France’s president-elect, Emmanuel Macron, has begun the battle to win a parliamentary majority in legislative elections next month, the crucial next step if he is to deliver his his pro-business policy promises, including loosening France ’s strict regulations on labour law.
The former economy minister, who has never held elected office and does not have a major party machine behind him, immediately rebranded his fledgling political movement, En Marche! (On the Move!) , as La République En Marche (The Republic on the Move) in order to run candidates in every constituency in France in tricky parliamentary elections.
Macron won a decisive victory on Sunday night with more than 66% of the vote against the far-right
Marine Le Pen’s 33.9%. The pro-European centrist will take office on 14 May promising to overhaul the political system and rewrite labour laws in the hope of bringing down mass unemployment in a country still struggling with weak economic growth.
But the key to his presidency lies in the two-round legislative elections on 11 and 18 June. Only with the backing of a parliamentary majority and a handpicked, like-minded prime minister can Macron can put into place the strategy he claims will “free up” the sluggish economy and create jobs. If he does not win an absolute majority, his hands will be tied and he risks being reduced to a mere figurehead, pressured into a form of coalition government, unable to enact plans to ease red tape for businesses and increase welfare protection for the self-employed.
Richard Ferrand, the secretary general of Macron’s broad “neither left nor right” political movement, said the parliamentary elections were the “second phase” of Macron’s presidential win.
He said Macron’s new grouping would field parliamentary candidates in all 577 seats. As part of Macron’s drive to “change the face” of what he has called “tired” and “vacuous” French politics, half of those candidates will come from civil society and be new to politics. Half will be women. The full list will be announced on Thursday.
Until now only a handful of Macron’s candidates have been announced, including the former head of the elite police unit RAID who led the charge against jihadi hostage-takers at the Bataclan concert hall in the 2015 Paris attacks. Others include a farmer, a school headteacher, an HR director, a hospital manager, a sociologist and several entrepreneurs.
Macron has said his new parliamentary grouping will range from the left to the right, calling it a “family of progressives with French republican values”. He aims to neuter the opposition by luring moderates from both sides of the political spectrum.
“This [parliamentary] majority for change is what the country wants and what it deserves,” Macron told supporters after winning the final vote on Sunday.
French voters have traditionally rallied around each newly elected president in the general election that is held weeks after a presidential election. But for the first time in the country’s postwar history, France’s new leader does not have a big party machine behind him, and the two main parties, Les Républicains and the Socialists, were knocked out in the first round of the presidential race amid anti-establishment anger. Instead, the French political landscape is split into many different factions, ranging from the far right to the hard left.
Polls before the presidential vote on Sunday showed Macron’s grouping could come first in the parliament elections in June, within grasp of an absolute majority. But the results are impossible to predict until all candidates and party groupings have been announced. The rightwing Les Républicains are keen for revenge by trying to win a majority in parliament, despite divisions in their ranks and infighting.
Macron began his first day as president-elect by attending a solemn second world war commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe. He appeared with the outgoing Socialist president, François Hollande , his one-time mentor who he had served as deputy chief of staff at the Élysée in 2012. It was the first time the two men had appeared in public together since Macron resigned as economy minister in August 2016 to prepare his outsider attempt to become president.
Hollande repeatedly gripped Macron’s arm and patted him on the back in a father-and-son-style show of affection, a tone that is likely to be seen during the official Élysée Palace ceremony where he will hand over power to Macron on Sunday.
Hollande denied that Macron had politically betrayed him, saying instead that his young former adviser had simply “freed himself” for his own political project. He added: “If he needs any advice, I’ll always be there at his side.” But this comment was unlikely to do Macron many favours as he labours to set his presidency apart from Hollande’s deep unpopularity in office.
In the afternoon, thousands of leftwing and trade union demonstrators gathered in central Paris to warn against changes to labour laws. In the first protests against Macron’s policies, they chanted “anti-capitalists” as they marched.
At his campaign headquarters, Macron was preparing his choice of prime minister and government ministers that he will announce next week and which has been kept secret.
Sunday’s vote underlined France’s social divisions, with Macron popular among better-paid, middle-class voters in cities with higher education degrees, and Le Pen ahead among blue-collar workers. Macron took his biggest scores in Paris and the surrounding area, Ile de France . Le Pen topped the poll in the northern areas of the Aisne and Pas-de-Calais that have seen deindustrialisation and high unemployment.