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Macron’s New Dilemma: Who Will Be The New PM Of France?

French President Emmanuel Macron experienced a temporary respite with the recent election results, as the far-right National Rally (RN) did not secure a win. However, this relief is expected to be short-lived. Macron now faces a new challenge: forming the new government and appointing the prime minister. This task is complicated by the fact that […]

Emmanuel Macron (File Photo)
Emmanuel Macron (File Photo)

French President Emmanuel Macron experienced a temporary respite with the recent election results, as the far-right National Rally (RN) did not secure a win. However, this relief is expected to be short-lived.

Macron now faces a new challenge: forming the new government and appointing the prime minister.

This task is complicated by the fact that no party or bloc achieved a clear majority, and there are significant differences within the leftist New Popular Front (NPF), which emerged as the largest bloc in the French elections. The NPF includes both moderates and far-left parties, and the prospect of a far-left prime minister or senior far-left figures in key positions could pose challenges for Macron, France, and Europe.

The NPF has announced plans to reveal its prime ministerial candidate this week. The pressing question is whether the candidate will come from the moderate or extremist faction of the party. A larger question concerns the nature of the forthcoming government: will it be a coalition involving the NPF and smaller parties, or a minority government with external support from Macron’s centrist Ensemble (ENS) bloc?

A minority government would be more susceptible to political instability and legislative gridlock, as agreements would need to be negotiated on individual governance and legislative issues, lacking a clear mandate to govern independently.

How is the French PM appointed?

In the French political system, the president is elected directly by the voters, while the prime minister is appointed by the president.

However, the president cannot appoint just anyone as prime minister. The president’s choice must be approved by the parliament, meaning the prime minister is almost always from the largest party or bloc. In this scenario, the largest bloc, NPF, has the right to the prime ministerial position.

Once appointed, the prime minister selects their cabinet. Nevertheless, foreign and defense affairs remain under the president’s jurisdiction, while the government led by the prime minister handles domestic policy and daily governance.

Currently, Gabriel Attal from Macron’s centrist bloc is serving in a caretaker role until the new prime minister is appointed.

Cohabitation and Macron

In France, the scenario where the president and prime minister come from different parties or blocs is known as ‘cohabitation.’

Cohabitation often leads to instability in governance and politics, as both sides can obstruct each other’s agendas. A cohabitation between Macron and Jordan Bardella, the prime ministerial candidate of the far-right RN, would have been particularly challenging due to their vastly different agendas.

While cohabitation between Macron and the NPF would also be difficult, indications suggest it wouldn’t be as problematic as a Macron-Bardella cohabitation.

Firstly, Macron’s centrist bloc and the leftist NPF have already collaborated to prevent a far-right victory. After the first-round election results indicated a likely RN win, the two blocs formed a tactical voting alliance where over 200 candidates withdrew to consolidate all non-right voters behind a single candidate in each constituency. This strategy succeeded, relegating the RN to third place despite winning the most votes.

Secondly, although there are extremist elements within the NPF, the bloc is generally more moderate than the RN and is likely to be more manageable for Macron.

“Contrary to the prevalent analysis on social media, the left-wing alliance NPF is not made up of all extremist parties. It comprises of four main parties and only two of them are far-left, while the other two, Socialists and Greens, are relatively moderate. The four-party alliance is more moderate compared to the National Rally and it will therefore be much easier for Macron to enter into a cohabitation with them instead of the far-right, provided the PM is chosen from the moderate of its factions,” said Swasti Rao, a scholar of Europe at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA).

Furthermore, it is beneficial for the NPF to maintain a cooperative relationship with Macron. If daily governance suffers due to conflicts between the NPF’s prime minister and Macron, the anti-incumbency sentiment that has troubled Macron and his coalition would extend to the NPF as well. Therefore, it is in the NPF’s interest to sustain a collaborative relationship to avoid squandering the opportunity they have gained after many years to govern.

Potential PM candidates

The NPF has announced that it will reveal its prime ministerial candidate this week.

The most contentious figure is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Unbowed party. He is widely disliked in France and even within the left-wing bloc. His career has been marred by allegations of antisemitism, and his plans for the new government include unpopular measures like raising taxes. Mélenchon has long advocated for a 90 percent tax rate for high earners in France, a proposal that the NPF has included in its manifesto at his urging.

Mélenchon’s party secured the most seats within the NPF (75), making him a contender for the prime minister’s position. However, his age (72) and controversial reputation make him an unpopular choice. Despite this, given his legitimate claim to the post, either he or a proxy remains in the running.

Due to the opposition to Mélenchon, the most likely alternative candidate among the far-left is François Ruffin, a journalist and filmmaker who has publicly distanced himself from Mélenchon.

It is also possible that other parties in the bloc, such as the Greens, Socialists, and Communists, might propose a candidate from their ranks to avoid the extremists altogether. The Socialist Party, the next largest within the NPF with 65 seats, could put forward party chief Olivier Faure, outgoing group president Boris Vallaud, or lead EU candidate Raphael Glucksmann.

Among the Socialists, Politico Europe has reported that Vallaud is the most likely candidate. First elected as an MP in 2017, he is an alumnus of France’s public service school, like Macron, and has previously served as the Deputy Director General of the Élysée Palace.

A wildcard candidate could be former President François Hollande, who, after being effectively exiled from politics due to scandals, has now been elected as an MP.

To prevent political deadlock among the allies, another option is to bring in a political outsider. One such option is unionist Laurent Berger, recommended by Glucksmann, himself a potential premiership candidate. Berger, a moderate recognized on both the right and left, could gain support among moderates from both Macron’s bloc and the NPF, though he might be a non-starter with Mélenchon.

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