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France: Gridlock Remains the Main Risk

June 20, 2022
By Antonio Barroso

The coalition of parties supporting President Emmanuel Macron won the legislative elections on 19 June but fell 43 seats short of an absolute majority (289 MPs) in the 577-seat National Assembly. The center-right Republicans (LR), which obtained 64 seats, are strongly divided on whether to support the government. If Macron is not able to form parliamentary majorities in favor of his policies, politics will likely turn into a blame game between parties ahead of the potential dissolution of the National Assembly and eventual new legislative elections.

The worst-case scenario of a victory of the left-wing New Ecologic and Social People's Union (NUPES), with Jean-Luc Melenchon becoming prime minister, did not materialize. However, Macron's small relative majority has increased the risk of gridlock highlighted in a previous note. At this stage, it looks like Macron's likely strategy to govern will be to try forming ad hoc parliamentary majorities to pass laws in the National Assembly (AN). A repeat election does not seem to be on the cards at this point, especially because it would only increase the risk of the government losing even more deputies.

Whether the government can get enough parliamentary support will strongly depend on the stance of the center-right The Republicans (LR) party. While some prominent LR members have suggested the party's MPs should cooperate with the government, other senior LR figures are reluctant to play the kingmaker role. Party leader Christian Jacob has said that the party will stay in opposition but did not indicate whether it could still vote in favor of some of the government's proposals.

The statements reflect the deep divisions between moderates and hardliners within LR. The moderates contend it is only by influencing government policy that the party will regain credibility vis-à-vis voters. Meanwhile, the hardliners argue that opposing Macron is the only way to contain the rise of Marine Le Pen's radical right National Rally (RN), which obtained a historical result on Sunday (89 seats).

A meeting of the party's political bureau taking place on 21 June should give more indications about the party's position in the short term. However, a leadership contest is expected to take in the coming months, and the hardliners are well positioned to control the party. Therefore, even if LR decides to cooperate initially, the party could become much more reticent to help Macron, although it is unclear whether the leadership would be able to keep the party united in parliament.

Cooperation vs. Blame-Game

In any case, the policy outlook is likely to become much more uncertain going forward. Provided that the government stays in place (more on this below), the first signpost regarding its ability to pass legislation in parliament is the vote on the upcoming draft bill to help consumers with the rising cost of living. However, obtaining a majority to pass highly popular measures to fight inflation might be easier than approving reforms that looked already difficult before the elections, such as Macron's promised changes to the pension system.

If the government cannot get parliamentary support for its policies, politics will likely turn into a game between Macron and the opposition parties to tag each other with the blame for leading the country to gridlock. In such a scenario, it would make sense for Macron to dissolve the National Assembly and ask the country to give him a strong legislative majority to overcome the parliamentary deadlock.

What to Watch Going Forward

MPs will take possession of their seats on 22 June, but the AN will not hold its first session until 28 June. Below are some key issues to watch in the coming days:

Composition of the government: 12 of the 15 ministers who ran in the legislative elections were elected on Sunday night. This means that three cabinet members will have to leave their posts as winning the seat was a condition to keep the portfolio. There has been no indication by Macron on whether he plans to make wider changes to the cabinet, although it looks like Elisabeth Borne might remain prime minister for now.

Motions of (no)confidence: If Borne keeps her post, she is expected to deliver a speech on the government's policy priorities before the National Assembly in the first week of July. In the past, the speech was followed by a vote of confidence in the government, although the PM is not legally obliged to request it.

If Borne decides not to ask for the chamber's confidence, opposition parties might opt for filing no-confidence motions against the government. In fact, Melenchon's France Unbowed (LFI) has already announced it will file such a motion regardless. But the proposal is unlikely to pass as it would need the support of LR, which has already signaled it will not back it. Le Pen's RN might also be willing to use its newly acquired powers to file no-confidence motions, given it has obtained more seats than the minimum number of MPs needed (58) to trigger the procedure. However, like in the case of the LFI motion, LR remains the key actor: to be successful, any no-confidence motion will need the support of the center-right party.

Draft law on purchasing power: The draft bill is expected to be adopted by the government on 6 July and to be discussed in parliament in July and August. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether any potential changes to the government in the coming days might affect this calendar.

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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