8 days ago

France shifts to the left, risks policy paralysis

People raise their arms and hands as they gather at the Place de la Republique after partial results in the second round of the early French parliamentary elections, in Paris, France, July 7, 2024. The slogan reads "the "Nouveau Front Populaire (New Popular Front - NFP)"
People raise their arms and hands as they gather at the Place de la Republique after partial results in the second round of the early French parliamentary elections, in Paris, France, July 7, 2024. The slogan reads "the "Nouveau Front Populaire (New Popular Front - NFP)" Photo : Reuters/Abdul Saboor

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France faced a hung parliament and difficult negotiations starting Monday to form a government, after a surprise left-wing surge blocked Marine Le Pen’s quest to bring the far right to power.

The leftist New Popular Front (NFP) emerged as the dominant force in the National Assembly after Sunday’s election, but with no single group securing a working majority the possibilities include the NFP forming a minority government or the building of a broad, unwieldy coalition.

The result delivered a blow to President Emmanuel Macron and leaves the euro zone’s second largest economy in limbo, heralding a period of political instability just weeks before Paris hosts the Olympic Games.

Macron ended up with a fragmented parliament, in what is set to weaken France’s role in the European Union and further afield, and make it hard for anyone to push through a domestic agenda.

The left won 182 seats, Macron’s centrist alliance 168 and Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) and allies 143, Interior Ministry data cited by Le Monde newspaper showed.

“According to the logic of our institutions, Emmanuel Macron should today officially invite the New Popular Front to nominate a prime minister,” said Green leader Marine Tondelier, one of a number of NFP figures seen as potential candidates for the post.

“Will he or won’t he? As this president is always full of surprises, we’ll see,” she said on RTL radio.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said he would tender his resignation on Monday, but it was not clear whether the president would accept it immediately, given the daunting task ahead to form a government. Attal said he would be willing to stay on in a caretaker role.


Leaders from the NFP met overnight for first talks on how to proceed, but in media interviews on Monday they gave little sense of direction.

Tondelier said on France Inter radio the prime minister could be someone from the hard-left France Unbowed party, the Greens or the Socialists, the three largest parties in the alliance.

Olivier Faure, the Socialist leader, said on France Info radio that he expected the parties to agree on a plan this week, but sidestepped a question on whether the NFP would be prepared to negotiate a deal with Macron’s centrist camp.

Raphael Glucksmann, a prominent moderate who led the leftist ticket in last month’s European elections, said on Sunday that a hung parliament required openness for dialogue.

But France Unbowed’s firebrand leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of the most divisive figures in French politics, explicitly ruled out any deal with centrists on Sunday, and on Monday his ally Eric Bompard was sounding uncompromising.

“The president must appoint as prime minister someone from the New Popular Front to implement the NFP’s programme, the whole programme and nothing but the programme,” he said on France 2 television.

Challenged on how that would be possible without an absolute majority, Bompard refused to engage with the question, insisting that as the NFP had come first, it should govern and shrugging off the idea of negotiating with anyone else.

However, there is little chance that any of the left-wing bloc’s key proposals, which include raising the minimum wage, reversing Macron’s pension reform and capping the prices of key goods, would pass a parliamentary vote without some kind of agreement with lawmakers from outside the bloc.


Some prominent centrist figures, including Edouard Philippe, a former prime minister under Macron, said they were ready to work on a pact to ensure a stable government, but were not prepared to work with France Unbowed, a force seen by many French centrists as just as extremist as the RN.

Yael Braun-Pivet, a lawmaker from Macron’s party who was the National Assembly leader before the election, said French political culture would have to evolve, becoming less antagonistic and more cooperative across party lines.

“The message I’m hearing from voters is ‘no one has an absolute majority, so you have to work together to find solutions to our problems’,” she said on France 2 television.

The euro slipped on Monday by as much as 0.4% as investors grappled with the uncertainty in Paris.

“There’s really going to be a vacuum when it comes to France’s legislative ability,” said Simon Harvey, head of FX analysis at Monex Europe in London.

For Le Pen’s RN, the result was a far cry from weeks during which opinion polls consistently projected it would win comfortably.

The left and centrist alliances cooperated after the first round of voting last week by pulling scores of candidates from three-way races to build a unified anti-RN vote.

In his first reaction, RN leader Jordan Bardella, Le Pen’s protege, called the cooperation between anti-RN forces a “disgraceful alliance” that he said would paralyse France.

Le Pen, who will likely be the party’s candidate for the 2027 presidential election, said however that Sunday’s ballot, in which the RN made major gains, had sown the seeds for the future.

“Our victory has been merely delayed,” she said.

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