Emmanuel Macron, the eighth president of the Fifth Republic, is decked in glory; around his head a halo you could easily mistake for a crown. Youth, acumen, charisma, and now, above all, power. Having nearly doubled the vote for his rival, Marine Le Pen, in round two of the presidentials, he is likely to see a sweeping endorsement for his party, La République en Marche, when the second round of voting for seats at the National Assembly takes place on Sunday.
Round one already seems to have locked REM’s parliamentary majority into position. There were early flutterings of Macronista hope as votes in 11 expatriate constituencies – where the ballots take place a week ahead of voting in France and its overseas territories – were declared. In North America, that’s to say the first constituency ‘des français établis hors de France’ – and don’t you love it? – voters came out against the centre-right MP who represents them in Paris, in favour of Macron. In Latin America, the Ecologist incumbent was run into the ground. In Berlin, an expat constituency all its own, the REM candidate trounced the Socialist incumbent. In Northern Europe (which includes French voters in the UK), the Socialist incumbent took fewer than 10 per cent of the ballots, REM’s candidate more than 60.
REM’s round one victory at home was resounding, and may earn it at least 400 seats. But abstention also hit record levels, at 51.29 per cent. I’m rummaging back in vain for anything comparable under the Fifth Republic. The only figures I can find are for elections to the European parliament: more than 59 per cent abstained in 2009. Four years earlier the French electorate had voted down the European Constitution and been snubbed; they were – and are – guarded about the EU.
Macron and REM are undissuaded Europeans. President and party are about to enjoy a moment of hegemony in France that will make opposition from left or right (and especially the far right) look like the mumblings of sectarian cults. Scores of REM top-performers will be sluiced into parliament like jubilant youngsters on a waterslide. An exhilarating moment, why deny it? The composition of the Assembly in 1981, after Mitterrand dissolved it and, in the elections that followed, voters flooded the Palais Bourbon with a ‘pink wave’, brought many new deputies into the national arena. Even so, as one constituency after another looks likely to fall to REM, there is local concern in 2017 that parliamentary novices who sound good in the chamber know nothing about the issues their predecessors got to grips with on the ground.
Macron is powering down the rapids to the tranquil pool of undisputed control even faster than he’d hoped to go. After Sunday he will be able to enact any legislation of his choosing. He already has a draft anti-terrorist law that would enshrine the rough-house security priorities of the state of emergency – which he wants to prolong until November – in the constitution.
He will, for sure, be able to push through further ‘fluidification’ of the French labour market and draw down collective bargaining rights in the workplace. On this there is hesitation in France: when is it better to be exploited and humiliated than not to be hired in the first place? It depends on who you are and what you can reasonably hope for. Macron is the president of market realism and if you failed to get it under Sarkozy and Hollande, now is the time to grasp the nettle. Liberté – in this case, the freedom to sell your labour at what you and your fellow workers regard as a just rate – has to be struck from the motto. It is already curtailed by global labour markets, the Macron argument runs, and French labour must acknowledge the fact.
So on two counts – security and labour laws – Macron is already the president of constraint. But will lack of freedom be available to all, or will it be selective? Surely Macron, who is set to rule like a king, will bestow this noble disadvantage on some, while others bow graciously as they retire from the audience feigning a sense of disappointment.