This preening narcissist has pushed French voters into the arms of extremists, writes JONATHAN MILLER
Sunday was supposed to set the stage for the next phase of President Emmanuel Macron’s lofty ambitions to reform France and seize the leadership of the European Union.
Instead, elections for the French parliament have left the president perilously fragile and France more divided and ungovernable than ever.
He has not just failed to unite France, but has pushed its politics to dangerous extremes — and enabled the resurgence of far-Left politics under a leader who resembles nothing so much as a Gallic Jeremy Corbyn.
The results are a disaster for Macron, and much worse than almost anyone anticipated.
True, the weeks since the April presidential election have been cruel to the president. His efforts to end the war in Ukraine have proved fruitless; despite Macron’s overtures, Putin has humiliated him.
There’s an escalating cost-of-living crisis and energy crisis. And capping it all is the debacle that took place at the Stade de France last month, when Liverpool fans who travelled there for the Champions League Final were first robbed by local hooligans, then gassed by Macron’s police.
The result is that, for the first time since 1997, the president has failed to win a parliamentary majority.
JONATHAN MILLER: Elections for the French parliament have left Emmanuel Macron perilously fragile and France more divided and ungovernable than ever. (Pictured: Macron and wife Brigitte Macron walking on the beach after the vote for the second stage of French parliamentary elections in Le Touquet, North of France, on June 19, 2022)
Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party candidate, votes in the second round of the French parliamentary elections, at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, France, June 19, 2022
He needed 289 deputies — MPs — to control the 577-seat parliament and force through his manifesto. But he won only 245, losing 154 of those elected in his 2017 landslide, including numerous ministers.
His prime minister Élisabeth Borne, a technocrat handed what was thought to be a safe seat, and aptly described as having the political charisma of a carrot, barely won in the district into which she’d been parachuted.
It’s ‘a nightmare scenario’ for the president, admitted Le Monde, a newspaper normally supportive of Macron. The constitutional call for fraternité (brotherhood) has been supplanted by the most toxic political atmosphere in a generation.
The election showed that French voters are consolidating into irreconcilable groups, producing systemic instability. The fear must be that this could lead to a renewed bout of violent demonstrations similar to the yellow-vest protests early in 2018, that ended only when the country locked down for Covid two years later.
On one side is the now-revived Right-wing Marine Le Pen, heroine of blue-collar workers in the north and of southern French nationalists who have supported her movement for decades since it was founded as the National Front by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
She has moderated her party’s reputation, changed its name to the National Rally and succeeded in increasing her parliamentary representation from fewer than 10 seats to 89. (She had lost the April presidential election to Macron by a 10 per cent margin.)
Her success on Sunday is startling enough. But on the other side there’s a radical coalition of Leftists, communists, ecologists and socialists, led by the parliamentary deputy and notorious rabble-rouser Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Magic Grandpa of France, who has increased his parliamentary presence from 17 seats to 131.
Hardly known outside France, Mélenchon, 70, can fairly be compared to Jeremy Corbyn, from his quasi-religious faith in old-time socialism, to recurrent accusations of anti-Semitism levelled by his political enemies.
French leftist La France Insoumise (LFI) party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon casts his vote at a polling station in the second stage of parliamentary elections at a polling station in Marseille, southern France on June 19, 2022
He’s better educated and more cultivated than Corbyn, a sharp performer on TV and a snappy dresser, favouring tailored Mao suits. He has a ferocious temper, is unabashedly disagreeable yet, like Corbyn, is venerated by his followers.
Politically and in personality, Mélenchon and Corbyn are peas in a pod and the pair are friends. Corbyn was even seen in Paris before the election, campaigning for Mélenchon’s candidates.
The profile of Mélenchon supporters is eerily similar to those of Corbyn. Mélenchon unites younger voters, hard-Left ideologues, university-educated intellectuals, trade unionists, immigrants and Muslims.
Whether the alliance he has built will prove durable, given the propensity of the French Left for fratricidal feuds, is an open question. But for the moment, it is he, not Macron, who is France’s political phenomenon.
But apart from the result of this election, what are the likely consequences? It is bound to be messy. The newly elected assembly is a circular firing squad.
Mélenchon loathes Macron and Le Pen, Le Pen despises Mélenchon and Macron, and Macron describes the others as dangerous extremists. The chances that these groups can co-operate in the interests of France are remote.
Yet Mélenchon and Le Pen do not disagree about everything. The strong point in common is their intense Euroscepticism. While this is most unlikely to result in anything resembling Frexit, it certainly creates a huge roadblock to Macron’s dream of a deeper EU, with himself at its head.
Macron needed 289 deputies — MPs — to control the 577-seat parliament and force through his manifesto. But he won only 245, losing 154 of those elected in his 2017 landslide, including numerous ministers
Five years ago, Macron was universally acclaimed by much of the establishment as the representative of a new, centrist, reforming politics. The Economist put him on its cover, walking on water. It’s not worked out that way.
This election shows Macron has not only been incapable of uniting the country, he bears heavy responsibility for dividing it.
His narcissism, lack of empathy with ordinary people and intellectual arrogance have undermined his ambition to reform an economically sclerotic and socially unsettled France, with a pro-business program of pension reform and raising the retirement age. The self-professed centrist has revived extremists Right and Left.
For Britain, not unfamiliar with political crisis, the French election shows that on the other side of the Channel, things are worse.
Britain at least has a government with a claim to democratic legitimacy. France has a government in name only, incapable of passing legislation.
One bonus perhaps is that a greatly weakened Macron may be incapable of bullying Britain over the Northern Ireland protocol, immigration and fisheries.
General de Gaulle built the Fifth Republic to hobble the parliament and put an end to the political chaos of the Third and Fourth republics. But Sunday’s result is a turn away from the kind of powerful presidency envisioned by De Gaulle, and the resumption of a debilitating battle between the parliament and president.
A diminished Macron will have to seek ad hoc coalitions to get anything through parliament, and he will pay for such support.
The extent of the delusion in the president’s camp was starkly illustrated last night when Macron’s spokesperson Olivia Grégoire said, ‘It’s a disappointing first place, but it’s a first place nonetheless.’
France faces soaring inflation, a debt crisis, a budget deficit untamed by Europe’s highest taxes, an energy crisis, failing schools and hospitals, and a law and order crisis, all set amidst the most serious European military conflict since 1945, in which Macron has debased himself before Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Macron’s is now a ‘still-born’ presidency declared Alexis Brézet, editorial director of Le Figaro.
Various opportunistic centrists may ally themselves with the President as he attempts to get laws passed, but the centrist Republicans with 64 seats have already refused to cooperate with him.
So weak is Macron’s position that Élisabeth Borne is likely to be an even more short-lived prime minister than her only female predecessor, Edith Cresson, someone who called British men homosexuals and the Japanese ants, and who lasted less than a year.
And Macron, his political career having finally met its Waterloo, will doubtless continue to strut the world stage, pretending nothing has happened.
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