France Takes Uncharted Path as Snap Vote Delivers Deadlock

(Bloomberg) -- France’s political class is drawing breath after a turbulent parliamentary election as officials prepare to begin in earnest negotiations over the next government.

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Many new lawmakers from the left-wing alliance that came first in Sunday’s vote were focused on hiring advisers and moving into their offices in the National Assembly on Monday. President Emmanuel Macron met with lawmakers from his party as representatives from across the political spectrum take stock of the situation.

Macron’s decision to call a snap election after a crushing defeat to the far right in European elections last month has cost him control of the French parliament. But with the lower house split between three antagonist blocs, it’s unclear who will be able to lead the next government.

With 178 out of 577 seats, the leftists of the New Popular Front may get to make the first move and Senator Yannick Jadot, touted as a potential premier, told Franceinfo that the group is aiming to nominate a candidate in the next few days.

“We will propose a government this week,” said Jadot, who represents the Greens within the left-wing grouping. “We need a prime minister who is consensual within our group, brings calm to the country, who can find majorities around a certain number of major reforms the country needs.”

The problem is that the candidate will almost certainly need to win support from Macron’s group, which has 156 lawmakers in the National Assembly. Both groups, or at least parts of both groups, will need to get as close as possible to the magic figure of 289 votes that constitutes an absolute majority to adopt legislation.

That’s going to put pressure on the New Popular Front, which also includes the Socialists and the far-left France Unbowed. Jean-Luc Melenchon, the fiery leader of France Unbowed, is extremely reluctant to cooperate any further with Macron’s centrists — the feeling is mutual.

The two groups though did coordinate strategy for the second round on Sunday by pulling weaker candidates to avoid splitting the vote. The tactical positioning pushed Marine Le Pen’s far right into third place, with the National Rally winning 143 seats despite leading nationwide after the first round.

The coming negotiations are likely to put strain on all of the parties involved as they consider the compromises required to form a functioning government.

In an interview on LCI late Monday, Melenchon called for an end to any quarreling within the leftist alliance, saying the parties will come up with a potential candidate for prime minister this week. The France Unbowed leader threw his hat in the ring, while also proposing other potential candidates from his party.

“I feel capable and would hold the line,” he said. “I’m part of the solution, not the problem.”

Trouble is, other members of the alliance have made it clear they don’t want Melenchon as their candidate for premier.

Meanwhile, in a sign of other tensions still to come, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who appears ready to break away from Macron’s party to mount a run for the presidency in 2027, held a separate meeting with lawmakers from the president’s party. Gabriel Attal, Macron’s 35-year-old prime minister, has also been keen to emphasize that it was not his decision to hold snap elections, but solely Macron’s.

Another solution would be to bring together a broader range of lawmakers from the center-right to the center-left to govern. That would actually reflect Macron’s tack to the right. Since the president has lost his absolute majority in the lower house in 2022, he has often been passing legislation thanks to the support of conservatives.

A key centrist backer, Francois Bayrou, advocated the creation of such a coalition. In an interview on LCI TV late Monday he said a broad alliance that excluded the far right and the far left is the only long-lasting way out of the current quagmire.

“There is no other solution than the one that I have described,” he said, calling the leftist alliance’s economic pledges “dangerous.”

Xavier Bertrand, the head of the Hauts-de-France region in the north, told Bloomberg that such a coalition would be able to address issues like public order, the cost of living and public services which are at the heart of voter discontent.

“There’s a large majority of French people who are angry,” he said, possibly positioning himself as a contender to be prime minister. “What we really need is people who will try to bring us together, whatever our differences. There are more important things than political parties.”

Agnes Pannier-Runacher, the junior agriculture minister, proposed a similar solution and said that the president’s party has to acknowledge that supporters of the left-wing alliance had helped them prevent a far-right victory. Even though they disagree on many issues,Macron needs to recognize that, she said.

“I know a certain number of those who voted for me did it to block the National Rally,” Pannier-Runacher said on Sunday night. “I know this cause was very important for many people and I want to thank them. I feel responsible toward these voters.”

Monday offered a moment of respite after a rollercoaster campaign that saw angry demonstrations on the streets and hundreds of billions of euros wiped off the value of French financial markets. But there was still a sense that France is not yet in the clear.

“Electoral deals and arrangements between Melenchon and Macron have stopped us getting a majority,” said Jordan Bardella, the president of Le Pen’s National Rally. “I have enormous difficulty seeing how Macron can keep going for three years in this situation, where everything’s blocked.”

One Socialist party member joked that if the situation looks too peaceful then the president might just appoint Melenchon as prime minister to stir things up again.

--With assistance from James Regan and Tara Patel.

(Updates with comments from Melenchon in 10th and 11th and Bayrou in 15th and 16th paragraphs.)

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