Last Sunday, the French voted in the second round of parliamentary elections as in the first round they elected just 4 out of 577 MPs.
The elections took place one month after Emmanuel Macron’s triumph in the presidential race and were supposed to confirm the voters’ confidence in their new president. And the voters did that. In early 2017, many in the EU were worried that France might become a victim of populism and Euroscepticism. Populism won but it came from quite an unexpected side. The success of Macron and his République En Marche! (REM) party (a force that was not even existent one year ago) will become a classic example of how one can take control of negative processes and direct them in the way he needs. Populism was the key trump of Macron’s party.
Last Sunday, REM won an absolute majority in the National Assembly and this victory has changed the whole political landscape in France. The classical liberal model – a system consisting of left- and right-of-center forces – has been replaced by a system based on a centrist force led by a charismatic individual. In the past, if disappointed with a left-of-center force, the French would vote for a right-of-center party, but this time, they flew into the arms of Macron and his “new center” concept – even though he was a dark horse.
Now the “new center” is Macron’s REM and its ally, François Bayrou’s MoDem. Their only rivals are right-of-center Les Republicains. Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party has lost 90% of its seats due to Hollande’s inefficiency during his presidential term. Now the Socialists have just 44 seats against 331 seats in the former National Assembly. Their secretary general Jean-Christophe Cambadélis was forced to resign. In his district, he even failed to qualify for the second round.
The far-right nationalists from Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) have failed to gain enough seats for a faction. Unlike FN, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise (FI) and the Communist Party will have their factions in the new parliament.
The results of the second round are as follows:
As many as 8,992,000 people or 49.12% have voted for Macron’s REM and Bayrou’s MoDem. As a result, the “new center” will have 350 seats (60.66%).
Some 4,898,000 people or 26.95% have voted for the rightwing Les Republicains and that party will have 137 seats (23.74%).
About 1,361,000 people or 7.49% have voted for the leftwing Socialists and they will have 44 seats (7.63%).
Just 1,101,000 people or 6.06% have voted for Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise and that force will have 27 seats (4.68%).
As many as 1,590,000 people or 8.75% have voted for Le Pen’s far-right National Front but that force will have just 8 seats or 1.39%.
So, we see that the left-of-center forces have failed as they polled not much more than the new leftists. The right-of-center forces have lost half of their seats. And even though this is not a tragedy for them, the shift from the right wing to the individual liberal bourgeois center is obvious.
There is one factor that makes Macron’s victory somewhat ambiguous: the turnout was as low as never before – just 42.64%. And the same was true for the past parliamentary elections: just 48.7% of people voted. This is not a good sign for Macron. In other words, France has given him a parliamentary majority but was not very enthusiastic in doing that.
But, on closer inspection, we will see that during the second round of the parliamentary elections, Macron’s new center and Les Republicains received more votes than during the first round. Unlike them, the Socialists lost 0.5mn votes, FI 1.5mn votes. As many as 1.4mn people who voted for Le Pen’s party during the first round did not vote in the second round. And even though FN polled more votes than FI, it gained fewer seats in the parliament due to the poor quality of its candidates.
Le Pen’s slogan was resistance to the watering down of France but now she has no resources for resistance. After the first round, FN had candidates in as many as 122 districts but failed in most of them just because it faced alliances in the second round and failed to convince its voters to support it once again. If this tendency continues, FN is doomed to more fiascos in future.
As far as the new leftists are concerned, Mélenchon may well replace the Socialists in this camp. He has already said that the new cabinet does not have legitimacy for social reforms because it came into power amid very low turnout. It seems that Mélenchon hopes to find anti-Macron allies outside the parliament.
One of result of the parliamentary elections is that the National Assembly has been refreshed. Several prominent Socialists have lost their seats. Nathalie Kosciusko Morizet from Les Republicains has lost her seat to Macron’s candidate. Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls has polled just 139 more votes than his rival has and the latter is going to dispute the results.
For the first time ever, the National Assembly will have as many as 431 new deputies. Almost have of them are not known to the public. Among them you will find a mathematician, a former toreador and provincial fighters against corruption. Macron’s new center is very much like Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in the Italian parliament. How efficient those people will be is a question. The main thing is that they should be present at parliamentary votings and should vote the way their president and prime minister will like them to vote.
The new French parliament will have the biggest ever percentage of female members –223 or 38.65%.
Prime Minister and the leader of Macron’s party Edouard Philippe has announced that France has gained a president and a government of fair majority.
The new National Assembly will meet on June 27, 2017. On July 4, it will vote on Macron’s new Cabinet. Here, we expect no surprises. The next stage will be the reform on the labor market. Macron has promised improvements that will simplify the employment and dismissal processes and will introduce the practice of short-term contracts. This reform may fuel street protests by trade unions. So, real results will come no earlier than this autumn.
Macron is facing a hard task. Now he enjoys a rating of 62% but the low turnout at the last parliamentary elections has shown that he still has to prove to his voters that his ideas and legislative initiatives will make their lives better. Macron is a newcomer in the politics. He worked lots of miracles during his electoral campaign. So, in order to retain his voters’ confidence, he will have work more miracles during his term.
France’s major problems are low economic growth and chronical unemployment. Over the last year, the French economy has been growing by just 1% annually, while the unemployment rate has been stably at 10%. Only five EU members – Greece, Spain, Italy, Croatia and Cyprus – have higher unemployment rates. As many as 26% of French youths are unemployed against 19.6% in the EU. In France, public expenses account for 57% of GDP, while in Europe this index is 47%. France’s national debt is slowly growing and this year it has amounted to 96% of GDP. In 2016, France spent € 78bn more than it earned as Hollande was persistent in refusing to fulfill the EU’s expenditure saving directives.
Macron’s strategic goal should be at least 2% annual economic growth and 7% unemployment rate. For this purpose, he will have to cut taxes for large and medium-sized businesses without losing budget revenues. More specifically, Macron is planning to cut the corporate tax from 33% to 25%, to cut the wage tax, to fire 120,000 public servants but also to reduce unemployment. Cut taxes does not always mean growth in budget revenues. For this purpose, Macron will also have to cut budget expenses. This is exactly the “miracle” his people expect him to work. Macron will have to be quick in doing something good or he may lose his voters’ confidence very quickly. By the end of this year, we will see if he will go up or down. Until now, he has been on a roll.