Four reasons why the French parliamentary elections really matter

The French presidential election might be over but here are four reasons why you need to keep a close eye on the make-or-break parliamentary elections that take place over the next two weekends, as explained by Professor Garrett Martin.

Four reasons why the French parliamentary elections really matter
Photo: AFP

The 2017 French presidential election saw the victory of newcomer Emmanuel Macron. But the French aren’t done voting. Elections for the lower house of French Parliament, the National Assembly, will take place on June 11 and 18.

Here are four reasons you should be keeping an eye on these elections.

No majority, no agenda

First, it can make or break Macron’s agenda of reforming the labor market and bringing back growth to a morose French economy. The French Constitution grants extensive powers to the president. These include, for instance, the authority to dissolve the Parliament and nominate the prime minister (the head of the government), as well as broad control of defense and foreign policy.

But, the president must have the support of a majority in Parliament to govern, pass laws and implement his campaign agenda. Macron would still be able to shape French foreign policy, even without a majority in the Parliament, but he would have limited say over domestic policy.

Unpredictable election

Second, this parliamentary election is unpredictable because of the French voting system.

The parliamentary election includes essentially 577 mini-contests – one for each district that represents an area of France – which take place over two rounds. A candidate can win outright in the first round if he or she receives more than 50 percent of the votes. If no one reaches that threshold, then there is a runoff in the second round with anyone whose score from the first round equaled at least 12.5 percent of registered voters.

Such an electoral system encourages preelection agreements between compatible parties, as well as deals between the two rounds. Thus, an eligible candidate might choose not to contest the second round to ensure the victory of an ally, or to block a rival.

Although the alliance supporting Macron has a very good shot at achieving a majority in Parliament, one cannot rule out two other outcomes that would be unfavorable to the new president. Another party or coalition could win a majority in the Parliament, which would be a major blow to Macron’s domestic agenda. Or, there could be a fragmented outcome, with no party or coalition able to achieve a majority.


Hold on, it wasn't meant to be this easy for Emmanuel Macron

Shifting political landscape

Third, regardless of the results, the election will signal a significant rearranging of the French political landscape and pose a challenge for major parties.

If Macron’s movement gains a majority, it will be a stunning development considering it came into existence only in April 2016. The two parties that have dominated French politics since 1958, the left-wing Parti Socialiste and the right-wing Les Républicains, are in disarray.

Les Républicains are divided and facing pressure from Macron, who poached several of their leading figures for his Cabinet, including Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire.

The Parti Socialiste, following the catastrophic showing of its candidate Benoit Hamon in the presidential elections (6.36 percent of the first round votes), is reeling and facing possible extinction.

Renewing the political class

Fourth, the election will bring in a needed influx of new faces to the French political class. Until this election, it was extremely common for French politicians to combine local and national offices, such as being both a local mayor and a member of the national Parliament.But this practice is now forbidden by a 2014 law, which gave three years for politicians to choose between a local and a national office.

Since that practice was widespread, it has led many to choose their local office over their seat in Parliament. Already 206 incumbents (or 36 percent of the total number of members of Parliament) have chosen not to run again in the election.

Macron’s movement has certainly tried to capitalize on this turnover trend when choosing its candidates. More than half of the candidates come from civil society and have never run for office, half of the candidates are women and only 5 percent are incumbent members of the Parliament.

Macron’s party may or may not gain a majority in the parliamentary election. And that majority may or may not be sufficient to enact much-needed reforms in France. But there is no doubt that the French political landscape will be dramatically different in the next five years.

Garret Martin is a Professorial Lecturer at the American University School of International Service in Washington DC.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation website and can be viewed here.

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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.”