France: En Marche! Landslide Election Victory Against Background of Popular Frustration
Alex GORKA | 20.06.2017 | WORLD / Europe

France: En Marche! Landslide Election Victory Against Background of Popular Frustration

French President Emmanuel Macron's party La République en Marche (LREM) or The Republic Onwards! has won a landslide victory in the parliamentary election to upend the French political landscape. The party founded a little more than a year ago has obtained an absolute majority in the French parliament in a stunning rise to power! It won 308 out of 577 seats in the National Assembly. 42 seats won by its ally - the Democratic Movement (MoDem) - should be added to the tally to give Macron the 350 seats majority.

The French political landscape has been re-drawn with the Socialist Party actually decimated having lost more than 250 seats, with only 29 obtained at the election (just 6% of the vote). Republicans substantially weakened. The Front National (FN) has dwindled to political insignificance. Now the president’s power is strong enough to give him freedom of action. French voters explicitly expressed their desire for fundamental changes, providing the president with a great chance to keep his word and implement what he promised.

During the election campaign Macron made it clear that he intends to pass through accelerated reforms this summer «par ordonnances» (by decrees). The parliament he controls will most certainly provide a green light for decrees to be ratified later within a specific timeframe. Macron plans to introduce new labor rules to boost employment, reduce the budget, cut the number of public servants by 120,000, overhaul France's unwieldy social security system and breathe new life into the European Union.

The French president has said he wanted Europe to speak with one voice. According to him, «We must defend and strengthen a union that allows European countries to speak with a louder voice on the world stage. Mr. Trump’s recent critical remarks about the EU highlight how important this is».

He wants the Eurozone to have one budget. In practice, it will make Germany the leader all other participants depend on. The German government never said it agrees with the idea. If not, Macron will have to spur the French economy. Can it be done without unpopular measures in the field of social policy? Hardly so.

Macron stands for closer European coordination of efforts in the field of security, including intelligence sharing, border control, and the fight against terrorism. The French-German agenda already includes proposals for a European defense fund to boost the development of cutting edge defense technologies and joint operations beyond European borders.

The differences between Macron and US President Trump are well known but do they really exist if one goes to the bottom of it? The French president emphasized the role of NATO. He and his party support raising France’s defense spending to 2 percent of GDP. Actually, that’s what US President Trump calls for. In April, Macron supported the US cruise missile strike on Shayrat airbase in Syria.

The outgoing Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was appointed to head up a newly created Europe and Foreign Ministry in May. An advocate of closer EU integration, Macron backs a «multi-speed» Europe. Le Drian was seen as the driving force behind France's counter-terrorism operations in West Africa and the Middle East. He put some 10,000 soldiers on the streets of France to fight terrorism.

With Europe declared to top the priorities list, the US remains a close ally. Le Drian was the first French official to visit the United States after the election to meet the transition team. His presence in the new cabinet sends a clear message, as does the fact that President Macron’s first visit outside of Europe was Mali, where France has 3,000 troops stationed to conduct the US-supported operation against al Qaeda.

The legislative election victory shows the voters have got tired of traditional parties with their inability to cope with acute everyday life problems, never-ending scandals, nepotism and power abuse. The big business backing of Macron was also an important factor to define his victory. The president promised to bring corporate taxes down from 33% to 25%.

Many people from the left-right political spectrum forgot their previous political convictions incredibly fast and rushed to support the president and his LREM. Manuel Valls, the former Prime Minister, a former harsh critic of Macron, suddenly switched sides to support the winning candidate. He even wanted to run on the En Marche! ticket without even leaving the Socialist Party which he called ‘dead». Emmanuel Macron dashed his hope, but the example is illustrative of how people go to any length to jump on the wagon without any moral scruples. Can they be viewed as staunch supporters of the Macron’s program?

About a half of LREM members are runways from other political parties. For instance, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe comes from the ranks of Republicans. Gérard Collomb, the Interior Minister, is a Socialist. Can the people with such conflicting views work efficiently together as a team?

With roughly a half of the En Marche! movement members being turncoats, the other half consists of novices without prior political experience. They all owe the president to be personally allegiant but it has nothing to do with professional skills.

There is another aspect not to be missed form the bigger picture. Macron has wide powers with strong backing in the parliament. Some express fear of «dictatorship», some are happy to be led by a strongman recalling the days of Charles de Gaulle. But the turnout was a record low of roughly 42-43 per cent, betraying a climate of fatigue and political disillusionment among the French people. It leads his opponents to claim he had no groundswell of support. The Macron’s triumph is not only a victory but also the expression of popular frustration with the country’s political system.

Emmanuel Macron has pulled off an extraordinary performance. Now comes the reckoning. Will he be able to make an efficiently functioning political force out of the motley crew of his many-hued supporters? Is it possible for the people representing the right and the left in the government to operate as an efficient team? Can the big business interests be reconciled with the interests of the working class? Does the allegiance to the US-led NATO dovetail with the creation of an independent European deterrent? Will he do something he has not done as yet-define his views of European security, arms control, non-proliferation and other related issues of prime importance, including the relationship with Russia? Will the president and his supporters able to come up with fresh ideas to save the sinking ship of the European Union? What exactly will Macron and his party do about the problem of migration?

The victory is great. So is the responsibility. Emmanuel Macron got everything he wanted. Evidently, the people cherish immense hopes for the better but the grapes of wrath are getting ripe. How will they react if the president and the new political force he created will let them down?

Tags: France  Macron