After losing the majority, can Macron strike a deal with opposition parties?
In his first public comments since parliamentary elections robbed his ruling coalition of a majority, French President Emmanuel Macron called on France’s revived opposition blocs to come up with solutions to the political deadlock in a televised speech on Wednesday. But opposition forces on both the left and right have their own predicament, and it remains unclear how willing – or able – they will be to work with Macron.
The political setback marks the first time in more than 20 years that a French president has lost an absolute majority in parliament. While Macron’s Ensemble (Together) alliance remains the largest, with a total of 245 MPs out of 577, the loss of his majority has forced the president into coalition building as he hopes to continue his ambitious domestic reform agenda.
Macron on Wednesday pleaded with opposition parties to make “compromises” for the sake of national unity. But he also called for allies, saying Ensemble will have to “increase” its reach in parliament, either by “concluding a coalition agreement or creating majorities, by bill”.
However, the spirit of compromise proves elusive: no side has taken up Macron’s offer. The president held talks for two days with opposition leaders at the Élysée Palace, including far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen, to find a way out of the crisis. And while one of the most viable solutions would be an alliance between Macron’s centrists and the traditionally conservative Les Républicains, party leader Christian Jacob ruled out any deal, saying his party prefers to remain in opposition after talks with Macron. on Tuesday.
Compromise as a guiding principle may not be a good fit for Macron either. With the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958, Charles de Gaulle made the presidency what many call an “elected monarchy”, placing at the heart of the Republic the old regime‘s focus on a strong head of state who would have little reason to compromise. Macron – who took on the Gaullist mantle – was the archetypally powerful head of state of the Fifth Republic during his first term in office.
FRANCE 24 looks at the positions of the three major opposition blocs. To varying degrees, they all face obstacles in making a deal with Macron.
The front republicain – the tendency of French voters to vote en masse against the far right in the second round of the runoff election – did not show up well in the second round of the parliamentary poll: Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Rally, or RN) made a historic breakthrough, winning more seats than ever before. RN becomes the largest opposition party of the National Assembly with 89 MPs. Although the newly formed left-wing coalition — the Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale (New People’s Environmental and Social Union, or NUPES) — has 131 more seats — it remains an alliance of several left-wing parties, not a party that will vote as a single bloc. .
Le Pen will be one of the few big names to serve in the National Assembly this term — and she’s eager to make the most of Parliament as her party’s main platform, handing over the RN leadership to her young protégé Jordan Bardella to focus on leading her bloc of MPs.
“Le Pen intends to project an image of respectability and use her unexpected parliamentary power to polish her credentials as a serious national stateswoman with, already, the 2027 presidential race looming,” said Jim Shields, a French professor. politics at Warwick University.
“Withdrawing into systematic opposition would not serve that purpose, so we can expect her to be open to working with the government on issues that align with her party’s agenda.”
But forming a government pact with the far right remains taboo. “Let me be absolutely clear, there cannot be any alliance, not even an indirect one, with the National Rally,” Macron’s minister for Europe, Clément Beaune, told Europe 1 radio on Wednesday. “We have no idea what National Rally has to do with it.”
“If Macron’s government sought support from RN, that would really be the end from the point of view of the members of that government,” noted Paul Smith, a professor of French politics at the University of Nottingham.
It would still look bad to pass legislation thanks to RN support without even asking, Smith continued.
“The idea reminds me of a moment during the Fourth Republic when Pierre Mendès France was in office [as prime minister from 1954 to 1955]† Mendès France would have nothing to do with the communists, and there was one vote his government won only thanks to them – but he refused to consider communist votes valid.”
The NUPES coalition – formed in May to challenge Macron and unite La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), the Socialist Party, the Greens (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts) and the Communist Party – led by far-left figurehead Jean -Luc Mélenchon – more than double the score achieved by the various parties in the 2017 parliamentary elections.
