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28th May 2022

Feature

The 'Third Round' — the effort to make Macron a lame duck

  • Emmanuel Macron, captured from the crowd, in his short and sober 'victory' speech on Sunday night (Photo: Emma Deodorson)
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Last Sunday (24 April), the sigh of relief could be heard all over Europe. France had elected the EU-friendly democrat, instead of an authoritarian, EU-hostile, ally of Putin.

The liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron was re-elected and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was out of the game —or so the narrative went.

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  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon, hard left but like Le Pen, sceptical of the EU, is currently negotiating with the Socialist Party and other parties to try to deny Macron a parliamentary majority at the June election (Photo: Reuters)

But the game is not over: Macron's opponents are now mobilising for June's legislative polls in the hope of making a lame duck out of the president — and hinder his plans for a stronger EU.

Sunday night — and Monday morning

On a big screen in front of the Eiffel Tower, images of the two remaining candidates were projected: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. The crowd stood silent as the sound of a pounding heart accompanied the countdown. At 8PM sharp, only one candidate was left: Macron.

The DJ put on Daft Punk's One more time, and the crowd cheered and waved both their French and their EU-flags. Macron, a wholeheartedly pro-European president (and who had promised to be even more so this time) had won one more time. Soon after the disco music, the EU anthem Ode to Joy was played. Just like in 2017.

This time, however, the celebratory atmosphere soon grew serious.

The newly-elected Macron took the stage and gave an unusually short speech. Afterwards, the focus among his campaign workers shifted to the legislative elections in June.

"I am happy and relieved tonight, it was a comfortable win and no French president in modern time has been reelected in France without cohabitation", Géraldine, a Macron campaign worker, told EUobserver.

"But, still, the far-right has never before won such an important score and many on the left voted for him while holding their noses. With the legislative elections coming up in June, the campaign is far from over".

Le Pen lost the presidential election — but made major gains compared to 2017. The margin between her and Macron was nearly cut in half. This time Macron may struggle to gain the legislative majority that French voters tend to bestow on their president.

If he fails, he may be forced to build a coalition or to enter a 'cohabitation', as Géraldine mentioned. To pick a prime minister from the opposition, in other words.

France has not had such a cohabitation since 2002, when a constitutional reform came into effect, moving parliamentary elections to the aftermath of presidential elections. This has since encouraged the French to vote first in support of a strong president.

The so-called 'third round'

"Tonight we start the great battle for the parliamentary elections", Le Pen said in her speech on the night of her defeat.

The radical left firebrand, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, took a similar approach, himself calling it "the third round" — and going so far as to suggest himself as France's next prime minister.

Analysts, and many voters, still consider Macron capable of converting the momentum of his election into a parliamentary majority — but it is not as certain as before.

On Wednesday (27 April), an Enable poll showed that six-out-of-10 French voters do not want Macron to win a parliamentary majority. That figure rises to almost 90 percent among far-right and far-left voters.

"This time is rather different. This is the first time a re-elected majority president has to convince voters. The outcome is not obvious, the social discontent with him is very important", Sorbonne historian Onnik Jamgocyan told EUobserver on election day.

He himself cast a blank vote, since he believed Macron's rightwing politics helped create the rise of the far-right.

French centre-right senator Nathalie Goulet told EUobserver she believes Macron will win a majority, but the risk he becomes a 'lame duck' remains signifcant.

"Between the dominant blocs, his centre-right bloc is the biggest, according to presidential election result. But the far-right is the second biggest. If he is held back by them, it will be noted all over Europe. They would try to hinder his aim for a stronger EU", Goulet told EUobserver.

The most important difference between Le Pen and Macron is their stance on the EU. Le Pen has put her pledge for a so-called 'Frexit' aside, but instead now aims for what she calls "an EU for nations" — to change the EU from within.

She still seeks to diminish the role of EU and Nato in France, and calls Macron's staunchly pro-EU voters "elitists" who ignores the "France of the Forgotten".

Macron, meanwhile, called the presidential election a "referendum on the EU", which if taken as such has laid bare a deeply-fractured country, as far as its view of Brussels is concerned.

Le Pen is now trying to assemble a strong grouping in the parliament to hinder Macron's plans for a strengthened EU. Mélenchon, another EU-sceptic, is trying to do the same, and is currently negotiating with the Socialist Party plus others.

So the June elections could determine how much leeway Macron has to pursue his European agenda.

He might have to backtrack on several unpopular domestic reforms — such as raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 — in order to appease social discontent. On the other hand would not please the mainstream rightwing politicians that he is now trying to convince to join his party in parliament.

"The EU should keep a firm eye on our parliamentary elections. They are decisive for the whole union, but also reflect a fracture present in almost all member states. There are lessons to be learned" Jamgocyan warned.

Author bio

Emma Sofia Dedorson is a Paris-based journalist covering politics, culture and society in France, Spain and Italy.

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