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Macron has been sent tumbling to Earth – now he’ll have to learn to compromise | Mujtaba Rahman


Emmanuel Macron likes to defy historical precedent. In 2017, he disrupted France’s political landscape by winning the presidency and upending the country’s traditional left-right divide. In April this year, he became the first French head of state to win re-election for two decades. And now he has bucked the trend again, although not in a manner that will please him: after Sunday’s elections, Macron’s centrist alliance, Ensemble, lost its parliamentary majority – a highly unusual occurrence for a president in the history of the Fifth Republic.

Ensemble won 246 seats, 43 fewer than was needed for a majority. The consensus of the main French polling organisations had been that Macron’s alliance would win between 255 and 295 of the assembly’s 577 seats. Ensemble’s performance therefore came in below even the worst expectations.

This means France now faces the prospect of weeks of messy negotiations to form a new coalition or minority government. There is even a possibility of a permanently “hung” or blocked parliament – with no clear majority for any likely combination of forces in the new national assembly.

Before Sunday’s election, senior government sources were confident that Macron would be able to govern without problem if they were only 20 or so seats short of a majority. But they were very worried that more than 20 seats short could put Macron’s government in a zone of permanent turbulence, haggling and possibly deadlock. Senior French sources now argue that what the Élysée most fears is an obstructive or do-nothing parliament at a time when rapid reactions are needed to fast-moving economic and international crises.

Macron will attempt to form a permanent or ad hoc coalition with the centre-right, Les Républicains, who did better than expected, securing 64 seats, and could bring the centrist alliance above the 289 seats that is needed for an overall majority. But this would mean the president coming under pressure to shift his government to the right, despite the fact that Macron was supposed to veer a little to the left in his second term, after winning the presidency in April with the support of leftwing voters. The risk is that his new government won’t be able to establish any coherent line at all. Macron may also be obliged to appoint a new prime minister.

The incumbent, Élisabeth Borne, in office for only a month, narrowly won her own election in Normandy. But she may now be regarded as too left wing and too inexperienced to hold together a Macron and centre-right coalition – senior centre-right politicians have already begun calling for her departure. The finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, who himself hails from the centre-right, has called on his former colleagues “to form a coalition” around Macron for the sake of stability and would be a leading candidate to take over as prime minister if Borne were forced out.

The first flashpoint will be the crucial confidence motion in the new government in the assembly later this month. Unless the centre-right Les Républicains vote with Macron or abstain, the president will not have enough deputies to win this vote, which would, effectively, force Borne, France’s second female prime minister, out of office.

The centre-right Les Républicains are deeply split as a party, between the pro-European, moderate “Macron-compatible” deputies and the radical, nationalist wing. While Macron may therefore be able to persuade some centre-right deputies to support him over the next five years, not all are likely to do so. This is because Les Républicains’ own leadership is about to change, which will probably shift the party further to the right. Moreover, the party’s hopes of uniting and rebuilding its strength to mount a serious presidential challenge in 2027 could be compromised if it becomes too closely associated with Macron.

Long and tortuous negotiations, therefore, seem inevitable. But the president and his inexperienced prime minister are unlikely to be able to count on the Républicains en bloc. They will hope instead to pick off a handful of moderate, centre-right deputies as well as one or two independents. Whatever happens, the new assembly will be packed with deputies of the far-right and the radical left, deeply hostile to Macron, only two months after his re-election.

There was an unexpectedly large breakthrough yesterday for Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National, which won 89 seats. This is by far the biggest far-right group in any French parliament since the second world war.

The left-green alliance, Nupes, while falling short of its ambition to win a majority and force Macron to appoint a leftwing prime minister, will still form the biggest opposition bloc with its 142 seats. While some leftwing leaders suggested that Macron should bow to the “judgment of the people”, work with them and move his government sharply to the left, this seems unlikely.

What is likely is the prospect of a period of prolonged political instability, while war is raging in Ukraine and there is the growing threat of an economic downturn at home. Macron had appealed to French voters to avoid adding “domestic uncertainty to international uncertainty”. They decided instead to punish the newly re-elected president for a limp and directionless campaign, and for the government’s alleged failure to offer a clear plan to combat soaring inflation.

The days of a “Jupiter-like” Macron being able to impose his will through a docile parliamentary majority are over. Macron will have to learn how to negotiate and how to compromise – neither of which will come easily to him.

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