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French Politics #3

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
This week: Macron’s glorious victory in the first round of the parliamentary elections last Sunday, is less rose-tinted than it seems.

The man who founded a political movement a mere 14 months ago and who became president just last month (the first time he stood in an election) has now successfully blown up the French political system. The few remaining Socialists and Conservatives are fighting to pick up some of the pieces that Macron left behind on his trail of devastation. It is possible that during the final round, next Sunday, Macron could win around 425 to 455 seats, nearly 75 percent of the 577 seats in the Assemblée, the French Lower House. It would make his party La République En Marche (LREM) the biggest in French history. This outcome is even more surprising when you consider that Macron currently has zero seats. But if you look more closely at the results, you’ll see that every silver ling has a cloud. His victory is less impressive than it seems.
Brigitte & Emmanuel Macron exiting the polling booth last Sunday
Brigitte & Emmanuel Macron exiting the polling booth last Sunday
The French people have been high-hatting politics for a while now, but last Sunday more than half of them didn’t even bother to turn up at the polling stations, resulting in a record low turnout. The media and the losing parties tried to play down Macron’s huge success, and in some cases it seems that they do have a point. Even the LREM members acknowledge that the low voter turnout is damaging to democracy.
Let’s zoom in on the numbers. The joint list of LREM / MODEM won a third of the votes on Sunday, but that only represented 15.4% of the electorate. When looking at all the inhabitants of the country, LREM does not even make up 11 percent. However, because of the way that the French voting system is set up, it was enough to win three-quarters of the 577 seats. The result gets even worse if we take into consideration the number of votes cast. Macron’s candidates received 7,323,102 votes, but in 2012 the PS, the freshly elected President Hollande’s party, won 10,347,043 votes. In June 2007, just weeks after Sarkozy’s election, his party, the UMP got 11,859,658 votes, resulting in 345 seats in the Lower House.
The 36.41% who didn’t vote are now the country’s largest 'party'
The 36.41% who didn’t vote are now the country’s largest 'party'
Many, including Macron himself, agree that the current system has come to the end of its life cycle. Alternatives are still on the drawing board. If France had a proportional system like most of the EU member states, LREM would have won no more than 185 seats, while the Front National had reached about 80 (they will probably end up with 5-10 seats, see below). In his election programme, the new president promised to introduce such a system, probably based on the current German voting model.
Macron’s landslide victory does not mean that the entire population is backing him. The New York Times is even worried that Macron may abuse his enormous power. So, is the new French President turning into Kim Jung Macron? Whatever the future holds in store for us, this election once again demonstrates that democracy is ultimately the dictatorship of the minority.
For the two parties that governed France for over half a century, the Parti socialiste and Les Républicains (conservatives), the outcome is not only their political shipwreck, but also a financial disaster. Political parties receive state subsidies based on their results (€1,42 per vote) as well as per MP. Last Sunday’s result means losses of millions of euros to the established parties. Since the Socialists will lose 90 percent of their MP’s, they may even have to sell their historical headquarters, in the fancy 7th district in Paris.
Many politicians who thought they would sit on the comfortable red benches in the Assemblée  until their very last breaths, were shocked that voters had dared to kick them out.. Some reacted bitterly. Henri Guaino, a Conservative candidate and Sarkozy’s former speech writer, said the “selfish bourgeois voters” made him want “to puke”. He reiterated yesterday by saying “I have not offended anyone, I have told the truth.”
Marine Le Pen was also quite disappointed. Although the Front National won 13.5 percent of the votes, the party will get no more than 5 to 10 seats in the new Assembly (they currently have 3), an insufficient number to form a parliamentary group, which requires 15 seats. Such a group is entitled to extra money, more speaking time, and the right to use meeting rooms. It looks like the FN is going to miss out on this lucrative deal. Not everything is lost though. In her constituency, Le Pen won 46 percent. That means she will almost certainly become an MP. If she decides to take her seat, she will have to resign from the European Parliament immediately, the arena in which she received the most media attention, and the most income. However, it remains unclear what she will do. According to her mother, Marine is very tired and upset by the poor results of the elections in April and May.
Nicolas Dupont Aignan, the other extreme right-wing candidate, should also fear for his career; he did not win the seat in his constituency for the first time since 1997. He has now to face a runoff against an En Marche candidate. Voters blamed him for joining Le Pen in the presidential campaign. In exchange for his support, Le Pen promised him the post of Prime Minister if she were to win the presidency.
Dozens of MP’s will be jobless by the end of next week. What are they going to do now? Most of them have been career politicians all their lives and never learned a real profession. You need not feel too sorry for them. For the next three years, they are entitled to unemployment benefits, can get 28 euro hair-cuts and enjoy the exclusive restaurant at the Assemblée.
Some MPs who will lose their national seat, are still hanging on to their local mandate. Quite a few are also Mayors (as per this year, such a double mandate is prohibited). Fortunately, they can fall back on their local salary. And if that’s not sufficient, they just raise it, like the mayor of Cholet, a town in the west of the country, did on Monday.
When the new Assembly opens, on June 27, Macron will have held up yet another of his election promises: an (almost) gender-equal Parliament. The number of female MP’s will stand at around 40 percent. France will enter into the Top Ten of countries with the highest percentage of female MP’s. By comparison: after last week’s General Election, the UK has risen to 39th, while the USA occupies a shameful, male chauvinist 101st place (why?!). The parliament of Rwanda with 61.3 percent female MP’s, tops the list.
Because former President Hollande thought that a right-wing candidate was going to win the presidential election, he came up with a cunning plan: to leave a financial time bomb to for his successor. He was wrong of course, and now his pupil, Macron, needs to find a solution for his exceptional spending spree (€ Paywall) in the last months of his presidency. Between January and May 2017, he burnt as much money as he could. Civil servants got a higher rise than previously promised, and he lowered some taxes. In April, Hollande spent €3,2 billion more than in April last year. Shortly after Macron’s election, the European Commission’s chief Jean-Claude Juncker said that France was “fiscally irresponsible”. Yesterday PM Edouard Philippe was embarrassed to admit that France is probably not going to respect the European budget rules. In all likelihood it means that his government will have to find new austerity measures.
It looks like the government has been taken by surprise. But what else could they expect of someone who spent 10,000 euros a month of tax payers’ money on a hairdresser?
Hollande's idea of balancing the Government budget
Hollande's idea of balancing the Government budget
Theresa May, now almost unanimously considered to be Europe’s clumsiest politician, had a romantic dinner in Paris last night with Emmanuel Macron. The contrast between the two leaders could not be greater. May’s gamble to obtain an absolute majority last week with firm anti-EU talk, turned into a resulted in a complete and total mess (and it’s no laughing matter). Three days later, Macron won an absolute majority with a clear pro-EU programme. The election results in the UK and in France turned the EU’s fortunes around (€ Paywall).
Last night, over a plate of humble pie and sour grapes, the French president probably gave the British PM a crash course in ‘how to win an election’. After dinner, the two leaders attended the France-England friendly. It turned out to be a new humiliation for May. France, with only ten players on the field, beat England by 3-2. Macron, an avid supporter of Olympique Marseille, offered May a consolation prize saying that the “door for Britain to stay in the European Union was still open”.
The Telegraph's view on May's visit to Paris yesterday
The Telegraph's view on May's visit to Paris yesterday
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Merci !
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Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

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