This preening narcissist pushed French voters into the arms of extremists, writes JONATHAN MILLER
Sunday would set the stage for the next phase of President Emmanuel Macron’s lofty ambitions to reform France and seize leadership of the European Union.
Instead, elections to the French parliament have left the president dangerously vulnerable and France more divided and ungovernable than ever.
He has not only failed to unite France, but has pushed his politics to dangerous extremes – enabling the revival of far-left politics under a leader who doesn’t look so much like a Gallic Jeremy Corbyn.
The results are a disaster for Macron, and far worse than almost anyone expected.
It is true that the weeks since the April presidential election have been brutal for the president. His efforts to end the war in Ukraine have proved fruitless; despite Macron’s rapprochement, Putin humiliated him.
There is an escalating crisis in the cost of living and the energy crisis. And to top it all off is the debacle that took place last month at the Stade de France, when Liverpool fans traveling there for the Champions League final were first robbed by local hooligans and then gassed by Macron’s police.
As a result, the president failed to secure a parliamentary majority for the first time since 1997.
JONATHAN MILLER: Elections to the French parliament have left Emmanuel Macron dangerously vulnerable and France more divided and ungovernable than ever. (Pictured: Macron and wife Brigitte Macron walk on the beach after the second stage vote of the French parliamentary election in Le Touquet, northern France, on June 19, 2022)
Marine Le Pen, candidate of France’s far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party, votes in the second round of French parliamentary elections, at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, France, June 19, 2022
He needed 289 deputies – MPs – to control the parliament with 577 seats and force his manifesto. But he only won 245 and lost 154 to those elected in his 2017 landslide, including numerous ministers.
Its prime minister Élisabeth Borne, a technocrat, handed over what was considered a safe haven, and aptly described as someone with the political charisma of a carrot, barely won over in the district into which she was dropped.
It is “a nightmare scenario” for the president, admitted Le Monde, a newspaper that normally supports Macron. The constitutional call for fraternité (brotherhood) has been supplanted by the most toxic political atmosphere in a generation.
The elections showed that French voters are consolidating into irreconcilable groups, leading to systemic instability. The fear must be that this could lead to a renewed onslaught of violent demonstrations, similar to the Yellow Vest protests in early 2018, which only ended when the country went into lockdown two years later due to Covid.
On one side is the revived right-wing Marine Le Pen, heroine of workers in the north and of southern French nationalists who have supported her movement for decades since it was founded by her father, Jean-Paul, as the Front National. Marie LePen.
She has moderated her party’s reputation, changed its name to the National Rally and has managed to increase its parliamentary representation from fewer than 10 seats to 89. (She had lost the April presidential election to Macron by a 10 percent margin. )
Her success on Sunday is surprising enough. But on the other side, a radical coalition of leftists, communists, ecologists and socialists, led by the MP and notorious agitator Jean-Luc Mélenchon, France’s magical grandfather, has increased his parliamentary presence from 17 to 131 seats. †
Little known outside France, 70-year-old Mélenchon can reasonably be compared to Jeremy Corbyn, from his quasi-religious belief in yesteryear socialism to recurring accusations of anti-Semitism by his political enemies.
French left-wing party leader La France Insoumise (LFI) Jean-Luc Melenchon casts his vote at a polling station in the second stage of parliamentary elections at a polling station in Marseille, southern France on June 19, 2022
He’s better educated and more cultured than Corbyn, a sharp TV performer and spunky dresser, who prefers custom Mao suits. He has a ferocious temper, is unabashedly obnoxious, but, like Corbyn, is revered by his followers.
Politically and personality-wise, Mélenchon and Corbyn are peas in a pod and the pair are friends. Corbyn was even seen in Paris before the election, campaigning for Mélenchon’s candidates.
The profile of Mélenchon’s supporters is uncannily similar to Corbyn’s. Mélenchon unites younger voters, far-left ideologues, university-educated intellectuals, trade unionists, immigrants and Muslims.
Whether the alliance he has built will prove lasting, given the French left’s propensity for fraternal feuds, is an open question. But for now, he, and not Macron, is France’s political phenomenon.
But beyond the outcome of this election, what are the likely consequences? It’s bound to get messy. The newly elected assembly is a circular firing squad.
Mélenchon detests Macron and Le Pen, Le Pen despises Mélenchon and Macron, and Macron describes the others as dangerous extremists. The chance that these groups can work together in the interest of France is small.
Yet Mélenchon and Le Pen do not disagree on everything. The strong point they have in common is their intense Euroscepticism. While this will most likely not result in anything akin to Frexit, it certainly creates a huge roadblock to Macron’s dream of a deeper EU, with himself at the head.
Macron needed 289 deputies – MPs – to control the 577-seat parliament and push through his manifesto. But he only won 245 and lost 154 to those elected in his 2017 landslide, including numerous ministers
Five years ago, Macron was widely hailed by much of the establishment as the representative of a new, centrist, reformist politics. The Economist put it on the cover, walking on the water. That’s not how it worked out.
This election shows that not only has Macron been unable to unite the country, he also bears a heavy responsibility for its division.
His narcissism, lack of empathy with ordinary people and intellectual arrogance have undermined his ambition to reform an economically sclerotic and socially troubled France, with a pro-business program of pension reform and raising the retirement age. The self-proclaimed centrist has revived extremists right and left.
For Britain, no stranger to political crisis, the French elections show that things are worse on the other side of the Channel.
Britain certainly has a government that lays claim to democratic legitimacy. France has a government in name only, unable to legislate.
A bonus, perhaps, is that a greatly weakened Macron may not be able to bully Britain over Northern Ireland’s protocol, immigration and fisheries.
General de Gaulle built the Fifth Republic to oppose parliament and end the political chaos of the Third and Fourth Republics. But Sunday’s result is a reversal of the kind of powerful presidency envisioned by de Gaulle, and the resumption of a grueling battle between parliament and the president.
A diminished Macron will have to seek ad hoc coalitions to get anything through parliament, and he will pay for such support.
The magnitude of the delusion in the president’s camp was starkly illustrated last night when Macron’s spokesman Olivia Grégoire said: “It’s a disappointing first place, but it’s a first place nonetheless.”
France faces rising inflation, a debt crisis, a budget deficit untamed by Europe’s highest taxes, an energy crisis, failing schools and hospitals, and a law and order crisis, all amid the worst European military conflict since 1945. , in which Macron humiliated himself in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Macron’s is now a ‘stillborn’ presidency, said Alexis Brézet, editor-in-chief of Le Figaro.
Several opportunist centrists may join the president as he tries to pass laws, but the 64-seat centrist Republicans have already refused to work with him.
Macron’s position is so tenuous that Élisabeth Borne is likely to be an even shorter prime minister than her only female predecessor, Edith Cresson, someone who called British men homosexual and the Japanese ants, and who lasted less than a year.
And Macron, now that his political career has finally met its Waterloo, will no doubt continue to step onto the world stage and pretend nothing happened.