19 June 2017
French elections are full of surprises this year. An almost unknown political figure, M. Macron, without a party, becomes the French President of the Republic, beating M. Le Pen in the second round of the elections. This same almost unknown political figure wins the legislative elections, thereby obtaining a wide supporting majority in the lower Chamber. The party competing in the second round of the presidential election (therefore a party that should have fared pretty well in the legislative elections) ends up with a very limited number of seats. Whilst scholars of different disciplines are pulling out their hair to understand where the fifth Republic is going, let us consider the implications of a new five-year period for the themes at the core of our interest: immigration and Europe.
Firstly, Emmanuel Macron should face little problems in the Chamber to implement his programme. A programme not particularly ambitious with respect to immigration, integration of migrants and right to asylum but substantially more so for the European Union. M. Macron has sent signals of a stronger cooperation with Germany to relaunch the European machine. With a strong majority in the National Assembly (his party won 319 seats and its ally, the Modem, won 42 seats, constituting a large majority of 361 seats out of a total of 577), he should be able to reach the objective set during his campaign; unless his colourful majority unravels on delicate matters (economic and fiscal policy notably). It must be borne in mind, La République en Marche (LRM; Macron’s party) counts personalities from the right and others from the left, sometimes opposing one another. A (relatively funny) example is that of the second round of this election in the 18th constituency of Paris where a member of the Socialist Party, supported by the President, faced a member of the Republican party, supported by the Prime Minister. Will the President be able to maintain order in his movement for the five years to come?
Secondly, LRM’s representatives have been elected by a minority of French voters. In France, it is henceforth a common way to mock election outcomes to say that “abstention is the first party of the country”. It is more true today than it ever was. With a turnout stalling at less than 43%, it is hard to fathom the leeway the government will enjoy. Notably because abstention or blank votes are far from representing an absence of interest in politics. M. Mélenchon is already calling his militants to take the street when the reform of the labour law will come. Any significant move toward more European integration may require direct approval of the French voters.
Thirdly, M. Le Pen obtains a limited number of seats in the assembly (8 seats). She lost the second round of the Presidential election with more than 10.6 million people voting for her; 33.9% of the votes. After the first round of the legislative election, only 13.2% of the voters gave her their support and only 122 candidates of the National Front passed the first round. The National Front will, however, have more seats in the French assembly than it has had over the past 30 years, including one for M. Le Pen herself.