Opinion | In French Elections, Something Extraordinary is Happening

MARSEILLE, France — For much of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron has focused on the far right. On each turn, he seeks to neutralize its threat, alternately prioritizing some of its favorite topics and presenting himself as the only one who can stand up to it.

Now he has other things to worry about. After the first round of the country’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, the biggest challenge to Mr. Macron’s power does not come from the right but from the left. Over the next few years, the other side of the spectrum could largely determine the political direction of the country.

It is the result of rigid pragmatism. For the first time since 1997, France’s major leftist parties put aside their differences and ran for a single candidate pool. Union, called NUPES, for Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale, spiked last week. By winning 26 percent of the vote, earn virtual tie Macron’s coalition, it has an outside chance of winning an outright majority in Parliament after a second round of voting this Sunday. Even if that proves out of reach, the left – under a shared banner – will become a major opposition force in Parliament.

The effects will be profound. From the outset, it has the potential to reorient the terms of the national debate, with a new focus on issues such as funding public services, the fight against climate change and tax justice, and pressure on Mr. Macron. However, the left side can still do more. By striking against France’s highly personalized presidential system and the European Union’s commitment to fiscal adjustment, the union could shake up politics at home and across the continent. It is, quietly, an extraordinary development.

Undoubtedly, a stronger presence in Congress would be a major achievement for stakeholders. Thanks to the deal between them, they are ready to expand their current market share to only 60 seats, benefiting from the number of new legislators from Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed Party and the Greens Party while ensuring those Communists and Socialists have the vitality to witness another day. Wisdom and instinct for self-preservation are two of the greatest elements of unity.

But as they win new seats in Parliament, left-wing parties could also strip Mr. Macron of his absolute majority. If the president’s coalition fails to win at least 289 of the 577 seats in Congress, it could be forced to run with support from rival lawmakers – leading to a fragile government whose fate will depend on the possibility of compromise. While Marine Le Pen’s far-right national election is likely to lift the weight of parliament, France’s winner-take-all system gives the advantage to more mainstream Republicans who will is Mr. Macron’s more natural executive partner. In any case, the NUPES will be the leading opposition force in Congress.

That would create a radically different political landscape than it is today, where Mr Macron’s agenda tends to pass a friendly Parliament without much resistance. In a sense, the coalition would put the already existing public opposition on much of the president’s agenda and bring it into the halls of Congress. Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age and overhaul the low-income aid program could become harder to come true.

And also cannot rule out the possibility of a majority in the NUPES parliament. For this to happen, the alliance needs its base to reach a much larger number than they did in the first round – especially low income voters and young people. If these groups do indeed provide the bulk of the NUPES, the consequences will be truly seismic.

Under pressure, Mr Macron will be forced to nominate a prime minister backed by the left, a situation known as “cohabitation”, which requires sharing executive power. This has happened three times before under France’s Fifth Republic – which had been going on since 1958 – where presidents had extensive control over foreign policy, but the prime minister oversaw much of the agenda in the country. country. The coalition on the left has got their man for the job, Mr. Mélenchon.

Amid growing anxiety and caucuses, Mr Macron and his allies have sought to exploit fear of this very prospect, turning to the red-bait game. The finance minister likened Mr. Mélenchon to a “Gallic Chavez“Who will” collectivize “the economy and bankrupt France, while a leading lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party has warning about the “return to the Soviet era.” France’s top business lobbyist has speak Mr. Mélenchon risks pushing the country “to the brink”.

In fact, the real alliance communication far from revolution. It was more inspired by the golden days of European social democracy than by the Bolsheviks. The union’s two signature economic policy proposals – raising the minimum wage to 1,500 euros, or $1,560 a month, and capping the prices of essential goods – are modest measures at a time of rising inflation. fast.

The plan to raise taxes on the super-rich and increase investment in schools, hospitals and transport networks is the opposite of Mr. Macron’s embrace of the private sector, that is true. However, these are standard fare progressive policies, common in Europe. The alliance’s bold climate proposals – a five-year green investment plan worth 200 billion euros, or nearly $209 billion, driven by the principle of “ecological planning” – has prompted the ministry ecological growth accusation NUPES of “playing on the fears of young people.” But it’s hard to see these plans as yet another attempt to tackle the climate crisis. Either way, the cost of inaction will be much greater.

The scarecrows are right about one thing, perhaps: An empowered left in one of the world’s most influential countries will have ripple effects abroad. It will be an inspiration to like-minded parties in Europe, which have struggled for power since the heyday of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. Furthermore, a French government willing to push back strongly against European Union restrictions on public spending and state intervention in the economy could give Brussels a boost. As Europe grapples with the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine, that could be a significant development.

However, the consequences of the election will be more apparent within France’s borders. The coalition is calling for a sixth Republic that will rein in presidential powers and return France to a more standard parliamentary system – and first-round results show a large section of voters agree . Even if changing that scope seems unlikely at the moment, Mr Macron’s failure to win a clear majority just months after his re-election would be more than a personal defeat. It would mark a blow to the president’s own office, which was originally designed for national hero and strongman Charles de Gaulle. The structure of the Fifth Republic is subject to close scrutiny.

That may end up being one of the most powerful and enduring messages sent by French voters. In a country as complex, vast, and diverse as theirs, a political system designed to centralize power in the hands of a single head of state is probably not the best way to reflect the will of the nation. people. And maybe, after 64 years, it’s time to try something new.

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