Tags: emmanuel macron | marine le pen | prime minister | parliament

Can Macron Create a Functional, Governing Coalition in France?

Can Macron Create a Functional, Governing Coalition in France?
French president-elect Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony to mark the Western allies' World War Two victory in Europe at the Arc De Triumphe on May 8, 2017, in Paris, France. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

By Tuesday, 09 May 2017 10:11 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The French have elected Emmanuel Macron, an outsider, without any established political party affiliation or backing, with few years of political experience, and also the youngest chief of state in the world grand democracies. France appears to have stemmed the Brexit and Trump populist tide by defeating Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extremist right wing party.

However there is no dancing the streets of Paris and other French cities.

Macron is applauded as saving France’s commitment to the European Union and international cooperation and as the courageous giant slayer, of not just the far right but the failed established political order. What's troubling, seen from Paris, is that he also is seriously shackled. This is because no established political party supported him and a major percentage of the electorate in the first round of the election favored other candidates. According to polls, voters voted for him as the lesser of two evils.

How could it be that this attractive, brilliant political knight in shining armor is more acclaimed in the U.S. and outside France than by the French themselves?

The French have elected a centrist president but the country is divided by an attraction to extremists. The Left insists on maintaining government benefits and the million civil service jobs and are aggressively opposed to bringing deficit numbers in line with the EU and international banking standards. The moderate Right is convinced that France can only avoid economic and financial disaster if deficits are reigned in and employment created through liberalization of the economy. They emphasize that 14.5 million people out of the country's 28 million-strong workforce are — one way or another — making a living off taxpayers' money and that industry is leaving the country. Immigrants and Muslim sons and daughters of immigrants often live in ghetto-like suburbs and their youth are 45 percent unemployed.

So what we have is a centrist who believes he can go forward (his movement is “En Marche” or Onwards) without the support of either political tendency.

The question that dominates the public is whether in this somber political and social environment the new French president can somehow patch together a parliamentary majority by his simple intelligence and charisma.

To understand the depth of French concern, in France the presidential system is unlike the U.S. Constitutional Democracy because the Fifth Republic vests huge powers in the presidency but only allows the exercise of these powers by a president who can muster a parliamentary majority.

Emanuel Macron, beginning the day after his victory, is in search to elucidate a middle ground. That is not always easy to understand because when there is an attempt to harmonize the extremes the principles tend to be more complex.

At least four political parties will present candidates for the 517 seats in the General Assembly (the number in itself is beyond comprehension) and the parties have drastically different programs.

Macron can please crowds and win debates against the really miserable National Front candidate, but can he bring together the diverse interests necessary for the country to be governable? A critical consideration is whether he should be insisting that candidates in the legislative election adhere to his "En Marche" movement. What he is trying to do is as monumental as his unlikely candidacy. Many candidates will be new to political life and will adhere to his movement. Others will abandon, simply based on Emmanuel Macron having won the election, their long time affiliations with established political parties that have their own platforms. For him to set the objective of gaining a parliamentary majority as the criterion of success may be too ambitious. It may be more wise for him to accept a governing coalition of the different parties that will maintain its candidates but will find common governing principles.

The first indication of his direction will be his choice of a prime minister. Rumors point to a man or woman from the moderate Right. It does appear that he is more Right than Left, even though he was a minister in Hollande’s socialist government. Nevertheless, he cannot lean too far in this direction because to be allied with the Right would trigger considerable political and social and labor pressure that would begin his presidency with turmoil.

Already the day after the election there were demonstrators in the street from the socialist front and at least 141 people were arrested in Paris during an “anti-capitalist” demonstration that took place following his victory on Sunday evening.

Americans are so close to the French in culture and mutual fascination that we forget that progress in France, contrary to the United States, at least in the 20th century, is through confrontation and civil disorder. The uprising in 1968 was a civil revolt not simply student unrest.

With the general downward economic trend in France — and also throughout Europe with the exception of Germany and the Netherlands — the middle-most citizens experience widespread dissatisfaction and disaffection from the constitutional political process. The 11.7 percent blank vote in this election, representing a protest by more than 4 million voters, attests to a risk of serious rupture in France that would be an enormous problem for the survival of the Euro and the European Union.

The ability of Emmanuel Macron to overcome the obstacles he faces is important for the stability of Europe and an indication that extremism can be hemmed in.

Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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The ability of Emmanuel Macron to overcome the obstacles he faces is important for the stability of Europe and an indication that extremism can be hemmed in.
emmanuel macron, marine le pen, prime minister, parliament
Tuesday, 09 May 2017 10:11 AM
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