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Macron Deals a Crippling Blow to France’s Establishment

Posted by hkarner - 19. Juni 2017

Date: 19-06-2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Scale of traditional parties’ defeat is a measure of collective failure to reinvigorate the country

PARIS—The resounding victory of President Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling political force in parliamentary elections crushed the traditional parties that have governed France since the end of World War II.

The French president’s party La République en Marche, founded barely a year ago, bulldozed into the National Assembly with its centrist ally, taking 350 of the 577 seats.

In its wake was the rubble of France’s former left-right divide—the Socialist Party and the center-right Les Républicains—that had taken turns governing the country for decades.The Socialists of former President François Hollande and allies, who formed the majority in the assembly for the past five years, secured a mere 45 seats. The head of the party, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, resigned within minutes of the results coming in.

“The left must change everything, its form and its fundamentals, its ideas and organization,” Mr. Cambadélis said.

Les Républicains and an ally hung on to 137 seats in an alliance with another centrist group, slightly more than polls had shown last week. Previously, that center-right alliance had 225 seats.

“We have a group that is large enough to make our commitments and beliefs heard,” said François Baroin, who led the Les Républicains.

The scale of the French establishment’s defeat is a measure of its collective failure to reinvigorate a country whose economy has languished for decades, straining to address tensions with its Muslim minority and clocking mediocre economic growth. Unemployment hovers near 10%, and more than twice that among young voters.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle, the father of postwar France, laid the foundations for French conservatism as well as for three decades of galloping economic growth known as Les Trente Glorieuses. Socialist François Mitterrand took the reins in the 1980s and ’90s and hammered out the framework of the European Union, including its single currency, with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who died last week.

As power continued to alternate between the two sides, however, France ran out of economic momentum, and the European project stalled. The timeworn themes of taxation and welfare hardened the left-right divide while a larger clash loomed between the forces of globalization and economic nationalism.

The latter was seized by the National Front, a far-right party with xenophobic roots that started to notch victories in local, regional and European Parliament elections. The banner of globalism and European integration, meanwhile, was taken up this year by Mr. Macron, who founded his own political party in April last year, saying he would transcend the left-right divide and directly take on Ms. Le Pen.

In beating Ms. Le Pen in the May presidential election, Mr. Macron also put the establishment parties on notice heading into the parliamentary races: Join me or risk oblivion. Many Socialist lawmakers ditched their party and sought Mr. Macron’s blessing to run on a République en Marche ticket.

“We have a party which has a relationship with Mr. Macron that’s ambiguous,” said Guillaume Balas, a Socialist Party MEP and a close aide to the party’s defeated presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon. “We don’t know if we should be in the majority or in the opposition.”

Mr. Macron also drove a wedge through Les Républicains by appointing centrists from the party to senior positions in his government. In around 50 constituencies, Mr. Macron struck deals with some lawmakers from Les Républicains, agreeing not to field a candidate for his party if they agreed to back him in Parliament.

The young leader also tapped voters’ desire for political renewal by making a point of choosing candidates who had no political experience. La République en Marche candidates included a mathematician, a hairdresser, a theologian, police officers, lawyers, sports stars and even a retired bullfighter.

France’s new National Assembly will stand in contrast to its peers in Europe, where traditional parties still have a firm grip on power. In the U.K., the Conservatives and Labour Party got a combined 82% in the general election this month. In Germany, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats are each forecast to get more than 25% of the vote in September general elections.

If France’s traditional parties are to survive, they will have to rebuild from the regional and local levels where they still have a presence, analysts say.

“Despite being extremely weakened they remain the parties that have by far the greatest number of elected officials if you look at all echelons. That doesn’t vanish overnight,” said Philippe Marlière, a professor of French politics at University College London.

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