by the French electorate in parliamentary elections, where he saw his Ensemble alliance lose 30 per cent of their seats. While still the largest group in the National Assembly, Macron’s alliance does not have a working majority. This means that they will have to compromise with parties of the right and the left to get any legislation of substance passed.
The French parliamentary elections have reconfirmed some political trends that are becoming more pronounced throughout the EU. The electorate decimated traditional parties of the centre-right and the centre-left, giving space for the far-right and far-left populist parties to fill the void left by mainstream parties.
The once-proud Socialist party now has to play second fiddle as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a demagogue, is now in indisputable command of the left-of-centre parties.
The conservative Les Republicains have lost ground to the far-right Rassemblement National led by Marine Le Pen, which secured 34 per cent of the votes in the presidential run-off. Le Pen’s party increased its seats from eight in the last legislative elections in 2017 to 89 today.
Political analysts are trying to identify the causes of this vast transformation of the French political landscape. The obsession of European mainstream traditional parties to appeal to what they perceive as the middle classes is beginning to show that it is no longer a guarantee for electoral success. Moreover, the French election outcome is a repudiation of Macron’s top-down way of governing.
It remains to be seen whether he now has the negotiating skills to implement some of his reforms by striking deals with the parties of the far-right and far-left of the National Assembly. Many observers are asking whether the election results will make France ungovernable, with opposition parties opposing everything and making it impossible to govern the country.
The party of abstainers is growing in practically all EU countries
When Macron was first elected president in 2017, many had labelled him as a reformist liberal politician who would shake the French political system out of its lethargy to embrace much-needed social and economic reform. Macron’s Ensemble alliance in 2017 included many highly educated and middle-class MPs that were generally perceived by the electorate as the ideal catalysts to promote political change.
The new parliament will have more workers sitting on the Assembly’s benches. Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party includes new MP Rachel Keke, a hotel chambermaid. She led a long trade union strike over working conditions at an Ibis hotel on the outskirts of Paris.
Political parties frequently make the mistake of believing that political reform is about projecting an image of youth and diversity in their front-line personalities to win the electorate’s trust.
The high absenteeism in the French elections is yet another confirmation that many people have lost faith in traditional politicians. This is not just a French phenomenon. The party of abstainers is growing in practically all EU countries. Many electors do not like the feeling of being taken for granted by politicians who excel in rhetoric but are incapable of improving their lives.
Some may now consider that Macron will be a lame-duck president for the next five years. His reformist programme, including the much-needed change in the state pensions system, may be stalled if opposition parties fail to buy into his reforms. He may gamble to restore his dented authority by calling fresh elections in two years. Still, early polls come with a risk of further erosion of his popularity.
While the last parliamentary elections have decimated Macron’s authority, France’s role in EU affairs remains crucial. The popular French daily newspaper Le Parisien’s front page on the state of France the morning after the country held its second and final rounds of legislative elections was “Ungovernable!” This label could easily be applied to the state of the European Union.
The EU continues to stumble from one crisis to another, with member states bickering and using their vetoes to stall reforms and win more concessions for their countries. The current geopolitical turmoil presents an existential threat to the Union that consistently disagrees on a reform programme to guarantee that it remains a global political and economic heavyweight.
A lame-duck French president is not what France and the EU need at present.