PARIS (AP) – Emmanuel Macron may have been weakened at home after parliamentary elections forced him into political maneuvering, but on the international stage, the French president has the resources to remain one of the world’s most influential leaders.
France’s foreign allies closely followed Sunday’s election, where Macron’s alliance won the most seats but lost its majority in the National Assembly, France’s most powerful parliament building.
The outcome has made life significantly more difficult for the 44-year-old centrist at home, making the execution of his agenda — such as pension changes and tax cuts — more difficult. Yet it is not expected to derail its international agenda in the near future.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Macron has been at the epicenter of international diplomacy and despite a historic shift in French politics and increasing polarization, experts say this is not expected to change.
“There will be much more contrast between the pressures he might have at home compared to his free rein abroad,” said Laurie Dundon, a France-based senior associate fellow with the European Leadership Network.
Macron, who is in Brussels for a two-day European Council summit, will head to Germany next week for the G-7 meeting and the week after to Spain for the NATO summit.
The French president has substantial powers in foreign policy, European affairs and defence. He is also the Commander in Chief of the country’s armed forces.
France has provided Ukraine with significant financial and military aid since the Russian invasion and has sent its troops to bolster European defenses on the eastern flank. During the spring presidential campaign, Macron rose in popularity for his leadership role in efforts to end the war: he favored increasingly tough sanctions against Moscow, while keeping an open line with Russian President Vladimir Putin and almost been in constant contact with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Macron, who won a second term in April against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, even traveled to Kiev in the week between the two rounds of voting earlier this month, along with other European leaders.
According to opinion polls, France’s support for Ukraine is very popular domestically, and opposition leaders have carefully avoided criticizing it.
The platform of the left-wing coalition led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which has become France’s main opposition force, explicitly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On the far right, Le Pen, long-standing ties with Russia, now says she supports a “free Ukraine”, while expressing reservations about arms transfers.
“Foreign policy is not an area where Le Pen or Mélenchon want to put their energies when they have so many domestic problems to challenge Macron on,” Dundon said.
“None of them want to get involved in the messiness of diplomacy over Russia and Ukraine,” she said.
The staunchly pro-European Macron, who was first elected in 2017, has never hidden his ambition for a leadership role in global diplomacy. His reelection in April cemented his position as a senior player in Europe as the country faces the war in Ukraine and its implications for the continent and beyond.
France’s strong presidential powers are a legacy of General Charles de Gaulle’s will to have a stable political system in the Fifth Republic he founded in 1958, following the post-World War II period of successions of short-lived, inefficient governments. .
The president represents the country abroad and meets with foreign heads of state and government. It is the prime minister, appointed by the president, who is accountable to parliament.
The National Assembly has negligible power over the president’s foreign agenda, although it keeps government spending in check.
“Parliament has not been asked to give its opinion on the shipment of arms to Ukraine, nor on France’s external operations, particularly in the Sahel, in the Middle East as part of the anti-ISIS coalition, or in Afghanistan,” Nicolas Tenzer, Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, wrote.
However, Parliament must approve an extension of these operations after four months, he stressed.
The emboldened opposition, both left and right, could use the power of parliament to force a debate. Every week, lawmakers have the right to question members of the government, but not the president, including on foreign policy. It is an opportunity to critique important issues.
But it is widely expected that the debate in France will remain focused on domestic policy.
As a sign that the president’s focus could at least temporarily shift to political realignment at home, Macron barely mentioned his international agenda on Wednesday when he delivered his first speech since the parliamentary election. He only briefly referred to the European meeting on Ukraine.
“I will have only one compass: that we move forward for the common good,” he told the French.
Surk reported from Nice, France.
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