On 27 June, the newly-elected French National Assembly convened for the first time. Amazingly, for three quarters of its members (around 450 MPs), it was their first time sitting in the hemicycle of the Palais Bourbon.
This turnover rate of parliamentarians is unprecedented in modern French political history; indeed it is remarkable by any international comparison.
While there is much to celebrate about this new Parliament, compared to the one it replaces – it is younger (with an average age of 49), more gender balanced (containing 224 female MPs compared to 155), and draws its members from a wider range of backgrounds – there is also considerable reason to be concerned about the lack of political experience of all those new enthusiastic, but inexperienced MPs.
As most of the new MPs are part of the President’s La République en Marche (LRM) majority in parliament, this lack of political experience could become a liability for Macron as he implements his reforms.
Highly aware of the risks, Macron has placed an experienced, trusted person at the head of the parliamentary group: Richard Ferrand, who initially served as his Minister for Social and Territorial Cohesion, and a two-term parliamentarian. Mr Ferrand, despite being under investigation over a controversial property deal, was unanimously elected as president of the majority in parliament. As such, he will have the arduous task of shepherding the new MPs of the centrist party through the bureaucracy of the French parliament, helping them get a handle on the casework of their constituents, and dealing with their complaints about the government’s action while whipping votes to push through the reforms. Mr Ferrand’s work will not be easy and could become harder come the autumn.
So far, Macron and his government have been spared by the third component in French politics: la rue, the streets, but he can’t count on that lasting
By happy coincidence of the calendar, the electoral cycle in France finishes just before the legendary grand vacance, when demonstrations are rare. Freshly elected on a platform of hope, Macron is also enjoying a period of grace and of goodwill from social partners, such as trade unions, many, but not all, of whom appear ready to negotiate.
But some of the coming reforms will not go down smoothly. If the plan to ‘moralise’ politics to restore public confidence in the democratic process, which was designed by François Bayrou during his brief stay as Minister of Justice, are supported by a majority of population, Macron’s labour law reform, in its early stages but already controversial, could bring crowds out in the street as discussion progresses and parliament prepares to vote on it in the autumn.
Untested by the pressure of the streets, new MPs of the governing party, despite being selected on a mandate to vote through Macron’s reforms, may find difficult to vote for and defend publicly those reforms that prove unpopular with their constituents.
Macron no doubt remembers from his time as economy minister the significant public and parliamentary opposition that greeted former labour minister Myriam El-Khomri’s attempts at reform in 2016. He would certainly not want a repeat of the strikes and the demonstrations organised by then by trade unions and student groups, which paralysed the country that spring and gave such a platform to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the unexpected success of the presidential poll and now leader of his own opposition faction in parliament.
Macron and his government are, therefore, racing against time to push through the first part of the labour law before the end of the summer. Whatever happens during the long break, by the autumn, Macron and his centrist party’s resolve to reform France will be tested.