Earlier in the week, Gideon Rachman in the FT said that politics is ‘no longer between left and right – but between nationalist and internationalist’. The world is going to be watching France over the next couple of weeks because we are at the heart of a global ‘ideological struggle’, one in which the outward looking world order is being threatened by would be closed world introverts who want to overturn the long established notion of working together.
France is now being put to the test and the world is watching; more so than they did in the recent elections in Austria and the Netherlands where thankfully, the internationalists defeated the protectionists. These countries, although important, were more or less on the periphery. France is right in the very heartlands of Europe and if it closes its doors to the EU, the consequences could spark off a domino effect downfall of Europe. Our hearts are in our mouths because you can never say never and although the polls predict that Macron will defeat Le Pen ‘bigly’ (as Trump would put it), Sunday’s results were alarmingly close. One only has to look at the colour coded maps in my last article of who voted what to see quite how close it actually was.
Unity in Rejection
The French Socialist party secretary general, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, said that: ‘Unity in rejection does not make political unity’. He was referring to Hamon’s endorsement of Macron earlier this week. ‘Unity in rejection’ is what many of the French politicians are calling for. They are hoping that the French electorate will choose ‘reason over fear’ and that the voters will ‘coalesce, as they did in 2002, to keep the far-right candidate out’ (FT, 24.4.17). In 2002, the voters came together and voted the incumbent Gaullist/Republican/Conservative candidate Jacques Chirac to keep out Marine Le Pen’s father and founder of the Front National, Jean-Marie. Chirac won by an enormous margin of 82.2% to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 17.8% (FT, 25.4.17). The difference now is that Marine received 3 million more votes on Sunday than her father did in 2002. This could increase now that she has decided to distance herself from the party to focus on the election.
Francois Fillon has urged voters to back Macron. So has the other contender for the Republican Presidency who lost to Fillon, Alain Juppe. Former Republican Party Prime Minister from 2002-2005 under Jacques Chirac has also voiced support for Macron. As has the current President Francois Hollande.
Socialist Manuel Valls, former Prime Minister under Francois Hollande until he stepped down to run for the Socialist party candidate for president (losing to Hamon), has said that he would be happy to work closely with Macron.
Former President Sarkozy also said on Facebook that he would support Macron.
The first round you choose; the second round you eliminate.
Unity in Abstention
Far left candidate Melenchon has refused to vote for Macron so it remains to be seen whether he will abstain or place his confidence in Le Pen. I should imagine that he would rather abstain however than vote for Le Pen as there is no love lost between the two. They ran against each other as candidates in the 2012 legislative elections in France. Both stood as deputies (MP’s) for the 11th constituency in the Pas de Calais region of France. Melenchon is not from there but it is where Le Pen is from. Melenchon, I read, wanted to exploit the local divisions in support for the Socialist party and he also wanted to annoy Le Pen. In the end, he lost as Melenchon got 21.46% in the first round to Le Pen’s 42.26%. He didn’t even feature in the run off (the second vote where the winner takes all). The second time around, Le Pen lost by a small margin to the Socialist party candidate, Philippe Kemel: 49.89% to Kemel’s 50.11%. So the constituency went to the Socialist Party. It just shows you what the run offs can do as the same Socialist party candidate only got 23.72% to Le Pen’s 42.26%. Traditionally in the legislative elections, the National Front have always lost their support in the run second round.
Many left wingers are being encouraged to abstain on the twitter hashtag #SansMoiLe7Mai (Without Me on 7th May) and according to the FT, there were marches on Sunday evening after the results came through with people holding banners saying ‘Neither a banker nor a racist’. So one could say there is unity in rejection too.
The Latest Developments
On Monday night, Marine Le Pen resigned as leader of the Front National ‘temporarily’, in order to focus on the election. She probably did this to disassociate from the National Front’s poor reputation in France in the hope that more people will vote for her policies and not the party that she represents. There is a great deal of stigma attached to a vote for the National Front and a de-cloaking from their traditional hard line policies and intolerant xenophobic reputation may not be a bad thing if she wants to boost her chances. As an independent, she can stand on her own platform and people can listen to her policies instead about worrying what party she represents.
