French president Emmanuel Macron has been humiliated by voters, weeks after being re-elected by an unenthusiastic electorate.
The hyper-president with ambitions to lead Europe looks like he will not even be able to lead France. His legislative project, headlined by pension reform and raising the retirement age, appears doomed. France looks more ungovernable than ever. There’s a possibility that parliament might be dissolved within a year and new elections held. It is a ‘nightmare scenario’ for the president, admitted Le Monde this morning.
The result of the election is much worse for Macron than almost anyone anticipated. For the first time in the fifth republic the president has failed to win a parliamentary majority. He lost crucial parliamentary allies including Richard Ferrand, the president of the National Assembly, Christophe Castaner, his former interior minister who presided over the brutal repression of the gilets jaunes, Amélie de Montchalin, the environment minister, Justine Bénin, a secretary of state for the sea and Brigitte Bourguignon, minister of health and social solidarity.
Macron’s prime minister Élisabeth Borne, a technocrat parachuted into what was thought to be a safe seat, and who has the political charisma of a carrot, barely won against an unknown candidate of the Mélenchonist Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale.
The only visible majority in the new assembly will be Eurosceptics of the left and right, which makes Macron’s ambition for a European renaissance led by him seem fanciful. The electorate massively repudiated his warning that his opponents were ‘dangerous extremists.’ Macron's is now a ‘still-born’ presidency, declared Alexis Brézet, the editorial director of Le Figaro.
Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National increased its representation from nine seats to 89. The Mélenchon coalition of ultra-leftists, communists, greens and socialists will end up with around 131 seats, up from 17 in 2017.
Macron, who warned voters in almost hysterical terms against electing extremists of the left and right, needed 289 seats for his Ensemble alliance to preserve his majority. He’s won 245, losing 154 of his deputies elected in 2017.
The centrist Les Républicains, won 64, with 46 seats for a variety of minor parties. Only 46 per cent voted, the lowest turnout since 1958; 54 per cent abstained. Even the BFMTV channel, a steadfast supporter of Macron, called the result a catastrophe.
'The situation is unprecedented, in a configuration never seen under the Fifth Republic,' said prime minister Borne last night. Macron is thus far silent.
General de Gaulle built the Fifth Republic to castrate parliament and put an end to the chaos of the fourth republic. So we’re back to some sort of simulacrum of the fourth. A stable coalition (cohabitation) seems impossible and the price demanded will be high.
Macron must now hope to create ad hoc parliamentary coalitions to pass any reforms, but he has few allies and will pay a high price. The Républicains have ruled out a cohabitation with Macron which could give him a majority, although doubtless he could prise away a few.
'He is determined to act, strong and serene, with the will to move forward for the country,' one of his allies said last night after a meeting at the Élysée with Élisabeth Borne, Édouard Philippe, François Bayrou, Stanislas Guerini and Clément Beaune.
French voters are consolidating into irreconcilable groups producing a systematic political instability: Macron is not only incapable of uniting the country, he bears heavy responsibility for dividing it. The extent of the delusion in the president’s camp was starkly illustrated last night when Macron’s spokesperson Olivia Grégoire said: 'It’s a disappointing first place, but it’s a first place nonetheless.’
Macron won the presidency in April because a majority of voters thought Le Pen would be even worse. But he commands little to no affection. Now he is doomed to preside over escalating chaos as France faces a cost of living and debt crisis, a budget deficit untamed by Europe’s highest taxes, an energy crisis, crises in the schools and hospitals, and a law and order crisis, all amid the most serious European military conflict since 1945.
What next? Allow me to speculate. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftist coalition will inevitably fracture. Various opportunistic Républicains may ally with Macron, but will demand a stiff price. Élisabeth Borne is likely to be an even shorter-lived prime minister than her only female predecessor, Edith Cresson (who called British men homosexuals and the Japanese ants), who lasted less than a year. And Macron will strut the world stage, pretending nothing has happened.