Following the second round of the French parliamentary elections on Sunday, June 19, the old French saying “à la guerre comme à la guerre,” which expresses the futility of escaping the reality of war, could well be changed to “à l’élection comme à l’élection.”

Sunday’s vote saw Macron’s Ensemble Citoyens bloc – comprised of the Renaissance, The Democratic Movement, Horizons, Agir, Territories of Progress, The Radical Party, En Commun, and The Progressive Federation parties – win 245 seats, falling 44 mandates short of securing an absolute majority in the French legislature.

The President’s key opponents – far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s NUPES bloc and far-right Marine Le Pen’s National Assembly – came in second (131 seats) and third (90) respectively, rendering a significant blow to Macron’s hopes of running the country singlehandedly.

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While not fully unexpected, and with multiple observers warning of Mélenchon’s rising prominence and Le Pen’s strong performance in the second round of the 2022 presidential election, the result still has a taste of suddenness to it.

Firstly, because Le Pen’s National Rally dramatically increased the number of seats it holds in the Assembly, defying earlier projected wins of 20-40 mandates.

Secondly, in the early 2000s, France carried out a set of reforms intended to preclude a situation

known as co-habitation, where the President and Prime Minister are political opponents – something Paris is no stranger to. In the 1980s, for instance, Socialist President Francois Mitterrand had to ‘cohabitate’ with his center-right political opponent Jacques Chirac, who later became President of France.

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The good news for Macron is that due to the lackluster performance of NUPES, which was expected to receive up to 200 seats, Mélenchon will likely not replace current Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, who formally submitted her resignation June 21, a scenario that would have been akin to a horror show for Macron’s centrist, pro-EU government.

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However, the fact that the far-right and far-left together won over 220 seats suggests that Macron is still facing a co-habitation of some sort, regardless of whether the opposition manages to take down Borne and vote in a new premier.

And even though Le Pen and Mélenchon are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they share several things in common, neither of which bode well for Macron or Ukraine, not least because the two radical politicians are both highly Euroskeptic.

Before the recent presidential election in France, Mélenchon floated the idea of withdrawing from EU treaties, “which block us,” and has also resorted to anti-EU rhetoric on many occasions.

In 2017, a French journalist and former managing editor of Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrède, described Melenchon as “essentially a nationalist, despite his internationalist credo.”  He is also sympathetic to “autocratic strongmen such as Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chávez, which cannot be easily swept aside as if these were just missteps in an otherwise promising platform,” she added.

And with good reason.

In 2015, he made several fiery and deeply anti-Ukrainian remarks, describing the Ukrainian situation as “the disintegration of a country that is struggling to be one.” He also dubbed the unilateral annexation of Crimea by Russia as “legitimate”.

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Similarly, Le Pen has despised the EU for decades, claiming among other things that membership undermines the concept of sovereignty, which is central to her vision of France’s role in Europe and beyond.

She is also known for her close, years-long ties with Russia and her justification of Crimea’s annexation, despite recent attempts to distance herself from Putin and his decision to launch a full-scale war in Ukraine.

The fact that both of these politicians supported Macron in his endeavor to “avoid humiliating Russia” over Ukraine – a move viewed as exceptional in their otherwise overwhelming critique of the incumbent French president – only underscores their sympathy toward Moscow.

Although Le Pen and Mélenchon are unlikely to join forces to compete with Macron’s bloc in the National assembly, there is no real need for them to do so. Both are content to breathe down his neck in their own ways, pressuring him to shift the focus away from foreign policy and EU leadership matters to internal affairs, putting social well-being and the cost-of-living crisis to the fore. Both parties entered the mainstream of French politics in part due to the 2018 yellow vests movement, which brought together a motley crew of dissatisfied citizens willing to take to the streets now and again.

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For Ukraine, these circumstances are worrying, as they could jeopardize the EU’s sanction policy and undermine Macron’s attempts to take the reins in the EU. The incumbent French President might be regarded as too soft on Putin in Ukraine and most of the Anglosphere, yet by French standards, he is still largely anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian.

His support of Ukraine’s EU integration path is likewise encouraging. If Euroskeptics Mélenchon or Le Pen start challenging him in that domain, as Russia keeps putting pressure on the EU through gas and global famine blackmail, he might soften his determination to help Kyiv pursue its geopolitical goals.

However, the possible alignment of Macron’s bloc with the Republicans (64 seats) could serve as an option for the French President to mitigate Mélenchon and Le Pen’s influence in the National Assembly.

While so far the “Republicans” have emphasized that they do not wish to enter coalition talks and would prefer staying in the opposition, there is a chance that they will have their minds changed soon.

The one-time ruling party represented by former President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-PM François Fillon has been steadily losing support in the last decade and needs a boost from the voters, which could lead to them raising their bargaining stakes and eventually ending up in the current government.

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In this scenario, Macron would end up with an ideologically more acceptable ally, yet still prone to Russian influence. Fillon, for example, was appointed as a member of the board of the Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft in 2021. Although he resigned in protest over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, old habits – especially habits of Russian financial dependency – die hard in many EU states.

Still, the National Assembly’s new composition, albeit a more politically-challenging one than before, is not all doom and gloom for Macron – or Ukraine.

Both Le Pen and Mélenchon will certainly make everyone’s life more difficult, adding a touch of unpredictability to the French policy in many respects.

The only question which remains to be answered is to what degree, how.

And when.

 

 

 

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