Text by J.W.E. Scott
2022’s presidential election in France was in many obvious ways a repeat of the 2017
showing. The same two candidates made it to the final round, and the sitting president
Emmanuel Macron won convincingly yet again. While Marine Le Pen has seen increasing
support from a growing number of disenfranchised right-wing voters, there was another bloc
on the left wing that has since been less discussed, but could be just as crucial as the right
wing in proposing a real opposition to the entrenched French president.
The man responsible for this converse bloc on the French Left is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who
heads the La France Insoumise party. This year he very narrowly missed out on second place
in the presidential elections to Le Pen. That second place again was so valuable, as it allowed
Le Pen and the Right to position themselves as the popular and legitimate alternative to
Macron, while the French Left has remained fragmented by infighting and unpopular
candidates for near-on a decade now.
Mélenchon believes that the problem with Macron, who purportedly sits in the centre (if there
is one in French politics), is that he is drawing in too many voters from the Left and the
Right, acting a pragmatic buffet against the more ideological camps on either side. The Left
and the Right both want Macron out, as Le Pen has attempted to do in two presidential
elections. However, while Le Pen was unsuccessful in both presidential elections, Jean-Luc
Mélenchon is now rising up as a figurehead of the French left to block Macron in parliament
In the emergency weeks since the election, Macron has further cemented power with the
removal of prime minister Jean Castex, while Mélenchon has cobbled together an alliance of
left-leaning parties from the Greens to the Communist Party, in a coalition of convenience. It
is in Mélenchon’s belief, and clearly in the minds of the other party leaders, that left-leaning
candidates have been desperately trying and failing in their attempt to overcome Macron
through victory individually. While François Hollande of the Socialist Party was able to
defeat Nicolas Sarkozy after the latter’s downfall through corruption, scandal, and sleaze, he
was still not able to unite the French left after his own years of inefficiency and unpopular
legislation, not least of which led to the creation of the Gillets-Jaunes movement. He failed
even as president to unite the Left behind him, and his failure opened the door for a candidate
like Macron to take power.
This situation has represented the Left in modern France for many years now. They lack the
popularity in their candidates or in their policies to unite the demographics of France, even if
they have a naturally strong base in the youth vote. Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of
Paris, came into the presidential race with big promises and a media hype machine behind
her, yet managed a miserable 2% of the vote in the first round: a classic showcase of the
chasm of divide between Paris and the provincial voters.
Therefore Mélenchon and his party have followed the old adage of “the enemy of my enemy
is my friend”. The Left, or at least their representatives, hate Macron, and their own lack of
cohesion (especially in policies regarding energy, the EU, and immigration) has enabled the
president to run riot with a variety of domestic and foreign policy. This has ranged from
spontaneous and draconian reactions to the COVID-19 Pandemic, to targeted tax hikes that
punish traditional labour workers for the very nature of their profession.
What this all leads to is a situation whereby, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Left and
the far Left can actually halt their infighting briefly to combat Macron in parliament, if not in the presidency. They are putting forward a deal whereby, during the French parliamentary
elections that occur in June, their separate parties are represented by one united candidate.
Their hope would be that these coalition candidates will hoover up enough of the left-wing
vote to properly challenge Macron and the Right (whom through Le Pen have already worked
out this united strategy, at least in theory) in parliament. Their dream scenario would see
them with a majority and the ability to block bill after bill, halting Macron’s legislative
power. This has not been the case for quite many years, and has allowed Macron to operate as
the most authoritative French president since Charles de Gaulle. The sitting and re-elected
president has held control over parliament throughout his first term, which is unheard of in
the Fifth Republic.
France’s political system operates differently to that of most other European systems. It
attempts to give enough power to the president that he/she (but in France’s case, always he)
can override a disunited parliament and continue pushing legislation. This has been the case
since the days of de Gaulle, who reformed the current system this way as a way of governing
the “ingouvernable”. It is this system that has aided Macron in his pushing for mandated
universal vaccination, a wildly fluctuating relationship with Britain and the USA, and his
own desires for an autonomous EU army.
With Mélenchon’s post-election rise to figurehead of the Left, and the growing number of
right-wing voters seeing Marine Le Pen as the only viable option to counter Macron, this
uneasy alliance may eventually achieve its goals in slowing down Macron’s political
steamroller, at the cost of an even more extremist political landscape than was already seen in 2017. What we may now see is a political landscape of ever-widening gaps, with Mélenchon
grasping from the Left, Le Pen grasping from the Right, and a tug-of-war that is only going to
get ever more desperate in the coming months. It is these next few months that will dictate
the way Macron’s next five years will go.