Strong debut boosts Macron’s prospects in national polls

Financial Times Financial Times

Rising support for French president suggests parliamentary majority is within reach

5 hours ago by: Anne-Sylvaine Chassany in Paris

From his inauguration parade on the Champs-Elysées to his frank exchange this week with Vladimir Putin, President Emmanuel Macron of France has won praise for a largely assured debut at home and abroad — and markedly increased his chances of securing a coveted parliamentary majority for his electorally untested party.

After Mr Macron’s landslide victory against far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential run-off last month, the immediate question was whether he could carry his success into this month’s legislative elections. Now polls suggest his cross-party movement, La Republique En Marche, will attract about 30 per cent of the vote in the first round of the election on June 11 — a 10-point gain in a month and putting the party within reach of winning an absolute majority in the run-off round on June 18.

Such an outcome would defy those sceptical of 39-year-old Mr Macron’s ability to turn his unlikely presidential win into a long-lasting overhaul of French politics. At stake is his room for political manoeuvre as he tries to overhaul the dysfunctional jobs market and revive the eurozone’s second-largest economy.

“A month ago, despite his victory, I was sceptical of Macron’s chances of getting a parliamentary majority,” Jérôme Fourquet, head of political surveys at Ifop, the pollster, says. “Now this is totally feasible. We’re witnessing a historic shake-up of the French political scene.”

Mr Macron’s momentum after his May 7 victory has helped alleviate doubts over whether he possesses the skills to lead France. Pollsters say the French have been broadly reassured by his flawless inauguration ceremony, his — apparently effective — charm offensive on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in Berlin and his trip to meet French soldiers fighting jihadis in Mali.

Mr Macron’s first steps on the international stage at a Nato summit in Brussels and a meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations in Sicily last week have been deemed successful. The French press has praised his knuckle-crushing handshake with President Donald Trump of the US, as well as his encounter with Russia’s Mr Putin in Versailles on Monday.

His unpopular Socialist predecessor, François Hollande, campaigned on being a “normal” president and was photographed shopping at a local supermarket shortly after his election in 2012. Podcast Macron’s cabinet France’s new president has co-opted politicians from left and right to try to win enough support to push through ambitious reforms.

“Macron is reactivating the presidency — after Hollande’s inability to embody the role, it is as though the French are rediscovering this core institution of the fifth republic,” Luc Rouban, a professor at Sciences Po Cevipof, says.

Mr Macron, who was unknown to the public three years ago and set up his party a little more than a year ago, has also been politically adroit in his efforts to weaken France’s established parties from right and left and maximise REM’s chances in the legislative elections.

The centre-right Republican party, still recovering from defeat in the presidential election, has been destabilised by the appointment of three of its politicians to key roles in Mr Macron’s cabinet, including Le Havre mayor Edouard Philippe as prime minister and Bruno Le Maire as economy minister.

Meanwhile, the far-right National Front and the centre-left Socialist party are grappling with internal divisions. Surveys suggest the FN will attract less than 20 per cent of the vote nationally in what would be its poorest showing since 2012, while the Socialists are polling only at about 10 per cent. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left party, Unbowed France, is predicted to win 15 per cent . Macron is reactivating the presidency — after Hollande’s inability to embody the role, it is as though the French are rediscovering this core institution of the fifth republic Luc Rouban, professor at Sciences Po Cevipof

A clear majority is not a given for Mr Macron. In most of France’s 577 constituencies, voters will face multiple confusing choices: some Socialist and Republican candidates are claiming to belong to the “presidential majority” even though they are not endorsed by REM.

They include Manuel Valls, former prime minister, who is running as a Socialist but has struck a deal with REM, which will now not field a candidate against him in his Evry constituency.

A brewing controversy may also taint the president’s flawless debut after it emerged that Richard Ferrand, the territorial cohesion minister who is a former Socialist MP and early supporter of Mr Macron, helped his partner buy a property when he was head of a non-profit insurance group in Britanny and employed his son as a parliamentary aide.

Every candidate garnering at least 12.5 per cent of the registered voters in the first round will qualify for the run-off round. In some constituencies, that means there could be three or four candidates in the second round. But the confusing array of candidates could play to Mr Macron’s advantage, says Mr Fourquet.

“More and more people who voted for Macron by default in the second round, to bar Le Pen from power, are now saying: ‘OK, let’s give him a chance’,” he says.