For Emmanuel Macron, Fight for France Is Just Beginning


In a country already nervous about the game-changing economic reforms Mr. Macron is proposing, both Ms. Le Pen of the National Front and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an ex-Trotskyite with ties to the Communist Party, will now have a powerful national platform to denounce them. They have all the tools to dominate in a political forum — the French National Assembly — where the gift of gab is often prized above all others. And they have already begun, hammering the record low turnout on Sunday.

The Macron camp is pondering who, in its horde of neophyte deputies, can stand up to these two lions. “We’re already thinking about who the leaders and orators will be, who will be able to take them on,” said Jean-Pierre Delevoye, a veteran in the Macron camp who chose the parliamentary candidates. “We’re already sharpening our weapons,” he said in an interview on Monday. But so is the other side.

“We are the only force of resistance to the dilution of France, to its social model and to its identity,” Ms. Le Pen declared Sunday night in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont, an economically depressed National Front stronghold, after winning a parliamentary seat there for the first time.

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Marine Le Pen, center, of the far-right National Front party, in a news conference on Monday in Henin-Beaumont.

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Denis Charlet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We will fight the government’s harmful plans with all of our strength,” she said. “They may have a big majority, but their ideas are absolutely in a minority in this country,” she continued. “The French will not support these plans to weaken our nation.”

Seven other members of Ms. Le Pen’s National Front were elected on Sunday, helping Ms. Le Pen stave off the predicted embarrassment of being the party’s sole parliamentary representative. Among them was her companion, Louis Aliot, who won in a far-south district in the Pyrenees.

It is far from the dream she once had of leading 100 or more deputies and of being, numerically, the principal opposition. That honor goes to the weakened and divided mainstream center-right parties, who have 130 deputies.

But Mr. Macron’s political movement, Republic on the Move, has 308 deputies, a score that leaves France’s traditional parties in the dust and constitutes a “revolution that since 1958 has no precedent,” a comment made by Le Figaro in a front-page editorial on Monday.

As he often does, Mr. Mélenchon sounded themes similar to Ms. Le Pen’s in his victory speech Sunday night from inner-city Marseille, where he parachuted in last spring to wrest a seat from an established Socialist parliamentarian and fellow leftist.

“I inform the new powers-that-be that not one meter of ground, in the domain of social rights, will be given up without a fight,” Mr. Mélenchon thundered. “This inflated majority in the National Assembly has no legitimacy,” he said, to “perpetrate the social-rights coup d’état that has been predicted.” He called for “total resistance” to “what this minority is proposing.”

Mr. Mélenchon’s France Unsubjugated movement won 17 seats, and the French Communist Party — which sometimes allies with his movement — won 10, giving the groups enough seats to form a much-prized parliamentary “group,” something Ms. Le Pen will be unable to do. (A minimum of 15 deputies is required to form a “group.”)

Groups in parliament receive state funding; their members are allowed to sit on important permanent parliamentary committees like those on laws and economic affairs; and they get more speaking time — a golden opportunity for orators like Mr. Mélenchon, whose redistributive stance has led to comparisons to Bernie Sanders.

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Marseille on Sunday after the polls closed.

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Anne-Christine Poujoulat/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Up against these two will be Mr. Macron’s green deputies, 91 percent of whom are entering Parliament for the first time and well over half of whom held no elective office at all last year. So untested and young are they — the youngest is a woman of 24 from the Savoy region — that they are all enrolled in a two-day training session on how to be a deputy this coming weekend. A record number of women were elected — 224 of the 577 deputies, or 36 percent, are women.

Mr. Macron may have held back the populist tide for now. But the scores he achieved in successive rounds of voting this spring do not leave much room for illusion, and indeed the mood in his camp was one of sobriety, not triumphalism, after the vote.

“There’s a France that’s impatient, that is facing major challenges,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told France 2 Television Sunday night. “We are being scrutinized carefully, and we are perfectly aware of it,” he said.

Mr. Macron got 24 percent in a first round of presidential voting in April against three opponents who all finished close behind. On Sunday, a record-breaking 57 percent of French voters boycotted the polls, leading to much anguished commentary in French media and questions about the legitimacy of Mr. Macron’s victory. And only two of his deputies elected Sunday received more than 30 percent of the registered voters in their districts, in Le Monde’s reckoning.

From Mr. Macron’s point of view, Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon will, at best, fill up airtime in Parliament. Le Monde argued that this could be relatively anodyne, reprising former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous dictum about J. Edgar Hoover that “it’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in,” the tent being, in this case, the ornate Palais-Bourbon, where the Assemblée Nationale sits.

But at worst, theirs will be the voices for the union and street opposition that is already gathering against Mr. Macron to oppose his proposed changes to France’s rigid and job-killing labor code. Both Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon suggested Sunday night that this is where they will be concentrating their fire in the months to come.

We will fight the new work law, which destroys the rights of employees,” Ms. Le Pen said, while Mr. Mélenchon warned against “the destruction of the entire social order, by this repeal of the labor code.”

The battle of ideas during the election campaign is far from over, in the view of Mr. Delevoye, the Macron camp veteran. “French society, in all its diversity, finds itself divided between those who are fearful of globalization, and those who want to undertake the adventure of the future,” he said. “What’s begun is a cultural change, which is moving from fear towards hope, and the liberty to create.”

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