By Dr Maryse Helbert. School of Social and Political Sciences
The overwhelming win by the party of Emmanuel Macron in the French legislative elections has put a definite halt to the wave of populism in Europe and reinforced French commitment to the European Union.
The new legislative assembly looks very different to any other. After overwhelmingly winning the presidency, Macron’s party La République en Marche! (The Republic on the Move!) have a huge majority in the lower house with 314 out of 577 MPs (and will control 350 seats with allies MoDem). This is an unprecedented result on many levels.
First, out of the 577 MPs, 424 have never been MPs before. Second, the average age of MPs has dropped from 54 years in the previous assembly to 48. And third, Macron and his party have respected the gender parity rules when nominating candidates for the legislative election - there will be around 155 women, which is a record, and 38 % of the new assembly in parliament will be women. This new and much younger assembly will provide Macron a clear mandate to pursuit his political agenda.
The National Front falls
Marine Le Pen has been unable to convert her anti-EU and anti-immigration platform, or her qualification in the second round of the presidential election, into a substantial numbers of MPs in the lower house.
While Le Pen has been about to secure herself a seat without much difficulty, her party won only eight constituencies. This will make it difficult for the National Front to position itself as the main opposition party in the next five years, because she won’t be able to form a ‘group’ in the parliament. Each political party with more than 15 MPs can form a parliamentary group or caucus. Each of these groups is allowed parliamentary privileges such as access to seats in parliamentary commission, access to financial and organisational facilities, and is allocated opportunities to ask questions during parliamentary question time.
Macron’s victory has reinforced the European project
Before the election, there had been fears France might abandon the EU. Since the election of Donald Trump as the US President and the UK’s ‘Brexit’ decision to leave the EU last year, elections in the Netherlands and France have been watched closely to see if the wave of populism would continue. In addition, right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary were accused of failing to respect European democratic values. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, for example, has attempted to restrict free speech in the European University in Budapest.
But the Dutch right wing anti-immigration party led by Geert Wilders’ did not win a majority in parliament in March and was sidelined by other parties who had ruled out forming a coalition with him.
Macron’s large victory and Trump’s recent visit to Europe did more than silence the voices to dismantle the European project – it has revived the European project. Several meetings between Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel have sealed this revival. There have even been calls for the establishment of a European Union defence force to counteract Trump’s criticism of NATO. In addition, Theresa May’s poor showing in the British election (the Conservatives barely held on to power) has provided the European Union a stronger voice to negotiate the Brexit.
No room for political opposition
Macron’s overwhelming victory at the presidential and legislative election is in some ways a guarantee of stability. But it also triggers some worries about the strength of a democracy where political opposition is so diminished in parliament.
The poor result for the traditional political parties means that they won’t be able to play the role of political opposition in the following five years. This could have implications in the context of issues such as national security. France is still in a state of emergency implemented after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. The classification gives broad powers to the police, which were used last year to suppress protests against government plan to restrict workers’ rights. The use of the state of emergency to suppress one of the fundamental democratic rights of the French population is seen as an alarming sign in the Macron era. Indeed, the use of the state of emergency without any check and balance in the parliament due to the overwhelming majority Macron holds could lead to abuse of power.
Banner image: Emmanuel Macron campaign posters. Credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr