Macron hosts opposition for talks after losing parliamentary majority

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French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting opposition leaders for two days of talks at the Elysée Palace starting Tuesday after his ruling coalition lost its absolute parliamentary majority in Sunday's vote. As is customary after an election rout, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne offered her resignation but Macron turned it down.

Going into the talks, Macron believed the government needed to "stay on task and act" and the president was seeking "constructive solutions" to the political deadlock in talks with opposition parties, said a presidential official, who asked not to be named.

Macron met with the leaders of right-wing parties, along with Socialist and Communist party chiefs, at the Elysée palace Tuesday, and in a rare move, also hosted far-right leader Marine Le Pen for talks as he seeks solutions to a situation that risks plunging his second term into crisis two months after it began.

The spectre of political paralysis and the breakthrough performance by the far right under Le Pen has also raised questions over Macron's leadership in Europe as he seeks to maintain a key role in dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Elysée said French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, blamed by some analysts for heading a lacklustre campaign, had offered her resignation to Macron but the president turned it down.

Macron started Tuesday's flurry of discussions by talking with Christian Jacob, the head of the traditional conservative Republicains (LR), a party on the decline in recent months but which now would be key to giving the president an absolute majority.

No 'coalition' in sight with the LR

The options available to Macron range from seeking to form a new coalition alliance, passing legislation based on ad hoc agreements, or even calling new elections.

An alliance with the LR, which have 61 MPs, would have been ideal but after an hour-long meeting with the president, Jacob ruled that out.

"We're not going to betray those who showed faith in us. Those who voted for us did not do so that we could enter with little thought into any old coalition," Jacob told reporters. Even so, Jacob said his party would be "responsible" and would not "block the institutions", seemingly opening the door to cooperation on a bill-by-bill basis.

Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure and Communist Party boss Fabien Roussel, members of the NUPES (New Ecological and Social Political Union) left-wing alliance, also met Macron, although the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who leads NUPES, is not scheduled to do so.

Faure adopted a more conciliatory stance after his meeting with Macron, saying he was prepared to move forward with the government if it took measures on the key issue of purchasing power.

The aim is to “build solutions to serve the French” at a time when there is no “alternative majority” to that of Macron’s ruling alliance, said a presidential official who asked not to be named.

>> Read more: ‘A seismic event’: Le Pen’s party makes historic breakthrough in French parliament

Representatives of the parliamentary parties will be received at the Elysée Palace separately and successively.

The result of the parliamentary elections was a stunning blow for the president and his reform agenda, leaving his camp facing the prospect of a political deadlock.

While Macron’s Ensemble (Together) coalition remains the largest party after Sunday’s National Assembly elections, it fell dozens of seats short of keeping the absolute majority it has enjoyed for the last five years.

Mélenchon and Le Pen made big gains, leaving them as major players in the new parliament.

Resurgent opposition

The left-leaning Liberation daily called the results a “slap in the face” for Macron, while the conservative Figaro said he was now “faced with an ungovernable France”.

Macron’s Together alliance won 245 seats, well short of the 289 needed for an overall majority, in a low-turnout vote that resulted in an abstention rate of 53.77 percent.

Macron met Monday with his embattled Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and two top allies, former premier Édouard Philippe and centrist leader François Bayrou.

The election saw NUPES become the main opposition force along with its allies on 137 seats, according to interior ministry figures.

But it appears unlikely the coalition of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) will be able to retain common cause in the legislature.

Mélenchon, the France Unbowed chief who orchestrated the alliance, called its results “fairly disappointing” and proposed Monday to make NUPES a permanent left-wing bloc.

He said it would not be a full-on merger but simply an effective “alternative” force in parliament, though the offer was immediately rejected by the three other NUPES parties.

Borne still vulnerable?

Meanwhile the far right under Le Pen posted the best legislative performance in its history, becoming the strongest single opposition party with 89 seats, up from eight in the outgoing chamber.

A confident Le Pen said her party would demand to chair the National Assembly’s powerful finance commission, as is tradition for the biggest opposition party.

“The country is not ungovernable, but it’s not going to be governed the way Emmanuel Macron wanted,” Le Pen told reporters Monday.

Mélenchon said he would bring a motion of no-confidence against Borne in early July, when she is to lay out her policy priorities for the next five years.

Macron faces a new cabinet shake-up after several of his top allies lost their seats.

His health and environment ministers were beaten and by tradition will have to resign, as did the parliament speaker and the head of Macron’s parliamentary group.

The outcome tarnished Macron’s April presidential election victory when he defeated Le Pen, becoming the first French president to win a second term in over two decades.

Macron had hoped to mark his second term with an ambitious programme of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age. All that is now in question.

In a rare bit of good news for the president, Europe Minister Clément Beaune and Public Service Minister Stanislas Guerini – both young pillars of his party – won tight battles for their parliamentary seats.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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