Legislative/Parliamentary Elections, June 2017
If you thought that it was all gong to be sorted in two weeks time and then we could move onto the UK elections in June and the German elections in September, you would be wrong. The French electorate are not yet off the hook. They have two further elections on 11th and 18th June 2017 to elect the members of the National Assembly and then it will be over. These elections are often referred to as the ‘third round’ of the presidential race for these elections ‘set the political agenda that the President has to follow’ (FT, 25.4.17).
Here is the schedule:
The National Assembly is the lower house of the French parliament. In former times, the legislative elections used to come well after the Presidential elections, sometimes a couple of years after as the Presidential term was for 7 years and the Parliamentary term was for 5 years. This however caused problems by creating cohabitation governments, one where the President and the Prime Minister were not aligned politically. To avoid complication, the 5th Constitution was altered in 2000 to change the French President’s tenure from 7 years to 5 (it was put to a referendum first). The President’s term was brought into line with that of the National Assembly and this is why the elections are coming so close together. It is hoped that in such a short time, the public will not change their minds and vote for an Assembly entirely different politically from the President they have only just elected. However, things are a little different in this case. Macron doesn’t have any deputies in the National Assembly and Le Pen only has 2.
France’s National Assembly
It’s basically like our government. We only have to elect a government but the French have to first elect a President and then a government. Whichever party has a majority in the government gets to choose someone from it as the Prime Minster. The President has to agree to that choice. Once there is a Prime Minster, the two work in tandem with each other. Each has a different role but both are important. This is different from many other countries were the President is a mere figurehead. De Gaulle increased the powers of the President in 1958 but he does not have unchecked power; there is a dual-executive. That is to say, the President and the National Assembly, i.e. the government, (which is headed by the Prime Minister), work together.
Le Pen has a scant representation in the National Assembly and along with Macron’s complete lack of representation, we are already looking at the possibility of a cohabitation government. Whilst the timings of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections are now been aligned, neither of the traditional two biggest parties are represented and this creates a problem. It is likely therefore that whoever is elected as President will have to govern in some form of alliance.
Macron intends to put up 577 En Marche candidates to stand in the June legislative elections. There are 577 seats so he is putting up one candidate per seat. People in each region will then have the opportunity to vote for an En Marche candidate in their constituency, thereby allowing Macron’s party to filter into the National Assembly.
Here is the current composition of the National Assembly:
How do the elections to the National Assembly work?
It is a two round process, like the Presidential election. The two candidates with the most votes and any other candidate that gains at least 12.5% of the vote gets to go through to the second round. The second round is operated on a first past the post basis; the same system that is used in the UK elections, where basically the winner takes all. Some regions in France will have more deputies then others; it depends on the size and population of that region.
You can read a bit more about the electoral constituencies in France here:
What is the purpose of the legislative elections?
The elections are to form the Parliament. Out of the 577 seats in the Assembly, 289 are needed form a majority. Once a majority party is established, the Prime Minister is then selected from that party.
The President and Prime Minister need not come from the same party and indeed, there will have to be some form of negotiation, cohabitation or coalition irrespective of who wins the presidential election. At present the National Front has to go from 2 deputies in the National Assembly to 289 to gain a majority and Macron has to start from scratch! To get a Prime Minister from their own party, they party of the presidential candidate has to have a majority in the National Assembly.
Despite the expenses scandal that scuppered Republican Party candidate Francois Fillon’s chances to be President, the party still managed to win 20% of the votes and as such, could end up having the majority in Parliament. Those who didn’t vote for Fillon as a candidate because of the expenses scandal may still wish to vote for the Republican party. In this event, the President would end up having to concede and negotiate. So even with no candidate in the second round of the French Presidential election, the centre-right Republican party can still be a leading political force in France.
The last 5 years of a Socialist Presidency under Hollande have been unpopular in France and the Socialist Party have suffered as a result. It is a fractured party, not unlike the Labour party in the UK, and a lot of work needs to be done to fix it. Hamon went too far to the left and Melenchon was even further to the left, so it left the more centrist socialists with nowhere else to go other than Macron.
