Macron’s Party Is Up, But So Is the Left

The French president may defend his majority in parliament after all.

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron reviews a Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2020 (Elysée/Philippe Servent)

A lot can change in politics in six weeks. When I wrote my five French election scenarios in the beginning of April, I didn’t even consider that President Emmanuel Macron might defend his majority in the National Assembly or would have to govern with the left, yet those are now the two most likely outcomes of the legislative elections in June.

I thought Macron would have to do a deal with the center-right. That has become less likely. The Republicans and their allies are projected to win a mere 35 to 70 seats, down from 136 in 2017.

What changed?

  1. Macron being reelected appears to have given his liberal coalition, Ensemble (Together), a boost. It is projected to win between 290 and 350 seats. 289 are needed for a majority.
  2. The left has finally united after Jean-Luc Mélenchon placed a strong third in the presidential election with 22 percent support. The others didn’t even come close. The Socialists were long the dominant party of the left, but their candidate, Anne Hidalgo, got just 1.8 percent. If the Socialists as well as the Communists and Greens had backed Mélenchon in the presidential election, he, rather than Marine Le Pen, would have gone up against Macron in the second round. As a bloc, the four parties are projected to win between 140 and 195 seats. Separately, they won 72 seats in 2017.
  3. Republican voters have been demotivated by the weak performance of their candidate, Valérie Pécresse. The governor of the Paris region got 5 percent support in the presidential election.

I may have also overestimated Republicans’ chances based on their strong performance in the regional elections a year ago.

What the outcome would mean

A liberal majority would allow Macron to implement his plans for a second term: cut inheritance tax, invest €50 billion in green and nuclear energy, raise the retirement age from 62 to 65, and merge France’s 42 public pension schemes into a single, points-based system.

If the left does well, and Ensemble falls only a few seats short of a majority, I still think a coalition with the center-right is more likely than one with the left. Republicans agree with Macron’s plans to cut taxes and raise the retirement age. They’re not wild about his green-energy agenda and may demand concessions on immigration, for example, conditioning residency on learning French or introducing quotas.

If the left places first, and it remains united (two big ifs), Macron may have no choice but to accept Mélenchon as prime minister. I doubt the Greens and Socialists really want the former Trotskyist to lead the government. Macron would probably try to do a separate deal with them that could include investing in solar and wind but not nuclear, raising income tax and the minimum wage, and keeping pensions unchanged.

Mélenchon wants to lower the retirement age to 60, reduce the working week from 35 to 32 hours, and renationalize motorways, rail and utilities. Those are not popular plans even on the center-left.

He would also leave NATO, withdraw French support for Israel and make concessions to Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine, but that couldn’t happen without Macron’s consent, which Mélenchon is not going to get.