.
W

ith President Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election last April, political observers seemed reassured about France’s stability in the coming years. However, the outcome of the parliamentary election proved them wrong. In an unexpected turn of events, Macron’s “Renaissance” party failed to reach an absolute majority in the June 12 and 19 National Assembly elections. Now, instead of taking a leading role in European affairs, Macron’s time and political capital could be devoured by a fractious and hostile parliament.

While President Macron has maintained a vocal position that Russia should not be “humiliated,” the Elysée has nonetheless offered a comprehensive mix of diplomatic, military, and financial support to Ukraine following the Russian invasion. Macron made a highly publicized visit to Kyiv with his German, Italian, and Romanian counterparts to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on June 16, releasing a statement of support and working to coordinate future policy. France has also provided advanced military technology and substantial military aid as well as more than €100 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Additionally, France joined the other 28 member states of the European Union in offering Ukraine EU candidate status, a long-sought-after goal of Kyiv.

However, France’s population may be less receptive to Macron’s approach to the invasion than the French President might hope. According to polling conducted in April and May 2022, 41% French voters surveyed supported a quick end to the war, even at the cost of compelling Ukraine to give up territory and a further 13% feared the risk of escalation despite supporting Ukraine. Similarly, 43% of French voters said that their government was dedicating too much attention to Ukraine relative to domestic issues. These positions played out in the parliamentary elections and could continue to be an issue for Macron.

In the June elections, Macron’s Renaissance party lost a significant number of seats, including former National Assembly president Richard Ferrand and former minister of Interior Christophe Castaner, a significant rebuke of the party. In total, Renaissance and the other members of its “Ensemble” coalition won 246 seats, down from the 346 that it held before and far short of the 289 needed to form a majority government. Jean-Luc Mélenchon had campaigned for the French people to elect him Prime Minister and created a broad left-wing electoral coalition (referred to by its acronym NUPES). His coalition won 142 seats in the parliamentary election, but the NUPES have thus far failed to overcome internal squabbles and have not formed a cohesive political unit in the National Assembly. In the biggest surprise of the election, Marine Le Pen’s ‘Rassemblement National’ won 89 seats, virtually making it the main opposition party. This result outperformed the party’s strategists’ wildest expectations and considerably reinforced Le Pen’s position.

Macron is largely responsible for this historic setback. He was able to secure another term in the Elysée despite his refusal to meaningfully campaign or develop a platform beyond offering a continuation of his administration. While Macron’s stature as head of state was enhanced by his handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, MPs in his coalition had to run on domestic, quality-of-life issues, and accordingly suffered from the president’s lack of attention paid to such issues.

This situation will likely have profound implications for French foreign policy for years to come. When Charles De Gaulle designed the Fifth Republic, the President was provided with a strong toolset to govern and oversee foreign policy. Later, the President’s term was reduced to five years, putting the Presidential election and the parliamentary elections less than two months apart—further favoring the party of the incumbent President. In fact, the entire French constitution was written to avoid a scenario where a President cannot effectively govern—the very situation towards which the French state may be heading.

In a worst-case scenario, virtual paralysis of the French legislative system could emerge as a result of this parliamentary gridlock and force Macron to dissolve the Assembly and hold snap elections whose outcome may still not be in his favor. Of course, if a struggle was to occur between Macron and the Parliament, the constitutional naturally favors the Elysée. However, the Parliament can interfere in the President’s agenda, including in matters of foreign policy. For instance, it could complicate the budgetary process of sending aid to Kyiv or pressure Macron to make a deal with Putin. This scenario remains possible as popular anxiety about gas price hikes will likely build this winter and since the two main opposition parties ran on defending French people’s purchasing power.

If Macron can thread this needle of securing acquiescence for his Russia-Ukraine approach, he and Renaissance will then need to justify the costs of continued pressure on Russia. The domestic-first mandate of parliament and polarization over economic and other domestic issues means that domestic issues will define the work of the incoming parliament. This emphasis among the opposition forces could provide a domestic challenge to any policy pursued by the Elysée which would punish Russia while incurring economic costs—such as the potential for spikes in gas and energy prices in the fall and winter if current price caps are lifted.

As Macron is forced to take part in a brewing domestic battle, France’s role in the response to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is at stake. While the French state’s Gaullist foundation means that parliament cannot entirely derail the President’s foreign policy agenda, it will be increasingly difficult for the Elysée to maintain its focus on the Russian invasion. While the actual dynamics of an oppositional parliament are yet to emerge, it is clear that a new period of French politics has arrived and is here to stay.

About
Charles Halb
:
Charles Halb is a French student currently pursuing a MA in international relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS. His fields of interest are European Security and the Transatlantic relationship.
About
Wesley Culp
:
Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress focused on Russia and Eurasia.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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French Domestic Legislative Instability May Hinder Macron’s Foreign Policy

Paris, France. Photo by Alice Triquet via Unsplash.

