France Is on the Verge of an Astonishing Political Transformation

  • President’s party won 32 percent in first-round assembly vote
  • France’s traditional powers headed for crushing defeat

Atlantic Council Says Macron's Majority a Big Deal

President Emmanuel Macron expanded his control of French politics as voters put his party on track to a sweeping majority in the National Assembly in the first round of legislative elections, ousting establishment stalwarts in the process.

The new president’s year-old party, Republic on the Move, won 32.3 percent of the vote alongside its centrist ally MoDem, more than 13 percentage points ahead of the Republicans’ group, according to the Interior Ministry’s final vote count. The first round was marked by record-low turnout with less than half the registered voters casting a ballot. In an alliance with the centrist MoDem party, Macron’s group will have between 415 and 455 seats out of 577 in the lower house of parliament, according to projections by Ipsos.

Nicholas Dungan of the Atlantic Council says Macron fills a "vacuum" left by Theresa May and Donald Trump.

Source: Bloomberg

The results -- which need to be confirmed in a final round of voting next Sunday -- would give Macron the biggest majority in the Assembly since 1993. That offers the 39-year-old president the power to push through his recipe for fixing France over the next five years -- and no one else to blame if his plan fails.

“French voters chose renewal,” government spokesman Christophe Castaner said on France 2 television on Monday morning. “They are coherent. They elected a president and they voted to give him a majority.” He said turnout below 49 percent represented a “defeat.”

Sunday’s result marks the end of an era of dominance for France’s mainstream parties. Almost all of the Socialist Party’s parliamentary heavyweights were eliminated, including First Secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadelis who had been a member of the Assembly for 19 years. The Republicans are slated for their smallest number of seats in decades while the National Front, despite Marine Le Pen reaching the presidential runoff against Macron, may get between one and five seats, Ipsos said -- though Le Pen herself is well placed to enter parliament for the first time.

France’s media reflected Macron’s party landslide score. Liberation daily called it “Macron’s Take Over,” Le Parisien said “A Master Blow,” BFM TV said the results could give the president a “Historical Hegemony” and Le Figaro wrote “On the Way to a Crushing Majority.”

Labor Reform

One key plank of Macron’s vision is the controversial labor-market overhaul that he has promised to deliver by mid-September. With the French economy lagging its peers, the president also wants to change tax rates and fix inequalities in the pension system. He’s already started to revamp French intelligence services after terrorists claimed more than 200 lives since the beginning of 2015.

After campaigning on his plan to simplify France’s labor code, the president began a round of initial meetings with union leaders within 10 days of taking office on May 14. Those talks will get under way in earnest after the second-round vote as the government seeks common ground for reworking the country’s byzantine labor rules.

Macron wants individual companies to negotiate wages rather than being bound by industry-wide agreements. He has argued that a more flexible labor market would help boost growth and win the trust of France’s European partners, above all Germany.

Historic Opportunity

For at least two decades, French unions have opposed such efforts, emphasizing job protection instead, but a week from now, Macron may find himself in a stronger position than any French president for a generation. With a majority in parliament and hundreds of lawmakers who are completely new to politics, the president would hold extensive control over the levers of government.

“This victory will no doubt go down as one of the great electoral achievements in our country’s recent history,” said Bruno Cautres, a politics professor at Sciences Po who works with pollster BVA.

Emmanuel Macron

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

What’s more, the opposition parties who might ordinarily lead the resistance to Macron and his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, are embroiled in extensive rebuilding after each suffered unprecedented defeats during the presidential vote.

“Emmanuel Macron has redrawn the French political map,” former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Twitter. He and his party have “a generational chance to deliver reforms.”

Opposition Forces

The Socialists and their allies, who held power under Francois Hollande until just a few weeks ago, were decimated. They’ll have between 20 and 30 seats, down from 331, as many of their voters and indeed lawmakers rallied to Macron, Ipsos projected.

The Socialists are also facing a challenge from the left by Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Unbowed. The far-left candidate won 19 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election and will see his party take between 8 and 18 seats, Ipsos said.

The Republicans, the heirs to Charles de Gaulle who looked set to take power themselves six months ago, will have between 70 and 110 seats amid recriminations over Francois Fillon’s failed presidential campaign, Ipsos’s projections show.

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