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French elections: Will Macron imitate the von der Leyen coalition?

France's President Emmanuel Macron meets the EU's Ursula von der Leyen, 2022
France's President Emmanuel Macron meets the EU's Ursula von der Leyen, 2022 Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Jack Schickler
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Worst fears of a far-right takeover may not have come to pass, but French politics could now find itself in unprecedented chaos.

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With no majority and no obvious coalition, the French National Assembly is in uncharted waters.

But there’s still room for centrist Emmanuel Macron to salvage a workable programme for the remaining three years of his presidency, by copying the coalition assembled in the EU.

Here’s four takeaways from a night that transformed French politics.

1. The anti-far right coalition worked

Despite Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) coming top in the first round, tactical alliances among candidates and voters pushed its far-right coalition into third place in the run-offs.

Over 200 candidates stood down over the week, allowing voters opposed to the far right to coalesce on common candidates in second-round run-offs.

Headline figures suggest it’s the New Popular Front (NFP) alliance – a grouping of socialists, greens, communists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – that came out on top, with around 185 seats.

Macron himself took a hammering, but he isn’t dead. With just under a hundred of the 577 lawmakers in the chamber, his Renaissance is the second biggest single party after the RN, and can easily assemble a further 50-odd centrist allies.

2. But tomorrow is not clear

In principle, a centrist and left-wing coalition, with around 340 votes, could command the needed majority in the legislature.

But the prospect of Macronists allying with LFI – which many of them have painted as extreme as the National Rally – doesn't seem likely.

LFI may be the biggest of the left-wing parties, but even some socialists regard its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon as toxic.

The left’s tactical alliance, formed in haste after Macron called snap elections in June, may not last the week.

That leaves France in alien territory. Having a President and Prime Minister from different parties is rare but not unique. The current impasse is unprecedented.

Macronist Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, whose tenure only started in January, said he’ll resign tomorrow. He may continue as caretaker, but it isn’t clear who’ll replace him.  

3. A von der Leyen coalition?

One option is a coalition assembling Macron’s centrists, the socialists, ecologists and those lawmakers from the Republicans party that didn’t support Le Pen.  

That would mirror the alliance that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gathered in the European Parliament – centre-left, centre-right, liberals, and perhaps greens. 

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While not formal, von der Leyen’s pro-European coalition broadly supported her candidacy in 2019, and will again this year - she hopes - while agreeing individual laws case by case.  

In France, the electoral maths for that kind of deal adds up; the four groupings can boast just over 310 votes in the Assembly, over the 289 threshold, but there’s still tricky choices ahead.  

Appointing another Macronist Prime Minister after the electorate gave him such a drubbing seems tone-deaf. Equally, it’s unlikely the Republicans would accept a nomination from the Socialists. 

More likely would be a compromise candidate from a smaller party, or a government of technocrats.

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That arrangement would have to run for at least a year, the earliest the next elections could be – or perhaps until Macron steps down in 2027.

Either way, the future looks uncertain and unstable. France, already running a budget deficit of over 5% of GDP, has little prospect of strong leadership.

4. Le Pen may enjoy the chaos

There’s an argument that RN, traditionally a party of protest, wouldn’t have enjoyed the responsibility of governing – and certainly not if it involves complex coalition and messy compromises.

They’ve certainly complained about what they see as dirty tricks that kept them from power.

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Jordan Bardella, the far right’s pick to be Prime Minister, called the electoral pact “dishonourable” and “against nature”; Eric Ciotti, the RN-supporting leader of the Republicans, called it “shameful.”

There’s no doubt that the RN has done well: 9.3 million French people voted for it in the first round, and its seat count of around 125 is a steep increase from the 89 it got in 2022, or the two it had in 2012.

Now they get to watch Macron sort out the mess, and hope that a few years of chaos leads the electorate back to a radical right-wing party that has promised a firm hand.

That may suit Le Pen's cherished aspiration to win the presidency at the next opportunity in 2027.

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