Just a few weeks after he was elected for a second term as French president, Emmanuel Macron now finds himself in office, but not necessarily in power. The loss of his absolute parliamentary majority in Sunday’s national contest will make it far harder to push through the reforms he had promised, including a controversial overhaul of the pension system.
The old maxim that France is essentially ungovernable, whoever occupies the Elysée Palace, will be tested once again in the coming years. Losses had been expected but were far worse than predicted and indicate that Mr Macron’s re-election in April owed more to a vote to stop Marine Le Pen than to any enthusiasm for the incumbent.
Even so, she won 42 per cent of the popular vote and the parliamentary elections showed strong support across France for parties that would in this country be considered extreme, including communists and the hard-Right. Ms Le Pen’s National Rally won 89 of the 577 seats – far more than in 2017 – and Nupes, the Left coalition, 131. In total, the two extremes hold almost as many seats as Mr Macron’s Ensemble group.
President Macron’s best hope of avoiding political paralysis is to forge links with the centre-Right Republicans, although they have so far rejected a formal coalition. He may be required to negotiate on an ad hoc basis, making wholesale change to France’s generous social provisions harder to achieve. He has hardly gone out of his way to cultivate allies and may pay the price.
The elections were a serious blow to the president’s prestige. He has great ambitions to lead Europe but he will struggle to lead France.