July 20, 2022

Macron’s party failed to reach an absolute majority in the June 12 and 19 National Assembly elections. While the actual dynamics of an oppositional parliament are yet to emerge, it is clear that a new period of French politics has arrived and is here to stay, writes Charles Halb and Wesley Culp.

W

ith President Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election last April, political observers seemed reassured about France’s stability in the coming years. However, the outcome of the parliamentary election proved them wrong. In an unexpected turn of events, Macron’s “Renaissance” party failed to reach an absolute majority in the June 12 and 19 National Assembly elections. Now, instead of taking a leading role in European affairs, Macron’s time and political capital could be devoured by a fractious and hostile parliament.

While President Macron has maintained a vocal position that Russia should not be “humiliated,” the Elysée has nonetheless offered a comprehensive mix of diplomatic, military, and financial support to Ukraine following the Russian invasion. Macron made a highly publicized visit to Kyiv with his German, Italian, and Romanian counterparts to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on June 16, releasing a statement of support and working to coordinate future policy. France has also provided advanced military technology and substantial military aid as well as more than €100 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Additionally, France joined the other 28 member states of the European Union in offering Ukraine EU candidate status, a long-sought-after goal of Kyiv.

However, France’s population may be less receptive to Macron’s approach to the invasion than the French President might hope. According to polling conducted in April and May 2022, 41% French voters surveyed supported a quick end to the war, even at the cost of compelling Ukraine to give up territory and a further 13% feared the risk of escalation despite supporting Ukraine. Similarly, 43% of French voters said that their government was dedicating too much attention to Ukraine relative to domestic issues. These positions played out in the parliamentary elections and could continue to be an issue for Macron.

In the June elections, Macron’s Renaissance party lost a significant number of seats, including former National Assembly president Richard Ferrand and former minister of Interior Christophe Castaner, a significant rebuke of the party. In total, Renaissance and the other members of its “Ensemble” coalition won 246 seats, down from the 346 that it held before and far short of the 289 needed to form a majority government. Jean-Luc Mélenchon had campaigned for the French people to elect him Prime Minister and created a broad left-wing electoral coalition (referred to by its acronym NUPES). His coalition won 142 seats in the parliamentary election, but the NUPES have thus far failed to overcome internal squabbles and have not formed a cohesive political unit in the National Assembly. In the biggest surprise of the election, Marine Le Pen’s ‘Rassemblement National’ won 89 seats, virtually making it the main opposition party. This result outperformed the party’s strategists’ wildest expectations and considerably reinforced Le Pen’s position.

Macron is largely responsible for this historic setback. He was able to secure another term in the Elysée despite his refusal to meaningfully campaign or develop a platform beyond offering a continuation of his administration. While Macron’s stature as head of state was enhanced by his handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, MPs in his coalition had to run on domestic, quality-of-life issues, and accordingly suffered from the president’s lack of attention paid to such issues.

This situation will likely have profound implications for French foreign policy for years to come. When Charles De Gaulle designed the Fifth Republic, the President was provided with a strong toolset to govern and oversee foreign policy. Later, the President’s term was reduced to five years, putting the Presidential election and the parliamentary elections less than two months apart—further favoring the party of the incumbent President. In fact, the entire French constitution was written to avoid a scenario where a President cannot effectively govern—the very situation towards which the French state may be heading.

In a worst-case scenario, virtual paralysis of the French legislative system could emerge as a result of this parliamentary gridlock and force Macron to dissolve the Assembly and hold snap elections whose outcome may still not be in his favor. Of course, if a struggle was to occur between Macron and the Parliament, the constitutional naturally favors the Elysée. However, the Parliament can interfere in the President’s agenda, including in matters of foreign policy. For instance, it could complicate the budgetary process of sending aid to Kyiv or pressure Macron to make a deal with Putin. This scenario remains possible as popular anxiety about gas price hikes will likely build this winter and since the two main opposition parties ran on defending French people’s purchasing power.

If Macron can thread this needle of securing acquiescence for his Russia-Ukraine approach, he and Renaissance will then need to justify the costs of continued pressure on Russia. The domestic-first mandate of parliament and polarization over economic and other domestic issues means that domestic issues will define the work of the incoming parliament. This emphasis among the opposition forces could provide a domestic challenge to any policy pursued by the Elysée which would punish Russia while incurring economic costs—such as the potential for spikes in gas and energy prices in the fall and winter if current price caps are lifted.

As Macron is forced to take part in a brewing domestic battle, France’s role in the response to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is at stake. While the French state’s Gaullist foundation means that parliament cannot entirely derail the President’s foreign policy agenda, it will be increasingly difficult for the Elysée to maintain its focus on the Russian invasion. While the actual dynamics of an oppositional parliament are yet to emerge, it is clear that a new period of French politics has arrived and is here to stay.

About
Charles Halb
:
Charles Halb is a French student currently pursuing a MA in international relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS. His fields of interest are European Security and the Transatlantic relationship.
About
Wesley Culp
:
Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress focused on Russia and Eurasia.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.