While Beaune ruled out any deal with the far right, Beaune did not rule out the possibility of deals with the far left, stressing that Macron’s government is closer to “a pro-European Socialist Party MP than to RN”. Nevertheless, Beaune suggested that the ideal coalition partner on the left would be nothing like the eurosceptic Mélenchon, who came third in the presidential election and now heads the NUPES coalition.
Mélenchon declined Macron’s invitation to opposition leaders and instead sent one of his lieutenants to the Élysée Palace for Macron’s coalition talks this week, in what was seen as a gesture of rejection. He then mocked Macron’s TV speech Wednesday as a “ratatouille” – a southern French stew of various vegetables that offers something for everyone.
Macron has “few illusions” about the possibility of partnering with Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (LFI), Shields said.
And fellow NUPES members, the Socialist Party and the Greens, still failed to give Macron the all-important 289-seat majority threshold – they have 26 and 16 MPs respectively, and are much weaker than LFI with 72 seats.
Socialist leader Olivier Faure criticized Macron on Wednesday, saying that during his first term in office he “decided things himself” and “wasn’t accountable to anyone”. But unlike Mélenchon, Faure suggested that the socialists could collaborate with Macron on some points.
Mélenchon’s desire to unite the left in parliament provoked resistance from more moderate sections of NUPES. This dispute would play in Macron’s favor if he tried to peel off some of the center left, Shields suggested. They even rowed to sit in parliament together or separately, exposing “the true nature of NUPES as a purely electoral settlement without the ideological, strategic or policy coherence for a sustainable coalition”, so Macron can expect NUPES to “fall apart now.” it has served its electoral purpose”.
Macron has had a checkered history with the socialists, however – he was economy minister under their last president, François Hollande, before turning on his boss and confiscating the Élysée Palace in 2017.
“There is a residual feeling among socialists that Macron is the man who killed their party,” Smith said. “So they’re a little bit allergic to Macron.”
Many Greens also see Macron as a defector, Smith continued, but on policy issues instead: “They are extremely careful with Macron because he made big promises about the environment that didn’t really amount to much.”
The overarching trajectory of Macron’s first term in office is arguably the biggest obstacle to a deal with someone on the left. Entering the Élysée, Macron chose his first Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire from France’s traditional conservative party, Les Républicains (LR). Then the centrist president moved to the right, along with the center of French politics, on issues of immigration and security.
Since LR is ideologically closest to Macron, it has long been speculated that he might strike some sort of deal with them – rumors that intensified before the parliamentary elections, thanks to ex-LR ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy who wholeheartedly supported Macron in the presidential second round and met him at the Élysée Palace after his reelection.
As former US President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, the most important skill in politics is to be able to count. LR has the numbers to give Macron his majority – they won 61 seats in the parliamentary polls. This is sloppy by historical standards for this descendant of the Gaullist parties, but it is a much better result than expected for a party whose candidate, Valérie Pécresse, received a whopping 4.8 percent of the vote in the presidential election. The party has spent the past five years in the narrow ideological space between Macron and the far right.
Former LR leader Jean-François Copé called for a “pact” with Macron as the results of the second round came in. Such an agreement would provide the “most coherent way out of the parliamentary deadlock,” Shields noted.
But current (albeit outgoing) LR leader Christian Jacob ruled out such a deal after talks with Macron on Tuesday – after doing so repeatedly during the campaign.
Many Les Républicains MPs have a lot in common with Macron politically and see themselves as belonging to the natural party of government, much like the British Tories. “Jacob is on his way out, he has served his term and his statements are about preserving the best possible role for LR in partnership with Macron. The role of the king of LR gives them a significant opportunity to set their priorities, and it is likely that Macron will lean to the right to take those Macron-compatible LR MPs to justice,” said Andrew Smith, a French professor. politics at the University of Chichester, in an interview on Sunday.
Still, there are challenges to any attempt at a Macron-LR deal. Not all Républicain MPs see helping the president as the best way to act as the natural party of government again. For some of them, Shields noted, this would mean becoming a “vassal party.”