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Macron is looking for formulas to avoid paralysis after French general election setback

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Emmanuel Macron was not prepared for this two months after his re-election in the presidential elections. Locked up in silence and surrounded by his closest team in the Elysée Palace, he weighs the next steps and designs a second five-year period during which his power has dwindled. After suffering the greatest setback of his short political career, he who wanted to be a Jupiterian head of state, a kind of republican monarch, is forced by circumstances to learn the art of pact and concession.

The French president was not ready for the sanction against him in Sunday’s general election. Nor for a National Assembly where the Macronist Ensemble coalition, despite the fact that it will have the largest faction, is far from an absolute majority and needs to find allies to pass a law and avoid paralyzing France.

On paper, the president could form a majority with the right, which is reluctant to join the pact. Or seek alliances on a case-by-case basis to add the majority. If none of those options work, he has a third: dissolve parliament and call new elections.

The domes of the parties and the Elysee began strategizing and moving chips this Monday as the new MPs arrived in a plenary hall that, after years of marginalization, is suddenly becoming the center of political life. The situation is unprecedented since 1958, when General Charles de Gaulle established what is now the Fifth Republic as a presidential regime to put an end to the parliamentary instability that is now threatening to return.

Macron has been quiet since Sunday. It is customary for the Prime Minister to submit his resignation and that of the government to the President after the general election, and for the President to reappoint him without delay. Don’t move for now.

The unusual lack of a parliamentary majority after the president’s re-election has a precedent. François Mitterrand and his Prime Minister Michel Rocard also failed to achieve an absolute majority in the 1988 parliamentary elections, but came closer than Macron and were able to govern with concrete agreements and by decree.

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“There is no alternative to the Union to ensure the stability of our country and to carry out the necessary reforms,” ​​said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Sunday evening, now on the tightrope. “We must combine multiple sensitivities and make good commitments to act at the service of France,” he said.

Although the Macronistas ensemble appears as the loser in these parliamentary elections, it will be by far the group with the most seats in the National Assembly: 246. The problem is the abrupt decline in the number of deputies: in the previous legislature it had 345. The first opposition force will be theoretically be the New People’s Ecological and Social Union (NUPES), led by Eurosceptic and anti-capitalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which includes socialists, environmentalists and communists. They will occupy 131 seats by the official count, and several more if left-wing candidates in the overseas territories are included.

The only party that felt victorious on Sunday is Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) with 89 MPs. The extreme right has risen from eight seats to the third force in the National Assembly in five years. Or the second, as Le Pen claims.

Because the Lepenistas point out that in reality NUPES will not form a faction: its components (Mélenchonistas of La Francia Insumisa (LFI), the Socialists, Communists and Ecologists) will each have their own faction. The largest group among them is the LFI, but it has only 75 MPs, 14 fewer than Le Pen’s RN.

Being the first opposition group can have consequences for the distribution of parliamentary power. Traditionally, the presidency of the National Assembly’s key finance commission is ceded to the opposition. Le Pen claims it corresponds to the RN.

“LA NUPES should be constituted as a single parliamentary group to form a united opposition,” said Mélenchon on Monday, who did not run for a seat in those general elections but remains the coalition leader. Socialists, ecologists and communists rejected the proposal. The left alliance shows the first cracks.

Macron has two choices if he wants the legislature to last. One is to strive for a permanent coalition agreement. The only option to add more than the 289 seats that mark the threshold of an absolute majority is an agreement with the Republicans (LR), the party of the traditional right, the party of Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy. It has 64 deputies.

The alliance with LR, majority in the Senate, would give stability to the government and allow it to press ahead with reforms such as the pensions associated with the right in France. Nor would it mean an abrupt ideological shift. Macron had two prime ministers from LR in the first five years. And the two most prominent ministers in the current government (Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, and Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin) were members of the same party.

“We will remain in the opposition,” warned LR President Christian Jacob on election night. It can be understood that it is a dull negative. Or as a sign that a pact that would in any case force a thorough reshuffle of government and perhaps the departure of Borne, identified with the social-democratic wing of Makronismo, will be sold dearly. It is also not certain that the entire Republican group wanted to join the accord. The rightmost sector feels closer to Le Pen than Macron.

The second option for Macron: Rather than seek a permanent coalition, seek occasional allies. For social or environmental laws, socialists and environmentalists. For economic or security policy, LR.

Whatever the option, it would mean a break with standard practice in the Fifth Republic, which aims to give one party or coalition of parties, preferably the president, a solid majority in the legislature. But the collapse of the traditional parties (Party of Socialists and LR) since Macron came to power in 2017 has upset all balances. In the last presidential elections, France split in three (Mélenchon, Macron, Le Pen) and confirmed this in the general elections. Nobody has a majority, but the opposing forces cannot form alternative majorities either.

The idea of ​​parliamentary compacts or consensus is alien to the political culture of contemporary France. It is associated with the instability of the Fourth Republic, where governments lasted months or days. Now the country faces a dilemma: pact or paralysis. The five-year period could be very long for Macron.

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