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, which has 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 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 it the right to form a government given that it 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 Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left La France Insoumise.

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 have broken into the open within his centrist alliance, which is made up of his 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 with Macron for dissolving parliament and are less inclined to follow the cues coming from the Élysée 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 the 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.”

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 has publicly urged his group to negotiate with the centre-right LR, but exclude Le Pen’s party, rather than teaming up with the left.

Ensemble and the LR together “would have 220 seats, so more than the NFP”, he told TF1 on Tuesday night. 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, 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 close to the president. Darmanin is nursing an ambition to be prime minister in a more right-leaning coalition.

On Wednesday on CNEWS, Darmanin said an “alternative to the NFP was needed”, so to make a tie-up with the conservative LR possible, he would accept a prime minister from their ranks.

In a sign of his determination not to accept a government of the leftist bloc, he promised to “immediately vote down any government with LFI in it”.

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

Bayrou, another centrist leader who wants to build a broader coalition from the moderate left to the right, took a swipe at Philippe and Darmanin, saying it would be a grave mistake to create a government that “served only one-half of the country against the other one”.

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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