With the European elections coming up in 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s possibilities to change the political landscape at the European level seem to not be as easy as expected. The last week of August was marked by the resignation of Nicolas Hulot, the quite popular minister of ecology.
The event could be regarded as isolated from the European elections; however, it is most likely to have a negative impact on the French President’s quest for support.
Macron’s hegemony put into doubt
His loss of popularity because of controversial reforms and two resignations within the government are elements that show the French president’s struggle to impose his party La République En Marche (LREM) as the obvious choice for the upcoming European election.
On the one hand, the resignation of Nicolas Hulot comforted the French Green party (EELV) in its idea to run with their own party list, where the ruling party (LREM) could have hoped for an alliance through the former minister.
On the other hand, Macron’s political shake-up through the appointment of either people new to politics (civil society) or less known politicians resulted in the population largely struggling to even remember their ministers.
Another element that should have played in favour of the ruling party is the establishment of a system with one unique national list per party after the abolition of electoral districts in June 2018 system of electoral districts. However, as LREM has no other strong leader than the President himself, the latter is desperately searching for a charismatic figure to be the head of the party list thus embodying LREM for the European campaign.
Joining a European group
Macron is also having problems to rally other parties for a transnational list, facing the growth of Eurosceptic parties in the Union, notably in Italy and Austria.
Although the French President strongly believes in the European project, his propositions in Brussels haven’t received unanimous support from his counterparts so far. He therefore counts on those European elections to make a difference and to impose himself as a strong leader in the European sphere alongside Angela Merkel.
To do so, and in order to provoke deep changes within the European political groups the same way that he did in France with the political spectrum, Macron has to decide which strategy to adopt. There the French President has two solutions: joining an already formed group or creating a new one.
The option of joining one of the 8 existing Euro group seems unlikely as the first group, EPP, is composed of parties (e.g. Orban’s Fidesz) that have already expressed their disagreement with Macron’s vision, especially as to regarding the migration crisis.
Macron’s party would also certainly not make unanimity within the second biggest groups, S&D. Indeed, France’s latest fiscal and economic reforms are far from being in the same line as the left-wing group’s convictions. This is back-upped by a communiqué published by the French Socialist Party (PS) delegation to the EU after the resignation of Hulot that explicitly criticises Macron’s policies; therefore hardly allowing anyone to think that there would be a possibility there for Macron.
However, Macron’s rise to power was allowed through, among other things, the slow dismemberment of the PS. LREM could think about taking its place within the European group.
As both main groups are theoretically only representing portions of Macron’s ideas, the most natural option to consider would be joining ADLE the liberal democrat group of the European Parliament. Although currently only ranking 4th biggest group, it sees on its bench the French Centre-right party MoDem that associated with LREM during the 2017 presidential elections.
ADLE has so far often played a pivotal role in the voting of decisions. If joined with LREM’s newly elected MEPs, the group might hope for a better ranking.
Creating a consensus at the European level
However, those pre-established groups are not what Macron claims to stand for, his election deeply changed the old cleavage between traditional right and left in France, he believes that he is not taking part in any political families.
If the French President does not seem to be satisfied with those groups, why wouldn’t he try to create his own, that would fit is vision of what politics should now be? Many believe so, however, Macron cannot achieve this on his own. On 79 French MEPs that are to be elected, LREM executives hope to have 25. If it would be enough MEPs to create a group, one requirement wouldn’t be respected as the members should come from a minimum of 7 member states.
Hence, the need for transnational alliances with parties resembling as much as possible LREM’s positions. Work has already been started, notably with Spain’s Cuidadano that is so far the only one secured although talks are going on with the Italian Socialist party. The party will try to seek partners all around Europe with liberal and Europhile parties, next on the list seems to be Civic Platform in Poland.
When creating his movement, Emmanuel Macron managed to convince politicians from both traditional parties to get aboard of his project, a technique that cannot very well be used here. Indeed, LREM needs create a group that would be large enough to matter. Without mentioning that without the strong ecology policy that Hulot embodied, there is little chance for Macron to convince ecology-driven deputies to join.
What is at stake for the French president is the presidency of the Commission with the system of the Spitzenkandidat, if LREM were to be part of a major group within the EP, this would guarantee Macron’s vision for Europe better access to the European institutions. However the chief of LREM rejected the process this past week.
However, the focus should be made on the risk that following the numerous controversies that the President has had to face recently, the French electorate would take the European elections as a referendum “for or against Macron?” therefore benefiting French far-right and far-left parties. Therefore, putting an end to any European aspirations before they even existed and threatening the European construction showing the failure of liberals to counter the growth of far-right thoughts at the European level.