Will Macron finally face concrete opposition from the left? What could this mean? E&M editor Sindre Langmoen has a look at the big changes since the presidential elections this April.
The world paid intense attention to France during a couple weeks in April 2022, when Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Paul Mélenchon competed for the presidency once again, joined this time by Éric Zemmour. Macron and Le Pen came first and second, securing them both a second round in which Macron ultimately won, attracting despite him the votes of the majority of the population. Mélenchon meanwhile missed his chance to compete against Macron in the second round by only 1.2%, receiving 22% of the vote. Satisfied that the far right did not win the presidency and that nothing much would change for the next five years, the world at large has turned its attention away from French politics (until the next time Paris is on fire).
Now, however, some interesting things are happening again. Over the two last elections, Mélenchon and the La France Insoumise (LFI; Unsubmissive France) movement have established their dominance over the French left and have proved to be a highly mobilized political force. The far more boring legislative elections will be held in June, and this time the French left has done something highly impressive by its own standards: it has united.
The Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale (NUPES; New People’s Ecological and Social Union) aims to capture a parliamentary majority, defeat both Macron and the far right and elect Mélenchon Prime Minister. This would enable them to not only hinder Macron’s government from imposing his agenda of cuts to the welfare state and to taxes on employers, but also to implement an agenda of their own.
The historic union was formed on May Day 2022 and includes LFI, the Socialist Party (PS), the French Communist Party (PCF), Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV), Ensemble! (E!), Génération.s and other smaller parties. United, they represent more than 30% of the electorate and would have the capacity to mobilize a greater section of the population than either the neoliberal or the far right forces. As an alliance, these parties will field a single list of candidates in the legislative elections on June 12th and 19th, instead of competing against each other.
For NUPES to accept the PS within its union has been a highly controversial move – both for many leading members of the PS associated with Hollande’s administration, who have denounced all talks with Mélenchon, and for many others on the left, who have learned from what they perceive as the PS’s previous betrayals of French labor through the passing of labor reforms unfavorable to the working class. However, the socialists were very willing to turn the page on Hollande and repeal his most important labor reforms, aware of their precarious position and of the popular desire for more radical change.
The neoliberalized PS has been in free fall since the 2012-2017 presidency of François Hollande, considered the most unpopular head of state in France’s recent history. In 2012 Hollande and the PS obtained 28.63% of votes, while in 2017 they dropped to 6.36% and in 2022 to 1.75%. Despite condemnation by high-profile PS members, the party leadership has endorsed the unquestionably left-wing platform of NUPES. Hollande warned that an alliance with the far left would call into question “the very principles that are the foundations of socialist engagement” and that such an alliance would lead to the “disappearance” of the PS. One wonders whether he is aware that the party has already all but collapsed.
While the coalition has brought together a broad range of actors who significantly differ in terms of long-time visions regarding the EU, NATO or the economy, they have found much more common ground when it comes to a strategy on how to approach acute domestic socio-economic issues or how to interact with EU institutions. For example, NUPES has agreed that under their governance certain EU rules would be disregarded in order to implement their program, for example in the areas of competition law, austerity rules and regarding the Common Agricultural Policy.
What is their program? An increase in the net monthly minimum wage to 1,500€, a return to retirement at 60, a freeze on the prices of basic necessities (including energy prices), ecological and sustainable development, abandoning the development of nuclear power and establishing a Sixth Republic in which political power is less concentrated in the hands of the Presidency. Most of these policies are supported by 57-79% of the French population. The realm of foreign policy lies in the hands of the president, so issues concerning global trade, NATO, EU relations and more would be beyond NUPES’ power, which would reassure the large section of the public who disagree with LFI on such points. In terms of domestic policy, however, they would hold significant power.
Ultimately, given that Mélenchon is the recognized leader of the coalition, and because the president is in practice obligated to accept the prime minister brought forward by the National Assembly, there is a small but real possibility of ending up with a cohabitation situation in which Macron and his arch-enemies in the left-wing popular union share the responsibilities and powers of government.
Most polls predict strong results for NUPES in the first round, but an ultimate majority for Macron. However, the difference between Macron’s “Renaissance” campaign and NUPES is shrinking by the day. The far right is divided between Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and the competing Reconquête, run by presidential candidate Éric Zemmour and Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal, and has never shown great results in legislative elections. Meanwhile, LFI has consistently overperformed in polls.
The reality is that while the majority of the French people voted for Macron’s presidency, most people did so only to block the far right and have no desire to see a neoliberal majority in parliament. At the very least, we are seeing the materialization of a historic union, under the leadership of a grumpy old man who was widely decried in the media as divisive and unsympathetic. Whatever the results end up being, we should begrudgingly accept to learn something from the French, who are once again showing by example.
Cover photo by Lorie Shaull.