France in political limbo after Macron suffers setback 

June 22, 2022 - 18:22

French President Emmanuel Macron has held meetings with opposition party leaders in a desperate attempt to form a parliamentary majority after losing control of the National Assembly and the power he enjoyed during his first term to implement his own policies so easily.

Macron’s Ensemble alliance won just 245 seats in the second-round vote on Sunday, far short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority.

Some experts say Macron has himself to blame after spending more time trying to lead Europe on Ukraine, while other parties focused on the cost of living crisis back at home.

Other analysts say the Ukraine crisis which has exacerbated the rising cost of energy in Europe is an early sign for what other leaders on the continent can expect to lose, as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which is being supported by NATO, drags on. 

While other parties spent time on the campaign trail, Macron was in Kyiv pledging to intensify the delivery of weapons; a trip he made after being criticized for saying Russia should not be “humiliated”.

If the French leader had achieved a path to peace in the Ukraine conflict; there may have been some praise back home, not only for those suffering from the fighting but also for the easing of energy prices in France. 

French media described Macron’s significant losses as a “crushing defeat” and an “earthquake”. 

Many have pointed to the low voter turnout: 46.23 percent in Sunday’s crucial second-round legislative election as just one sign of Macron’s failure. 

As it stands those who abstained from the vote were the biggest winner as some analysts have suggested, but the factor behind the abstention is a lack of vision among the contenders to address the French people's urgent needs amid rising inflation. 

One notable and unexpected result was Nupes, an alliance of leftwing and Green parties led by Jean Luc Melenchon that won the second largest number of seats. 

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the “unprecedented” situation “is a risk to our country faced with challenges at the national level as well as at the international scale.”

Borne herself was only appointed in May by Macron in the aftermath of his presidential win and has been under heavy pressure to step down. 

Melenchon has called on the French PM to submit to a vote of confidence telling reporters “that woman has no legitimacy. None. We’re wasting our time until she leaves,”

On Tuesday, Borne succumbed to the growing calls and offered her resignation. However, she appears to be safe for now after receiving the backing of her party MPs and intervention by Macron, mainly because she retained her seat in the legislative vote. 

Macron had insisted before the election that all ministers who lost their seats would have to stand down. Nevertheless, the decision to keep the Prime Minister in power has been strongly criticized. 

The political impasse has left the French President holding back-to-back meetings with leaders of opposition parties in an attempt to break the political deadlock; or as the Elysee Palace put it for “possible constructive solutions” to the deadlock.

Experts says Macron may try and form a majority by joining hands with smaller parties but whether that approach will work remains to be seen. 

His most important meeting was with Christian Jacob, leader of the mainstream right Les Republicains party, which came fourth in the parliamentary election winning 64 seats. 

“We have never been in such a situation. The responsibility for it lies with the president of the Republique. He has had a five-year term for nothing” Jacob told reporters. 

Earlier, Jacob accused Macron of “using the extremes” for his own purposes. “He has put the country in this situation,” he said.

Macron’s losses paved the way for the far-right and leftist parties to prosper and essentially play a key role in the country’s political landscape for the next five years. 

After meeting Macron, Jacob said, "I told the president that it was out of the question to enter into a coalition deal, that would be a betrayal of our voters." Earlier Jacob had called the President "arrogant".

Macron’s also sat down at the Elysee with Olivier Faure, head of the Parti Socialiste, one of four parties in Melenchon’s alliance.

Faure told journalists before the meeting that “Emmanuel Macron was legitimately re-elected, but he has not been given a clear mandate,”

Earlier Faure told French media he would tell the president “the country is not well, it is angry, but it is not blocked and there are policies that are possible.”

There has been no indication so far as to whether Macron will meet Melenchon. 

He did, however, go all the way to meeting his longtime fierce rival, Marine Le Pen, head of the radical left La France Insoumise, 

After her meeting with Macron, Le Pen said she told him her party’s MPs will be part of the opposition but don’t want to do “systematic obstruction.”

“If measures are being proposed that go in the right direction... we will vote for them. If they go in the wrong direction, we will amend them. If they are not amended as we want, then we will oppose them,” she added.

Macron may resort to running a minority government and will have to compromise with MPs on passing legislation, something that threatens to paralyze parliament.

According to Fabien Roussel of the French Communist Party, who met Macron on Tuesday evening, the president asked him "if we were ready to work in a government of national unity", and if such an initiative was the right solution or whether support should be sought "on a case-by-case basis".

The French economy minister Bruno Le Maire has admitted "we will have to show a lot of imagination" to govern. The leftists, the far-right, and the green bloc will most likely stand in the way and oppose Macron’s policies. The first session of the new National Assembly is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Le Pen’s far-right party, for example, had just eight seats in the previous parliament, her bloc has significantly expanded that this time round to 89 seats that giving the party unprecedented power. 

Former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has urged the creation of a "grand coalition", considering a "compromise", even if it meant "finding new profiles" to take the lead.

But Macron will travel to Brussels for a European summit scheduled on Thursday and Friday. He will then head to a G-7 meeting in Germany next week, followed by a NATO summit in Spain and a brief visit to Portugal.

Again critics say his constant traveling and lack of attention to domestic affairs has left the French President out of touch with important domestic affairs. 

Will this be the start of a new trend in Europe, where Presidents, Prime ministers, and Chancellors suffer losses for putting the affairs of the European Union and NATO above their mandate to deliver on domestic affairs? 

Time will tell, but if the voter reaction to Macron is anything to go by, it reveals a lot about other European nations, whose nationals are suffering from a cost of living crisis and abstaining from the ballot boxes in protest.

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