The situation in the French Parliament does not look too amazing for Emmanuel Macron at the moment. On the 19th of May he lost his overall majority in the lower house of the French Parliament, due to the formation of a new grouping made up of seven defecting MPs and other ex supporters of the President who helped him and his (at the time) newly-formed party La République En Marche! or LREM (On The Move!), to victory in the 2017 election.
However, this significant milestone of failure for Macron is far from being something out of the blue and is part of a slow declining process that’s been going on for years, pretty much since that 2017 election.
LREM was elected to power after being formed for only just over a year. A liberal and progressive party aimed at uniting both the Right and Left in France after the failure of François Hollande — considered as one of the worst presidents in the French Fifth Republic according to approval ratings, which saw him drop in 2014 to an all-time low of 13 per cent approval. LREM couldn’t have formed at a better time. The country needed something that would unite the people once more from all political backgrounds. Macron promised change and unity, working with policies that represented social and economic liberalism. There were some comparisons of Macron’s party to that of New Labour under Tony Blair, promoting his ‘third way politics’.
One of the most interesting factors about Macron and the LREM is the strong Europhile position that was and still is taken. Elected less than a year after Britain voted to leave the European Union, and in that election defeating the far-right and Euro-sceptic National Front (now the National Rally) led by Marine Le Pen, there were fears that France may follow Britain in rejecting its EU membership. Macron was in a way seen as the less risky option of the two. He promoted enough policy changes to move away from Hollande’s failures and provided the right amount of stability to make the electorate feel safe.
A tough start
Despite winning a comfortable majority, Macron faced many tough tasks inherited from his predecessor. One of them has been the migrant and refugee crises. This is an issue that had flared up in 2015 with the repeating failure of France and other western European powers to halt the movement of migrants and refugees. Le Pen exploited this failure with the Hollande government to drum up support for a tougher line on immigration restrictions and create an Euro-sceptic national climate. Experiences such as the ‘Calais jungle’ created a negative impression of immigrants, both among the French population and the rest of the world. Macron made a bold statement in 2018 that in reality, ‘There was no more migrant crisis comparable to the one of 2015’ and that ‘The crisis we are experiencing today in Europe is a political crisis’. Macron further stated that he would not allow for any more migrant camps within France and announced plans to speed up asylum applications, as well as the deportation process.
Even despite there being ‘no crisis’ in the country, November 2019 saw Macron introduce new immigration rules to restrict the number of refugees reaching France, while affirming his intention to ‘take back control’ of the immigration policy.
Macron has also faced the problem of the Mouvement des Gilets jaunes (The yellow vests movement). A protest of largely working-class, urban workers who were campaigning for higher minimum wage, reduction in fuel prices and more affordable living costs. These protests were said to be some of the worst in France since 1968, with continuous riots and around 5000 injured. The protests can also be seen as a general movement against Macron himself. His polling dropped down to around 25 per cent when the movement began. Hollande, Macron’s former boss dubbed him, ‘président des très riches’ — President of the very rich. As a result of the protests, Macron suffered a string of resignations from cabinet ministers.
Despite measures to end the Yellow vests movement, it persists. The people of France will likely continue to protest against the government, as long as Macron remains in power.
LREM has lost 26 MPs since the 2017 election. Many former members have gone to form a new rival party Écologie Democratie Solidarité (Ecology Democracy Solidarity). The group has stated that they won’t choose a supporting side between the government and the opposition, instead preferring to lend its support to one or the other depending on the issue.
Though this will reduce the support Macron can draw from his own party — now needing additional MPs to pass votes — this is not the end of the world for him or his government. He still has the backing of 56 additional MPs from partnering parties for his coalition. The president also has the chance to win back his majority in a by-election if an MP resigns from the National Assembly.
Presently, Macron’s government faces little parliamentary threat until 2022 when the next election is due. Rebellion therefore, is unlikely to force him into any rash decision-making. The trouble will however surface when the time comes for re-election.
Worse than it actually is?
External pressure is making Macron’s position appear to be weak, despite this being more of a psychological weakness than a political one. This weakness is what’s making people think the situation is worse than it actually is. The breakaway group means very little in the grand scheme of things, but headlines created by the media can be spun in a way to make the situation seem more dire. ‘Macron loses absolute majority in Parliament’ has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? With the centrist coalition still making up a strong majority, Macron currently has very little to fear from within the National Assembly.
As for the public backlash and protest, again, for now it means very little. Until, at least, 2022 when the French public could easily vote for another candidate. Macron’s position is by no means secure when the next election comes around. Polls currently place him at around a 40 per cent approval rating. This dip is undoubtedly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And in this, Macron is arguably not alone. Many world leaders have experienced a slump in popularity with the public perception being that not enough has been done to help ordinary people.
The length and long-term consequences of the virus in France could be what decides whether or not the French electorate will vote again for Mr Macron. This is certainly not a time for him to become complacent. That 2022 election will require more work than what he may have initially anticipated.