The political deadlock in France is a risk for Europe

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Jupiter is no longer ascendant. The French elections brought a suspended parliament, stripping President Emmanuel Macron of his majority, his authority and his credibility as a centrist bulwark against the far right and the far left. The fragile coalitions at the heart of the euro zone’s second largest economy will make governance difficult and reform more difficult.

And for a European Union seeking to bolster its defence, cut its energy ties with Russia and pursue closer integration, the risk now is that France will turn inward with little appetite for big change. .

The worse-than-expected vote share of Macron’s centrist alliance – 44 seats short of a majority – reflects growing frustration with his style of government and the health of the economy. Since defeating far-right nemesis Marine Le Pen in April’s presidential elections, Macron has kept his head under the parapet, cobbling together a technocratic government that is now dead in the water.

Against a backdrop of a shrinking economy and record inflation of 5%, Macron’s lightning rod policies (such as raising the retirement age to 65) gave the anti-Macron vote some punch. Jean-Luc Melenchon’s far-left NUPES alliance, along with other left-wing parties, struck a chord by calling for price controls and retirement at 60. jump in the seats.

Macron’s visit to Kyiv alongside Italian Mario Draghi and German Olaf Scholz did little to change his position. The vote was more like a demonstration of the compressed middle class of the economy, as Publicis president Maurice Levy describes it: One-third don’t vote, another third vote Mélenchon to protest, and another third more blue-collar workers vote Le Pen because he feels left behind.

At the same time, the absence of a single winner reflects the messy reality of post-Covid and post-Ukraine invasion politics. The French state has ballooned during the pandemic, with debt at 113% of gross domestic product and a budget deficit at 7%. Fiscal rectitude may not be in fashion, but Mélenchon’s call for additional annual spending of 250 billion euros has not won widespread confidence either.

In theory, this kind of blocking offers opportunities. With no other grouping capable of taking control, the way is open for Macron to strike a deal with center-right Republicans or work with other parties on a case-by-case basis. The violent protests during Macron’s first term showed the dangers of a weak opposition, and history shows that former presidents on the right and on the left were able to “cohabit” with political opponents when forced by the government. parliamentary arithmetic.

But in reality, there is a good chance that tightly knit alliances and coalitions will be stretched to the breaking point. There are as many parties as there are personalities, the economic outlook is bleak and the terrain of French centrism is increasingly narrow. Saxo Bank’s Christopher Dembik fears it looks more like Italy’s volatile politics than Germany’s search for consensus. The first test will be that of the planned measures to increase purchasing power which will be unveiled next month.

Speaking of Italy and Germany, Macron will need to do more outreach in Europe to achieve his goals if he is paralyzed at home. Domestic and foreign policy are different battlegrounds, but influence and leadership in Brussels overlap with economic credibility and the ability to legislate.

So while it’s a relief for Macron that Clément Beaune – his longtime ally and EU minister – managed to win a seat in parliament, it all seems a far cry from the pinnacle of power in Paris during Covid-19. , when he convinced Berlin to back down. – held taboos on closer integration.

The pressure on political incumbents isn’t just a French problem, of course: Spain’s Pedro Sanchez has been hit hard in the Andalusian election, while the UK faces its biggest railway strike in decades. decades.

Yet, where the test of Macron’s courage was once whether France could reform, now it will be whether France can govern itself. Take out Jupiter; enter Mars.

More from this writer and others on Bloomberg Opinion:

Wartime Brexit threats are doubly wrong: Lionel Laurent

Draghi bolsters Italy’s ‘soft underbelly’ reputation: Rachel Sanderson

In Germany, Scholz the Bold becomes Scholz the Smurf again: Andreas Kluth

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering digital currencies, the European Union and France. Previously, he was a reporter for Reuters and Forbes.

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