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France elections: As the country faces political paralysis, here is what could come next

 A coalition on the left that came together unexpectedly ahead of France's snap elections won the most parliamentary seats in the vote
A coalition on the left that came together unexpectedly ahead of France's snap elections won the most parliamentary seats in the vote Copyright Thomas Padilla/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Thomas Padilla/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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Following the second round of the French legislative elections, the question on everyone's minds: who will govern France?

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Contrary to what the polls predicted, the left-wing coalition New Popular Front (NFP) came out on top during Sunday's legislative election in France, followed by President Macron’s centrist alliance.

The far-right National Rally came in third place, a surprising defeat considering the party’s historic scores in the first round of the legislative elections on June 30 and in the EU elections on June 9.

With 181 seats for the left, against 159 for the presidential majority and 143 for the National Rally, the country's parliament is now divided into three distinct blocs.

With none of the alliances winning an absolute majority of 289 seats in the National Assembly needed to form a government, France faces a hung parliament and potential political paralysis. 

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal tendered his resignation on Sunday after President Emmanuel Macron's coalition lost its relative majority in the snap elections but has been asked by Macron to remain in a caretaker capacity, as no candidate currently stands out to replace him.

So who could govern France and what are the possible scenarios in the upcoming weeks? 

How are the Prime minister and the cabinet appointed?

According to the French Constitution, the president has the power to appoint whoever he or she wants as prime minister.

Therefore, Macron is not obligated to nominate someone from the largest bloc, currently the NFP.

But institutional logic implies the nominated prime minister needs to gather enough support in the National Assembly to avoid a no-confidence vote, which would lead to the fall of the government.

Since currently no political force has the capacity to form a government with an absolute majority of seats, Macron and the NFP will therefore have to come to an agreement.

At least to obtain "tacit support, by abstention, or explicit support from other political parties", Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist told the French newspaper Le Parisien.

Once the Prime Minister has been appointed, it is up to him or her to choose the cabinet of ministers.

Here again, custom dictates that the president is more or less involved, particularly concerning key appointments such as the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, which are the Head of State's unofficial 'reserved domains.'

What are the possible scenarios?

Outcome 1: The left-wing coalition as a minority government

The NFP is composed of a multitude of leftist parties including the France Unbowed (LFI), the Socialist Party, the Greens and the Communist Party.

There have been many internal squabbles, especially concerning the sensitive topic of who could lead France as future prime minister. 

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Jean-Luc Mélénchon, the leader of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) has repeatedly stated he is ready to take on the role. However, he remains a polarising figure within the NFP. 

“Mélenchon repels many voters, so it's going to pose a serious problem if he is nominated," said Erwan Lecoeur, a sociologist and expert in the French far-right and Green party.

"The issue with the left is that they don't have a natural prime minister who could impose himself or herself. So they'll have to find a compromise,” Lecoeur said, citing figures such as Marine Tondelier, head of the Green party or Clémentine Autain, a less divisive MP from the France Unbowed party, as potential candidates.

A prime minister doesn’t have to come from a political party, Nicolas Tenzer, senior fellow for the Center for European Policy Analysis and writer of "Our War: Crime and Oblivion", said. 

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“It could be someone coming outside of the political arena like when Socialist MEP Raphael Glucksmann proposed to nominate Laurent Berger, leader of one of the largest trade unions in France. He could be a good compromise for prime minister,” Tenzer told Euronews.

But a minority government with less than 289 seats would mean the left-wing coalition would have to live under the constant threat of a no-confidence vote from other parties.

However, Macron's government has managed to govern since 2022 with a relative majority of 246 seats. That’s because the other parties never joined forces to overthrow them. 

The presidential camp had to seek a majority of votes on a case-by-case basis to vote on each bill and regularly resorted to using Article 49.3, which allowed Macron's cabinet to pass bills without a vote -- a highly unpopular move among the electorate.

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But if the controversial Mélenchon gets the nod, this could result in a no-confidence vote, believe multiple analysts.

Outcome 2: Macron gets an absolute majority through a rainbow coalition

Macron could try to build a fragile coalition with moderates from the left and right-wing parties.

“We're in a situation of relative political paralysis, so it could be possible to build a fragile rainbow coalition but there's still a significant delta from an ideological point of view,” said Benjamin Morel, an expert in constitutional law.

However, France does not have the political culture of forming such massive coalitions that are common in other EU countries such as Germany, according to Lecoeur.

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“France needs to learn the art of making compromises. They cannot implement the programme of the NFP or the programme of Macron’s party. There needs to be something in between,” said Tenzer.

“Otherwise, it will be chaos in France and chaos is certainly god-sent for the far-right, who will be looking for any opportunity” to prepare the grounds for the 2027 Presidential election, he added.

Jean-Luc Mélénchon is a particularly divisive figure with many parties having rejected a possible alliance with his party France Unbowed (LFI)
Jean-Luc Mélénchon is a particularly divisive figure with many parties having rejected a possible alliance with his party France Unbowed (LFI)Thomas Padilla/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

But this option seems less probable after multiple party leaders have expressed outright opposition to forging certain alliances, including Mélenchon from the LFI.

On the other hand, Macron’s strategy has been to try to isolate LFI in the political arena since the start of the legislative election campaign, even though Mélenchon’s party remains the largest one within the NFP with 74 MPs out of 178.

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Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe and his current EU and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Séjourné have ruled out any alliance with the LFI party.

“We're seeing a lot of small political groups in Parliament and with the prospect of new elections in one year, it could lead to many parties not doing any real favours for others,” Morel told Euronews.

Option 3: Macron appoints a technocratic government

Another option for Macron would be to appoint a technocratic government with ministers of no particular political affiliation to handle current affairs, with the support on a case-by-case basis of the different blocs in the National Assembly. 

“It would allow France to remain in a non-political but very technical chaos that wouldn’t last more than one year or two,” said Lecoeur. 

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However, some experts such as Tenzer reject the possibility this could even be an option.

“I don’t think it will be possible to have a technocratic government because all choices are political. For example, defining the budget will always be political since the government will have to decide whether to give more or not to education, social measures etc."

"We have to dissipate this illusion,” Tenzer told Euronews.

When are the next big dates?

The French Constitution does not impose a deadline for the appointment of a new prime minister after legislative elections.

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But the first session of the National Assembly is scheduled for 18 July, which in itself constitutes a first deadline.

If the NFP and other parties fail to agree on a new prime minister, France could face an institutional deadlock and a political paralysis, plunging the country into an unprecedented situation.

Macron would not be able to dissolve the National Assembly until next summer, which would exclude the possibility of new parliamentary elections.

In that extreme case, experts such as Lecoeur believe that the head of state would have "no other choice than to resign."

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