So what happens if the President and the Prime Minister are not of the same party?
There has to be a form of cohabitation. This, according to Politico EU, has happened only three times since the second world war and in the 5th Republic. Cohabitation is defined ‘the situation where the President and the Prime Minister are from different and opposing parties and where the President’s party is not represented in the cabinet at all’ (presidential-power.com). It happens when a large single party or coalition of parties opposed to the President gains an absolute majority in parliament. The result is a ‘constrained, or even legislatively emasculated president’ (presidential-power.com). If the President manages to find a coalition of parties that form a majority and will work with him in parliament, that would not be a form of cohabitation but a form of coalition. Such would be the case if En Marche gained a large number of seats in the June legislative elections and were able to join up with other parties to form a majority.
When were the previous instances of cohabitation?
What do they think of Macron in Germany?
Whilst Germany are happy that France have backed a pro Europe candidate, they are also fully aware of the lack of satisfaction with Europe in France that has resulted in Marine Le Pen’s success. Many of those who voted for Le Pen will have felt frustrated at the leading role that Germany have adopted in the Eurozone. The FT says that ‘instead of looking the other way, we should acknowledge that support for Ms Le Pen and the FN is not merely a protest vote’. Her supporters need to be listened to and their fears addressed, otherwise the party will continue to rise.
In addition to this, Germany will be wary of Macron’s lack of experience to date. It takes experience to be able to make tough decisions and many tough decisions are going to be required. However, his experience as a former banker and economy minister should put him in good stead when it comes to reviving France’s economy, although his reforms didn’t work when he worked as economy minister under Hollande, but that is because Hollande didn’t agree to them. Macron knows that France needs radical reform and has already said that he is happy to introduce cuts in the public job sector and in public spending, albeit that his proposals are less severe than those of Fillon. The parties of the left do not believe in such cuts and therefore would have fallen foul of Angela Merkel’s strict economic agenda.
Germany pulled itself out of economic decline roughly ten years ago with change in welfare and labour market reforms. France, who are well known for their strict labour market protections, would have to look at something similar and much of the French workforce are against this. Both Fillon and Macron have proposed relaxing the labour market regulations to make it easier for employers and reduce unemployment. France has to be brought out of it’s cycle of ‘low growth, high unemployment and rising debt’ and Macron is the only candidate out of the two who can do this (FT, 24.4.17).
Is Macron likely to be soft on the UK in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations?
Whilst Macron is fond of the UK and visited Theresa May in London this February, he is very pro-European and his loyalty lies with them and in strengthening its cohesion. The FT reported Macron as having said that Britain’s exit from the EU was ‘a crime’ and that it would end up leaving the UK facing ‘servitude’. Hollande has been tough on the UK since they decided to leave Europe and Macron will have to continue in this vein if he wants to continue to receive the report of the European Commission who have all come out in support of him. Furthermore, any soft stance on the UK may encourage the disgruntled French electorate who voted for Le Pen to increasingly want the same thing. If the EU are tough on the UK, Macron said in February that he would ‘try to lure professionals from Britain to France’ from all sectors: banking, education and the field of research.
A soft stance on Brexit would also put Macron at odds with Germany who conceded to David Cameron in his negotiations for reform of the UK’s position within the EU only to be told that it wasn’t acceptable when the UK referendum voted to leave. The last thing he wants is to start of his tenure as French President (if he wins) at odds with Germany.
Former Chancellor and MP George Osborne has congratulated him on his win; as has the famously pro Europe and former Liberal Democrat leader and deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.
On 25th April 2017, (after Marine Le Pen’s decision to campaign independently instead of leader of the Front National), the projections for the second round were as follows:
Le Pen 39%
On checking on the 26th, that had changed slightly:
Le Pen 40%
And as of today, 28th April 2017, the figures have remained the same: 60/40.
