France: Macron’s Agenda Awaits Parliamentary Elections

With a new president in office, French voters now will turn their attention to the lower house of Parliament when they vote in the first round of legislative elections on June 11 and in a final round on June 18. At stake are 577 seats in the National Assembly and the future of President Emmanuel Macron’s new government. Should Macron’s La Republique en Marche party fail to gain a majority in the National Assembly, his government will be forced to negotiate with other parties to implement his program of reforms.

These will be unusual legislative elections for France. En Marche, created for Macron’s presidential run, has never competed in a National Assembly election before, and the traditional political parties are weak and internally divided. Since winning the presidency May 7, Macron’s strategy for the National Assembly elections has had two main elements: Half of his party’s candidates have no previous political experience, which aligns with Macron’s promise to inject new blood into French politics, while the other half includes several members from the center-right Republican Party and the center-left Socialist Party. Not only does this second part of Macron’s strategy give his party a list of candidates who know how the French political system works, it also helps to weaken the main opposition parties and generate frictions within them.

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Opinion polls suggest that Macron’s party could win a majority of seats in the National Assembly, which means it would not have to depend on other parties to pass legislation. Should Macron’s party fall short of a majority, however, it would be forced to seek alliances with other parties every time it sought a vote in the National Assembly. That process could put Macron’s political and economic agendas in jeopardy.

The composition of the National Assembly will be key for Macron’s immediate project: to reform France’s labor legislation. Macron and his team currently are negotiating with unions and employers associations on a series of reforms, such as capping the compensations for workers who have been fired and limiting the role of collective bargaining in salary negotiations. Should the president control a majority of seats at the National Assembly, he will be able to negotiate with the unions on those issues from a position of strength.

Results on June 11 will offer a glimpse of what the National Assembly may look like, but its final composition won’t be known until June 18. Barring a political crisis that forces the president to call early legislative elections, the National Assembly that emerges from the June 11 and 18 voting will accompany Macron throughout his five-year term and will influence the extent of his ambitious program of economic, political and social reform.