By Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron spent his first term in office seeking to divide and conquer the traditional centre-right Les Republicains (LR) party – and he largely succeeded.
Now he needs them to salvage his second term. And they don’t appear to be in any mood to roll over, not officially at least.
“We haven’t stood up against la Macronie (Macron’s camp) until now only to become a part of it,” said Francois-Xavier Bellamy, an influential LR EU lawmaker.
One senior LR adviser put it even more bluntly: “He did everything he could during five years to weaken Les Republicains and now he expects us to fall into his open arms? No way!”
Macron enjoyed full control over parliament in his first five years, but now he needs to find support from opponents after voters, angry at inflation and his perceived indifference, delivered a hung parliament in Sunday’s elections.
Debate is intense within Les Republicains where some, so far rather isolated, voices are pushing for a broad, Germany-style coalition pact.
“You don’t achieve anything from the touchlines,” Frank Louvrier, an LR mayor who is very close to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, told Reuters. “We must work on a government pact.”
Macron’s Ensemble alliance and LR are largely compatible on economic policies, including plans to make the French work longer hours. During his first mandate, LR voted in support of 40% of the government’s proposed bills, LR officials say.
“We can very well remain independent in elections but participate in a German-style coalition in a pragmatic way. The situation of the country requires it,” Paul Louis Villeroy de Galhau, an LR campaigner and business leader, told Reuters.
“We could ask for ministers, a government pact.”
When he first came to power in 2017, Macron poached LR members and made them ministers – and even prime minister – while his policies drifted to the right, squeezing the mainstream right’s political base between him and the far-right.
Former senior LR ministers who joined Macron over the past five years are now trying to convince as many as possible in the LR to agree to a deal, a government source told Reuters.
“All those who know them well are at it,” the source said, adding that they expected cracks to appear behind the facade of unity on rejecting a coalition deal.
A source close to a Macron-supporting lawmaker from Alsace – historically a conservative stronghold – was optimistic: “Could LR really not back the pension reform, when they’ve always been in favour of it?”
At the very least, LR leaders have said they could be open to deals on a case-by-case basis, if their proposals are taken on board.
A coalition pact – or even messy case-by-case deals – would likely come at a heavy cost for Macron, but he has few other options in a very fragmented parliament.
Many considered LR a dying force by the end of his first mandate, when LR candidate Valerie Pecresse obtained a mere 4.8% of votes in April’s presidential election, as Macron won a second term and poached some more senior LR members.
But now, LR’s 61 lawmakers, and three more MPs close to them from smaller parties, are just what Macron needs to ensure an absolute majority and get laws adopted.