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ELECTION

Why French Socialist support is giving Macron a major headache

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has been winning some heavyweight support from French socialists but he'd be forgiven for not wanting to accept it, argues professor of Francophone studies Paul Smith. A

Why French Socialist support is giving Macron a major headache
Photo: AFP

If there is an air of inevitability to the news that ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls has announced that he will be voting for Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the French presidential election, there are two sides to the story that need to be considered.

The first is what it means for the socialist party candidate Benoît Hamon, the second is what impact it could have on Macron.

It’s easy enough to read Valls’s defection as a case of sour grapes on the part of the candidate squarely beaten in January’s primary, where the losers are expected to support the winner. In fact one of those, the ecologist François de Rugy, reneged in February and backed Macron.

Valls had already declared, last week, that he could not support Hamon’s project, but left the question of his support open-ended.

The same issue has been troubling right-wingers within the party and a number of key figures, including the speaker of the National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, and defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian have also voiced their support for Macron, not Hamon.

And the decision is not altogether without risks, since the party has stated that it will not endorse candidates for June’s general election who do not support Hamon.

The blame for Valls’s defection does not lie solely at his own door. On winning the nomination, Hamon surged past Jean-Luc Mélenchon, his left-wing rival in the polls, to take a 14% to 11% lead.

But since then, Hamon has struggled to establish a clear identity in the space between Mélenchon and Macron.

In the wake of a march of more than 100,000 in Paris (130,000 according to organisers) in support of his project for a Sixth Republic and in first live TV debate of the five leading candidates two days later, Mélenchon has flipped the scores around.

Valls’s defection is not, however, unmitigated good news for Macron. The other candidates are trying to stress is that, for all his ‘newness’, the 39 year-old former economy minister merely represents a continuation of what France has seen for the last five years.

This is Macron’s major headache and it explains why he emphasises in public meetings that he is not of any party but is trying to establish a new political ‘rassemblement’ across the centre ground.   

It is also why the terms of Valls’s support matters. He will vote for Macron, but he is not joining the team.

This is not the same as François Bayrou of the centre-right announcing that he is supporting, campaigning for and even appearing alongside, Macron.

Valls and Macron will almost certainly have discussed the nature of Valls’s political ‘coming out’ and know that any direct involvement would be counterproductive at this stage in the campaign.

Above all, Macron is determined to stress that his government will not be a patchwork, stitching together the same old names from the past.

That probably suits Valls too. If Hamon fails catastrophically, someone will need to rescue the Socialist party.

In French politics, the heavyweights in the Socialist party are known as elephants. The elephant in Macron’s room is Hollande and he’ll be hoping that the least popular president in French history opts to keep his own counsel.

 

Paul Smith is an Associate Professor in French and Francophone studies at the University of Nottingham in the UK.

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ELECTION

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”

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