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Paris (AFP)- Just two months after being re-elected for a second term, French President Emmanuel Macron saw his hopes of advancing his national agenda take a humbling blow on Sunday. What happens afterwards?
Its allies, collectively known as “Ensemble” (Together), appeared on track to finish as the largest party in parliament with 210 to 260 MPs, but nowhere near the 289 needed for a majority.
This scenario is extremely rare under modern French presidential rule, even before a constitutional change in 2002 that was intended to make it easier for the head of state to obtain a parliamentary majority.
The election won’t affect French foreign policy in theory, which is the exclusive domain of the president, but Macron’s domestic worries are likely to be a constant distraction and could undermine him abroad.
Here are the possible scenarios:
Form an alliance
Work on this will begin Monday morning, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne promised in a brief speech on Sunday evening.
Amid the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation, the ruling party was in a rush to pass an emergency bill to help low-income families ahead of the summer holidays in August.
That, along with other key elements of Macron’s manifesto – such as welfare reform or raising the retirement age – will require support from allies in the National Assembly.
‘Ensemble’ is seen as most likely to reach France’s traditional right-wing Les Républicains (LR) party and its centre-right ally UDI, which are on track to win 55 to 77 seats, according to projections.
“We are going to form a majority very quickly,” said Olivier Véran, minister responsible for parliamentary relations, in an optimistic tone.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the ruling party would need “a lot of imagination” and called on parties that share Macron’s “clear ideas” to support him.
Although some within LR are known to favor a collaboration with Macron, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, party leader Christian Jacob ruled it out on Sunday.
“As far as we are concerned, we campaigned as an opposition party, we are in opposition and we will remain in opposition,” he said.
But is this a bargaining tactic, perhaps to lure offers of cabinet posts and other concessions?
Should an alliance be formed, Macron would have to turn to the right, but may be able to push through his cherished tax cuts, social protection and pension reform.
In the absence of a formal alliance, the minority government will have to rely on the support of opposition parties for each bill.
It will require lengthy negotiations before each bill is put to a vote – and leaves the government vulnerable to last-minute withdrawals that could lead to defeat.
Again, Republicans will play a key role, as support for the far-left NUPES alliance or the far-right National Rally will be ruled out.
“You can govern with a minority as long as the opposition parties do not unite against you,” Dominique Rousseau, a constitutional law specialist at Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne University, told AFP.
Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard led a left-wing minority government from 1988 to 1991 following right-wing gains in the 1988 legislative elections.
“It was hell,” his chief of staff Jean-Paul Huchon recently told Le Point magazine.
Borne is expected to appear before the new parliament in the coming weeks to deliver her maiden speech and will face a highly uncertain vote of confidence that could bring her down.
Even if the modest career civil servant passes this test, she will be constantly vulnerable to a motion of no confidence that will bring down the government.
To pass laws, the French constitution gives Macron a tool to force bills, article 49.3 of the constitution.
This allows the Prime Minister to ram through legislation without any parliamentary debate, but it can also be overturned if a majority opposes it within 24 hours of its use, and can only be used once per session parliamentary.
“Ungovernable” headlined a column in the newspaper Les Echos.
As a last resort, if parliament remains deadlocked and no stable government can be formed, Macron has another option: dissolve the assembly and call new elections.
But the outcome would be highly uncertain, with growing anger over inflation and growing support for anti-establishment parties such as Melenchon’s La France Insoumise and Le Pen’s National Rally.
Much would depend on who voters blamed for the standoff.
© 2022 AFP