Business and Enterprise in France
Les Echos broadcast an interview earlier in the week with Pierre Gattaz, leader of Medef: le Movement des Enterprises de France, in which he says that France can’t take another 5 years of half measures: ‘La France ne peut pas se permitter encore 5 ans de demi-mesures’. He has come out in support of Macron.
He made the following comments:
‘Nous avons le choix entre deux candidats. L’un, Emmanuel Macron, est pro-business, connaît les entreprises, l’économie, veut que la France se globalise, se mondialise – et, bravo, il est jeune en plus. De l’autre côté, nous avons Marine Le Pen, qui est contre l’euro, contre l’Europe, avec une stratégie de repli sur nous-même, ce qui est parfaitement dangereux pour la France’.
Basically what he’s saying here is that there is a choice of two candidates: one is pro business and pro enterprise and the economy, wants France to continue to access the global markets and is also young enough to be able to lead the country with vigour. The other one, on the other hand, is against the euro, against Europe and potentially very dangerous for France.
He goes on to say that their support however is not a ‘blank cheque for Macron’s reforms’ and that he has not gone far enough vis a vis his proposals to lower public spending and to lower charges for businesses when it comes to the exorbitant cost of hiring workers. But it is nonetheless a start and a better option than Le Pen. Fillon’s reforms were far more radical in this regard and more in line, therefore, with what the Gattaz would have preferred.
‘Ce n’est pas un chèque en blanc que nous donnons puisque les réformes d’Emmanuel Macron (…) ne vont pas suffisamment loin, sans doute, sur la baisse des dépenses publiques et sur la baisse des charges sur les entreprises et le coût du travail notamment’.
Whilst this political call for unity is taking precedence right now, that call, as the FT rightly says, is ‘not an endorsement of his programme’. The objective is to keep out the far right and try to prevent an unravelling of Europe instigated by the French. Whist he fares well on the social agenda and in terms of a progressive, open market economy, Macron still has other important matters to address: security, the judicial system and immigration. In terms of security, what measures does Macron intend to use to lead the fight against terrorism and further terrorist attacks? How is he going to deal with the migration crisis and protect France’s borders? Will he succeed in achieving economic growth in France whilst still inside the eurozone?
Macron must ‘listen to the grievances of middle and working-class voters, and not allow himself to be boxed in as the elite candidate against the populist Le Pen’ (FT, 25.4.17).
Sources and Further Reading:
Presidential poll tracker, Opinionway, 25.4.17:
‘Relief sweeps markets as Macron secures place in French run off’:
‘Defeated mainstream parties look to regroup for parliamentary polls’:
‘Berlin welcomes possibility of a less junior partner within the EU’:
‘France votes for hope over fear mongering’:
‘Macron, Le Pen and the limits of nationalism’ (Gideon Rachman):
‘Emmanuel Macron will find that winning is the easy bit’:
‘The Centre right still has a chance to make its mark in France’:
Les Echos, 25.4.17, interview with Medef leader Pierre Gattaz:
Poulard, Jean V.,Political Science Quarterly, Volume 105, No. 2 (Summer 1990), o. 243-267
‘The French Double Executive and the Experience of Cohabitation’:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/2151025?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents (this source can only be accessed with a J Store account).
VOA News, 25.4.17, Le Pen steps down ‘temporarily’ as leader of FN in bid to increase suport:
Vocative, 25.4.17. A US based news agency that explore the dark web in order to scour alternative viewpoints to current situations. Here they discuss the twitter movement to urge voters on the left in France to abstain from the second round of French presidential elections, an action which would increase the possibility of Marine Le Pen’s success. Here is an article by Shira Rubin:
Bloomberg, on 12.3.17, produced a useful guide to all of these elections. It also has diagrams, which I like:
Politico EU, 9.2.17, on the legislative elections in June, ‘The French election that really matters’. This article discusses the ‘frustrations of cohabitation’ and examples of previous ‘awkward power-sharing arrangements’ in France, of which there were 3:
Featured Image Source:
Internal Image Sources:
French election calendar 2017:
Bloomberg French election guide, semi-circle diagram of France’s National Assembly:
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