The French political system is designed to empower the President, and
has enjoyed sweeping authority in his first five years in the Elysée Palace. But legislative elections on the weekend ensured his second term will be far more complicated.
Mr. Macron easily won a second mandate in April, but on Sunday his allies lost control of the National Assembly. His centrist Ensemble block won 245 seats, well short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority. It’s a significant fall from the 350 Mr. Macron’s group won in 2017.
A left coalition led by
the French Bernie Sanders, finished second with 131 seats. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won 89 seats only two months after a decisive loss to Mr. Macron in the presidential election. The center-right Republicans, once a dominant force in French politics, finished with 61.
France’s Fifth Republic doesn’t have a strong history of consensus governance like neighboring Germany, and no one knows how Paris will cope with the muddled result. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, a technocrat with origins on the left appointed by Mr. Macron only a month ago, may not survive.
An agreement between Ensemble and the Republicans is possible, and it would have the welcome effect of halting Mr. Macron’s plans to move left in his second term. The Republicans often agree with Mr. Macron’s liberalizing economic instincts, but on Sunday several party leaders ruled out a formal coalition. They understandably don’t want to disappear as the junior partner of a politically weakened President. Another possibility is a minority government that cooperates with right or left depending on the issue. It’s also possible that gridlock leads Mr. Macron to call snap elections, though it’s unclear what would cause a shift in the results.
Stymied at home, Mr. Macron may look abroad for running room, as he already fancies himself an important player in global politics. But his rhetoric and self-regard have long exceeded France’s power and Mr. Macron’s skills and instincts in foreign affairs. Mr. Macron wants to be a leading player in Europe, and particularly in determining the future of Ukraine, but his uneven and underwhelming support for Kyiv has undermined his influence across much of the Continent.
Sunday’s results created more questions than answers, but they also suggest a troubling future for France. Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon—both Russophiles and European Union and NATO skeptics—finished second and third in the presidential election. They now have the legislative heft to position themselves as the leaders of Mr. Macron’s opposition.
The President’s challenge is finding a way to reinvigorate his early economic reform momentum despite the new legislative handicaps. Failure to do so could bring a radical to the Presidency in five years—with damaging consequences far beyond France.
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