Macron’s defeat doesn’t only weaken France – it has serious implications for Europe

A France that no longer turns out to vote will fall prey to other political temptations

Denis MacShane
Monday 20 June 2022 12:30
Comments
Who is Emmanuel Macron?

Emmanuel Macron has been defeated in his bid to win a working majority in the French parliament. In an election for National Assembly deputies – the lawmakers of France – Macron has lost.

The biggest party will be the Party of Non-Voters as neither Macron nor his two main rivals – Marine Le Pen from the anti-European, pro-Putin hard right; and Jean-Luc Mélenchon from the anti-European, pro-Putin hard left – have managed to persuade voters to turn out and vote.

Democracy is under a real challenge, as France has neither leaders nor political movements that enthuse anyone.

France is heading for a Macron second term without a clear political message from voters. They don’t like his technocratic liberalism, but they equally don’t want to endorse hard Corbynite politics on the left – or Europhobe Tory-style nationalism on the right.

The classic parties of France alternating in power between the Socialists like François Mitterrand or François Hollande – or Centre-Rightists like Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy – have been reduced to bit-part roles.

A big political vacuum now exists. Macron is president for five years – but without the full authority of endorsement by more than 30 per cent of voters. France has no intermediary political or civil society associations between the citizen and the monarchical president. Trade unions are the weakest in Europe. The French press – and increasingly the broadcast media – do comment, but not much reporting.

The once powerful big city mayors govern thanks to energy-sapping coalitions, and are a pale shadow of the political force they once were. Macron has created a new political democracy without political parties capable of winning a majority to govern. All that is left for the citizen to do is descend into la rue – the street – and we should expect a lot more street anger in the next five-year term.

Soon the battle of succession will start, as would-be successors to Macron as president of France start working out their campaigns to win the presidency in 2027.

The elite English and American press have turned off Macron in a big way after the initial enthusiasm for his audacious democratic political coup d’état in 2017. Then, Macron swept established French political parties into the dustbin of history.

He promised to bring Europe back to life, but EU decisions are still taken on the basis of lowest common denominator national interest decision. At the end of the Macron five years, the EU looks less and less like the all-powerful superstate that Boris Johnson claimed would destroy national sovereignty. When Macron told MEPs last month that the EU should move to more majority voting, they cheered him – but 13 national prime ministers published a joint letter rejecting his proposal.

His efforts to persuade Putin to turn away from brutal violence in Ukraine – or allow grain to be shipped to avert famine in North America – have been treated with contempt by the master of the Kremlin. Now, Macron is having to accept the bitter truth that Warsaw and London and Helsinki may have a better understanding of the threat Putin’s Russia represented to Europe than all the diplomatic geniuses of the Quay D’Orsay.

For Britain, however, there can be little comfort in a weaker France. Boris Johnson and his press supporters have specialised in mocking or insulting Macron. French-bashing plays well in red wall England. Johnson has blamed France for refugees crossing the Channel into Kent; threatened to send warships to stop French family fishing boats fishing in offshore waters they have fished in for centuries – and claimed that France’s Covid vaccine policy was “anti-British” (when it was the United States that refused to authorise use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine until December last year).

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

Most diplomats say relations between Paris and London are as low as they have been in two centuries. But a weaker Macron is no help in solving Britain’s increasing Brexit problems from the Northern Ireland squabble, to allowing British scientists and musicians link with French research institutes or play in summer arts festivals.

A weaker Macron no longer admired, respected – or even liked – in the Anglosphere will be defensive and irritable in dealings with Britain,

European partnership and integration has been based for 60 years on a France whose president had full democratic authority granted by the French. That has now been withheld.

Macron-phobes in Britain may rejoice, but a France that no longer turns out to vote will fall prey to other political temptations that are dangerous for Europe – and British stability – as we confront frightening challenges such as Russian-Chinese attacks on democracy and freedom; the rise of inflation, poverty and hunger in a world with more billionaires than ever before; and countries where loud-mouthed populists like Johnson, Trump, Bolsonaro and Modi seem to be preferred by voters.

Denis MacShane is the former Minister of Europe for Labour

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in