France’s two-tier political system makes the parliamentary elections almost as critical as the choice of president. While the president sets the general direction of the country, the parliamentary vote determines the make-up of the government and can even force the president into an awkward coalition with a prime minister from a rival faction.
Should President Macron’s party lose its majority in Parliament in June, the risk of “two foreign policies” in France could mean the country loses credibility in and outside the EU.
According to Dr Thanassis Diamantopoulos, an expert on the French regime and politics
“the coherence of French foreign policy would be compromised […] and its credibility compromised in the eyes of Europeans”.
Benjamin Haddad, European director of the Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council, said: “In a period of cohabitation, it is still the President of the Republic who sets the main diplomatic guidelines and represents France abroad”.
But, he told EURACTIV France that “having a form of paralysis or institutional weakness at home hampers France’s influence abroad”.
Addressing the potential issue with regard to France’s position on the Ukraine-Russia war, Mr Haddad added: “In the case of the two main opposition forces to Macron, i.e. the National Rally or La France Insoumise, we have fundamental differences in the relationship to the European Union, to Russia, to alliances.”
He warned France could “find itself in a situation of total paralysis” with a government led by Jean-Luc Melenchon or Marine Le Pen, opposing Emmanuel Macron’s decision to deliver arms to Ukraine or impose certain sanctions against Russia.
The result could see France “completely weakened on the international scene”.
The EU would also be weakened, he said. “If we were in a period of cohabitation, we would have an anti-European movement with a policy of blocking Europe in government […] the entire EU bloc would be weakened and suffer.”
He continued: “If France were to withdraw from arms deliveries [to Ukraine] or from European sanctions, the whole European edifice would collapse.”
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In theory, so far the numbers favour President Macron and his allies: a Harris Interactive poll this week showed they should secure a majority as long as he can strike a centre-right alliance with parties.
But the fly in Mr Macron’s ointment could yet come from Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is already in discussions to pull France’s disparate left-wing forces – from communists and ecologists to the once-dominant mainstream Socialist Party – under one single banner.
The Harris poll estimated left-wing parties together would reach up to 93 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. With the far-right seen winning up to 147 seats, that leaves Mr Macron a comfortable cushion if he can unite the centre around him.
But France’s broken party system means there are no certainties, with even the mainstream conservatives in disarray after their presidential candidate did so badly she cannot seek state reimbursement for millions of euros of campaign costs.
Already on election night, President Macron in his victory speech was reaching out to the left, pledging a break with the first term and a new approach that would “leave no one by the wayside”.
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Latching on to a French nostalgia for the central planning that rebuilt the country after World War Two, he has also said he will charge his next prime minister with making nuclear-reliant France the first big economy to exit fossil fuels.
Indeed, some pro-Macron campaigners have already been trying to persuade left-leaning voters that his support for offshore wind power and the European Union’s goal of slashing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 was sign of his green credentials.
“We are telling them that the real ecologist is Macron,” said Mathieu Cavarrat-Soler of the Jeunes Avec Macron (“Youth With Macron”) campaign group.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who lost to President Macron in presidential elections on Sunday, will also defend her seat in parliamentary elections in June, an official of her party said on Tuesday.
National Rally (RN) deputy president Louis Aliot said on CNEWS television that Ms Le Pen would stand as a candidate in the vote on June 12 and 19.
“She will at any rate be a candidate in the parliamentary elections,” Mr Aliot said, adding that Le Pen today incarnates the main opposition to Macron.
He added that the party would aim to get at least 15 seats, which would allow the RN to form a group in parliament. In the 2017 election, Ms Le Pen’s party won eight seats.