Analysis

Macron’s Next Challenge: Defending His Majority in Parliament

The president’s second term could be a lot harder than his first.

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron makes a phone call from the Elysée Palace in Paris, January 28 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

Emmanuel Macron has defeated Marine Le Pen for the second time. He is the first French president in twenty years to win reelection. The last was Jacques Chirac, who in 2002 defeated Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie.

Macron’s projected 58 percent support is down from the 66 percent he got in 2017.

He is also far less certain of winning another majority in the National Assembly, which puts his plans for a second term at risk.

Although the French presidency is one of the most powerful of its kind, without a parliamentary majority Macron might have to nominate a prime minister of another party (the French call this “cohabitation”) and could not cut taxes, invest €50 billion in green energy or raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.

Not encouraging

Macron’s The Republic on the Move (LREM), and its ally Democratic Movement (MoDem), won a majority in 2017. Only a few surveys have been taken for the legislative elections in June, but they are not encouraging for the liberals. The parties also did not do well in regional elections a year ago, when the center-right Republicans placed first.

Republicans may not win outright, but they could gain seats at the expense of LREM. Marine Le Pen, who is projected to win a record 42 percent support for the far right, may also gain, although her National Rally has so far suffered from the French two-round voting system. Wherever it makes the runoff, mainstream left- and right-wing voters usually team up against it.

Two scenarios

The two scenarios I see, in order of probability, are:

  1. Macron + center-right majority: The Republicans gain seats, LREM loses some, the left and far right remain stable. LREM and MoDem form a coalition with the Republicans. Macron wouldn’t need to make major concessions. His two prime ministers, Édouard Philippe and Jean Castex, were Republicans. The conservatives broadly agree with his proposals for nuclear power, pensions and tax relief. Macron may have to toughen his immigration policies and scale back his €50 billion green-energy plan.
  2. Macron + Republican majority: LREM implodes and the Republicans win a majority. This would force Macron to the right on immigration and integration, for example by conditioning residency on learning French, cutting social aid to illegal aliens and introducing immigration quotas for countries and professions. It would put his green-energy agenda at risk.

Foreign policy wouldn’t change in either scenario, since that is in the hands of the president, not parliament.

What about the left?

A left-wing majority seems unlikely to the point of impossible. If LREM’s losses are limited, and the Republicans only gain a few seats, Macron might technically be able to form a coalition with the Socialists, and he officially was a Socialist before he formed his own party, but I don’t see how it would benefit either of them.

The Socialists want to raise spending, not cut taxes. They want to keep the retirement age at 62. The only major issue on which they and Macron see eye to eye is climate and green (but not nuclear) energy.

A Socialist coalition with Macron would make it even harder for the former to win back working-class voters from the far right. It could also alienate the woke left. It would be a gift to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who placed third in the opening round of the presidential election two weeks ago with 22 percent support.

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