Emmanuel Macron’s centrists off to rocky start in coalition talks

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists got off to a rocky start in their attempt to forge a governing coalition in the French parliament, as potential allies rebuffed them and cracks emerged within his own camp.

Macron and party chiefs in his Ensemble alliance argue that no single party or bloc won enough seats in Sunday’s snap election to form a government alone. They are casting themselves as a crucial part of any future government despite losing a third of their MPs.

“We’re blocked for now, but that’s because we’re the only adults in the room,” said one official close to Ensemble. “The left is behaving like children and thinks they can go it alone. We have more luck talking to those on our right, but they are divided among themselves so it’s a flurry of confusion.”

Macron himself has been unusually out of the public eye in recent days, leaving it up to party leaders to break the political impasse left by the shock results in a country with no tradition of coalition-building.

Voters delivered a fractured National Assembly roughly split into three blocs — an unprecedented outcome in postwar France since there has never been an election where it was unclear afterwards who would govern.

Foreign minister Stéphane Séjourné, a longtime Macron ally who heads his Renaissance party, appealed in an op-ed in Le Monde for the “moderate left”, independents and the centre-right Les Républicains to come to the negotiating table.

“Another path is possible,” he wrote. “One in which with dialogue and compromise, we can create a government and a road map for France.”

Macron has played for time this week by keeping the current caretaker government and Prime Minister Gabriel Attal in place as negotiations among the parties play out.

But insiders admit that neither the LR, who have 39 seats, nor the centre-left Socialists and Greens are playing ball for now. The centre-left parties are part of the leftwing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) bloc that came first with 180 seats — and their leaders are locked in separate talks to negotiate fielding a joint candidate for prime minister.

The NFP on Tuesday ratcheted up pressure on Macron, who travelled to the US for a Nato summit, to give them the right to form a government given that they won the most seats. “Macron is wasting time and blocking the situation because he wants to hold on to power for as long as possible,” said far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The constitution does not spell out how the president designates a prime minister and sets no timetable, but they customarily call on the party with the most MPs to form a government.

A majority of French people, or 61 per cent, believe the country cannot be governed unless political forces band together in a coalition, a Harris poll carried out on Sunday and Monday showed.

Complicating matters further for Macron is that cracks are emerging within his centrist alliance, which is made up of his own party, Renaissance, François Bayrou’s Modem, and former prime minister Edouard Philippe’s Horizons.

Many of the centrist MPs who were re-elected are angry at Macron for dissolving parliament and are less inclined to follow the cues coming from the Elysée palace.

“Before the president’s group worked as a bloc, and its members felt beholden to him,” said a staffer. “Now it is every man for himself.”

Edouard Philippe
A presidential hopeful, former prime minister Edouard Philippe has been distancing himself from Macron in recent weeks © Lou Benoist/AFP/Getty Images

With Macron’s final term ending in 2027, several leading figures in his camp are also seeking to advance their presidential ambitions.

Riding high in popularity polls, Attal looks eager to pick up the mantle of centrist leader in parliament and would prefer a rapprochement with the moderate left.

Another critical player behind the scenes has been Julien Denormandie, the former agriculture minister and longtime Macron ally, said two people close to the president’s camp. He helped plot the dissolution, has been backchanneling centre-left figures to try to peel them off from NFP for a potential coalition, and may even be in the frame as a potential prime minister.

“The real question is whether Ensemble can hold together,” said the person. “There is total disorder in the National Assembly because behind the facade of the centre and left blocs there is also fragmentation within them.”

Gerald Darmanin
Interior minister Gérald Darmanin, front, is nursing an ambition to be prime minister in a more right-leaning coalition © AFP/Getty Images

Others in Ensemble favour deals with the right, noting that voters did tilt rightward over the years. While deprived of the first place it won in the first round of the snap election, Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party secured 143 seats, the largest cohort of MPs in its history.

A more conservative and free-market politician within Ensemble is Philippe, who would turn rightward towards the LR and exclude the RN, rather than team up with the left. A presidential hopeful, Philippe has also been distancing himself from Macron in recent weeks, with his Horizons party campaigning without any imagery suggesting it is part of the president’s centrist alliance.

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin, who is a former member of the rightwing LR, has been working the phones to peel off some MPs from his former party, said one of the people who is close to the president. Darmanin is nursing an ambition to be prime minister in a more right-leaning coalition.

“I think we need to open up a bit more to the right than we have in the past, and no doubt find the alliance of tomorrow,” he said on Sunday.

As the fallout from the election reverberates, the usually loquacious Macron has not yet spoken publicly.

An Elysée official said since no clear majority had emerged, it was important to give the negotiations time. “The president is the guarantor of France’s institutions, so he has to find such a prime minister [and government] that can survive.”

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