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French Elections For Members

What happens next in France after bombshell election results?

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
What happens next in France after bombshell election results?
Celebrations in Paris' Place de la Republique after the results of the parliamentary elections. Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

The second round of the snap French elections produced a stunning result with the left alliance beating the far-right into third place. However no party has won an absolute majority in parliament - so what next?

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Final results from the second round of the French election revealed that, far from the expected victory for Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National the party actually came third - behind the leftist alliance Nouveau Front Populaire and President Emmanuel Macron's centrist group.

The final results, released on Monday morning by the Interior ministry show the NFP in the lead with 182 seats, followed by Macron's centrists on 168, the RN in third on 143 and the centre-right Les Républicains in fourth with 45 seats.

However no party or group got the 289 seats required for a majority in parliament - so what next?

Listen to the team at The Local France discuss the latest election results in a special episode of the Talking France podcast. Download here or listen on the link below

 

Macron himself has not spoken so far and had reportedly called for "prudence" saying he would wait until he knew the exact make-up of the National Assembly.

As French president Macron has the right to name the next French Prime Minister. He could decide to take his time - there is no legal or constitutional deadline for picking a new prime minister.

On Monday current prime minister Gabriel Attal presented his resignation to Macron, but added that he will stay on until a new PM is appointed if required. Macron has indicated that he wants Attal to stay on - so he continues for now in a kind of caretaker prime minister role.

Caveat

It's important to point out that this situation is unprecedented in France since the beginning of the Fifth Republic (in 1958) - we need to go back to the Fourth Republic to find anything even vaguely similar.

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Those who follow politics in countries like Germany or Belgium may find it quite normal that an election is held and then weeks or even months of coalition-building begin so that the final composition of the government is only known much later - but this is not how the French system has worked.

The uncertainty surrounding the make-up of the new parliament is unprecedented for France - and is made more so by the fact that the largest group, the NFP, is a fairly fragile left alliance that has been mired in infighting.

The group is made up of four main parties - the hard-left La France Insoumise, the centre-left Parti Socialiste, the Greens and the Communist Party. The four made an electoral pact in order to beat Macron's centrists and the far right, but they still have many differences between them.

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One of the main figureheads of the NFP, hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, said on Sunday: “The president must bow down and admit this defeat. The Prime Minister must go. 

“The president has the duty to call on the Nouveau Front Populaire to govern."

However it is far from clear who they would want as a prime minister given that during the election campaign they put up different candidates for each of the pre-election debates.

Any new government would be at risk of losing an immediate vote of confidence unless alliances were made.

READ MORE: French far right blasts 'alliance of dishonour' as left celebrates shock win

Cohabitation

The normal situation when the French president's party does not have a majority in parliament is a cohabitation - where the president is forced to appoint a prime minister from the biggest rival party.

These have happened three times before, but each in a time when France was dominated by just two parties and it was clear who had a majority in parliament.

When François Mitterand (of the centre-left Parti Socialiste) was president, the centre-right RPR-UDF party (former incarnation of today's Les Républicains) party had the parliamentary majority and nominated Jacques Chirac as prime minister.

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A few years later Mitterand was forced to appoint another right-winger - Edouard Balladur - as PM, but then the situation reversed as Chirac was forced to appoint the left-winger Lionel Jospin as his prime minister.

These periods of cohabitation were undoubtedly tense and blocked much parliamentary activity, but there was never a doubt about which party had the majority and therefore the right to nominate a prime minister.

Timetable

Despite the uncertainty, the parliamentary timetable and the constitution does give some clues as to what will happen next;

New MPs

Some existing députés (MPs) will be returning to parliament, but there are a lot of new faces in the chamber of the Assemblée nationale.

These will be formally sworn in and will also have a 'welcome day' at the parliament on Monday  - the 69 people elected outright in the first round of voting have already been through this process.

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New president (of parliament) and new groups

Once the MPs are installed, the various political groups are formed. Some of these are made up of a single party while others are a combination of parties - for example in the previous parliament the Ensemble centrist group was made up of (mostly) MPs from Macron's centrist Renaissance party along with fellow centrists from the Modem and Horizons party.

If one party has a majority the political groups are a bit of a formality, but in a parliament with no majority the groups become crucial as they can hold the balance of power - expect much complicated negotiations as parties try to form alliances.

On July 18th the new 'president of parliament' (the equivalent position of being speaker of the house) is elected. The president is elected by a ballot of all MPs, up to three ballots can be called if no-one gains a majority. The position is usually held by a member of the party with a majority.

New positions

The following day, July 19th, the newly elected president meets with party leaders to assign key jobs - positions on the Bureau d'Assemblée nationale and on the various parliamentary committees, they will also discuss the parliamentary calendar.

New parliamentary session

July 19th marks the start of the new parliamentary session after the 'dissolution' of parliament called by Macron for the election. According to the constitution, parliament is reopened after a dissolution for a minimum period of 15 days.

Normally a new parliament will sit for much longer than this, but it's also usually the case that parliament has a break over the summer.

The 15-day rule means that parliament must sit until at least Friday, August 2nd - what happens after that is open to interpretation.

The summer break is a tradition, rather than a rule - the dates of the break were changed during the pandemic and MPs have also sat for later than usual in order to pass crucial legislation.

2025?

The French constitution gives the president the power to dissolve parliament and call an early election - as Emmanuel Macron has done. However, this power is limited - parliament must sit for at least 12 months before another election can be called.

So however dysfunctional the parliament becomes, we are stuck with it until June 2025 at the absolute earliest. The standard - and much more usual - parliamentary term is five years.

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