by Adam PLOWRIGHT
Just two months after being re-elected for a second term, French President Emmanuel Macron saw his hopes of pushing his domestic agenda hit hard on Sunday. What comes next?
Their allies, collectively known as the “Ensemble” (Together), were ending up as the largest party in parliament with 234 MPs so far based on a 97 percent vote count, but far short of the 289 needed for a most.
This scenario is extremely rare under the presidential regime of modern France, even before a constitutional change in 2002 that was intended to make it easier for the head of state to secure a parliamentary majority.
In theory, the election will not affect French foreign policy, which is the sole domain of the president, but Macron’s domestic concerns are likely to be a constant distraction and could undermine him abroad.
These are the possible scenarios:
– Form an alliance –
Work on this will start Monday morning, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne promised in a brief speech Sunday night.
Amid the biggest cost-of-living crisis in a generation, the ruling party scrambled to pass an emergency bill to help low-income families before the summer break in August.
That, along with other key parts of Macron’s manifesto, such as welfare reform or raising the retirement age, will require the support of allies in the National Assembly.
“Together” is seen as most likely to reach France’s traditional right-wing party, the Republicans (LR), which have so far won 61 seats, and its center-right ally UDI.
“We are going to form a majority very quickly,” said Olivier Veran, minister in charge of parliamentary relations, on an optimistic note.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the ruling party would need “a lot of imagination” and called on parties that shared Macron’s “clear ideas” to support him.
Although some within LR are known to be in favor of working with Macron, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the party’s leader, Christian Jacob, ruled him out on Sunday.
“As far as we are concerned, we campaigned as an opposition party, we are in opposition and we will stay in opposition,” he said.
But is this a negotiating tactic, perhaps to attract offers of ministerial posts and other concessions?
If an alliance were to form, Macron would have to swing to the right but could push through his prized tax cuts, welfare and pension reform.
– Invoice-by-invoice negotiations –
In the absence of a formal alliance, the minority government will need to have the support of the opposition parties for each bill.
This 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, the Republicans will be key, since the support of the extreme left alliance NUPES or the extreme 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, an expert in constitutional law at Paris Pantheon-Sorbonne University, told AFP.
Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard led a minority left-wing government from 1988 to 1991, after the right-wing won parliamentary elections in 1988.
“It was hell,” the director of his cabinet, Jean-Paul Huchon, recently told Le Point magazine.
Borne is expected to appear before the new parliament in the coming weeks to give her first speech and will face a highly uncertain vote of confidence that could topple her.
Even if the low-key career official passes that test, he or she will be constantly vulnerable to a no-confidence motion that will topple the government.
To pass legislation, the French constitution gives Macron a tool to force the passage of bills, article 49.3 of the constitution.
This allows the Prime Minister to pass legislation without any parliamentary debate, but can also be overturned if the majority objects within 24 hours of its use and can only be used once in each parliamentary session.
“Ungovernable”, read the headline of a column in the newspaper Les Echos.
– New elections –
As a last resort, if parliament remains deadlocked and a stable government cannot be formed, Macron has another option: dissolve the assembly and call new elections.
But the outcome of this would be highly uncertain, with rising anger over inflation and rising support for anti-establishment parties like Melenchon’s France Unbowed and Le Pen’s National Rally.
Much would depend on whom voters blamed for the impasse. – French Media Agency