The challenge of securing a majority in the crucial legislative elections without an established political party seems like a thing of the past for France’s newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron.
Despite the dismal 49% voter turnout, the lowest the country has witnessed in a parliamentary vote, Macron’s newly established party, La République En Marche (LREM) and its Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem) allies collected 32.3% of votes in the first round of the legislative elections that took place on June 11. According to several polling firms like Ipsos/Sopra Steria and Cevipof, Macron is expected to win 395-425 of 577 seats in parliament when the second round is completed on June 18.
Macron’s victory will not only pave the way for him to deliver on campaign pledges like labour reforms, renewal of France’s commitment to the EU, countering terrorism, but will also bring to light the changing political scenario in France.
Dawn of a new political order in France?
The LREM and MoDem have collectively trounced the traditional political establishment of France in the first round, proving yet again the emergence of a new political order in France. The Republicans collected 21.3% while the Socialist party had to content itself with a meagre 9.5% of votes. The Republicans could look forward to forming a weak opposition to LREM in the National Assembly.
Macron’s victory has heralded, as many in France would say, a renewal of the political order in the country.
Labour and employment reforms
Soon after taking office, Macron met trade union leaders and employers’ representatives to initiate discussions vis-à-vis his plan to reform labor and employment codes, a campaign pledge that he intends to enact in the very near future.
As there is no equivalent in France of the American “Presidential Decree”, it is imperative for the French president to have the unstinted support of parliament to pass any reform. For decades, rigid labour laws have been seen by economists as a major impediment to remedy the country’s sluggish economy and high unemployment rates. A clear majority in parliament would give Macron the opportunity to push through the much-needed employment and labour reforms and create an ecosystem that is conducive for business in France.
He does, however, face the challenge of the much touted French ‘Power of the Street’ which his predecessors, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, encountered each time they endeavored to introduce reforms.
French labour reforms will be closely watched by other members of the EU, particularly by the German side.
Franco-German rapprochement: crucial for the EU
Macron’s victory has ushered in hope for the revitalisation of the relationship between the EU’s two biggest economies, Germany and France. Macron’s commitment to the EU project is well-known, however, the crucial Franco-German relationship hinges predominantly on his ability to push through the labour and employment reforms. France’s economic underperformance, especially when compared to Germany, is striking. Living standards in France have dropped considerably in the last few years; youth unemployment is another major issue that plagues French society – one of four of those under the age of 25 years is unemployed.
Germany has assumed a position of superiority in the Franco-German relationship and has grown impatient of France’s inability to introduce reforms to correct the economic imbalance. Macron, on the other hand, has a two-point agenda for Germany – one, the completion of the monetary union project which involves the setting up of a eurozone budget managed by a eurozone parliament; two, the reflation of German domestic economy to boost exports from other EU countries including France. Unless the two countries agree to cooperate, the much needed momentum for the EU project would be hard to achieve.
The LREM’s majority in parliament, therefore, becomes crucial to get the labor reforms passed in France, especially since they have a direct bearing on the Franco-German alliance, which is the cornerstone of the EU project.
Challenges and opportunities
Macron has demonstrated leadership qualities within weeks of his investiture – be it his display of overt enthusiasm to reinvigorate the EU project in close collaboration with Berlin, his bold statement to “make the planet great again”, a repartee to President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement or his blunt criticism of Russian media for peddling lies and propaganda against him, have collectively helped him project an image of confidence to the citizens of his country.
The tough task of changing the economic fortunes of his country will begin as soon as the euphoria of winning the legislative elections abates.
Emmanuel Macron’s quinquennat (five year term) will be judged by his ability to make France great again.
Shivali Lawale is the director of the Symbiosis School of International Studies.