France’s Macron, troubled at home, remains the world’s leading player

PARIS (AP) – Emmanuel Macron may be weak at home after parliamentary elections may force him into political maneuvering, but the French president has the resources to remain one of the world’s most influential leaders on the international stage.

France’s foreign allies closely watched Sunday’s elections where Macron’s coalition won the most seats but lost its majority in the National Assembly, France’s most powerful parliament.

The result has made life at home for the 44-year-old centrist significantly more difficult, making it more difficult to implement his agenda – such as pension changes and tax cuts. Yet their international agenda is not expected to be derailed in the immediate future.

Macron has been at the center of international diplomacy since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and, despite a historic shift in French politics and increasing polarization, experts say this is unlikely to change.

“There will be a huge difference between the pressure they feel at home compared to their free rein abroad,” said Laurie Dundon, a France-based senior associate fellow at the European Leadership Network.

Macron, who is in Brussels for a two-day European Council summit, will travel to Germany for the G-7 meeting next week and, a week later, to Spain for the NATO summit.

The President of France has substantial powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defence. He is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the country.

Since the Russian invasion, France has provided Ukraine with significant financial and military aid and has sent its troops to its eastern side to strengthen Europe’s defenses. During the presidential campaign in the spring, Macron’s popularity grew because of his leadership role in efforts to end the war: he supported tougher sanctions against Moscow, keeping an open line with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Ukrainian President Be in constant touch. Volodymyr Zelensky.

Macron, who won a second term in April against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, even traveled to Kyiv earlier this month in the week between two rounds of votes with other European leaders.

France’s support for Ukraine is widely popular at home, according to opinion polls, and opposition leaders have cautiously refrained from criticizing it.

The platform of the Left Coalition, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which has become France’s main opposition force, is clearly in favor of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Farther away, Le Pen, who has long had ties to Russia, now says she supports a “free Ukraine”, expressing reservations on arms deliveries.

“Foreign policy is not an area where either Le Pen or Mélancheon want to spend their energy, when they have too many domestic issues to challenge Macron,” Dundon said.

“None of them want to engage in a diplomatic mess over Russia and Ukraine,” she said.

First elected in 2017, the staunchly pro-European Macron has never hidden his ambition for a leadership role in global diplomacy. His re-election in April cemented his position as a senior player in Europe as it faces war in Ukraine and the consequences on the continent and beyond.

France’s strong presidential powers are a legacy from the will of General Charles de Gaulle, who, in the Fifth Republic established in 1958, had a stable political system, the period after World War II experienced a succession of short-lived, inefficient governments.

The President represents the country abroad, meeting with foreign heads of states and governments. It is the Prime Minister, appointed by the President, who is accountable to the Parliament.

The National Assembly has negligible power over the President’s foreign agenda, although it exercises control over government spending.

“Parliament has not been asked to voice its opinion on arms dispatches to Ukraine, nor on France’s external operations, particularly in the Sahel, as part of an anti-ISIS coalition in the Middle East, or in Afghanistan,” Nicolas Tanzer, Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

However, Parliament should give its authority to extend these functions after four months, he insisted.

Enthusiastic opposition, left and right, may try to use the power of Parliament to force a debate. Every week, lawmakers are entitled to question members of the government – but not the president – about foreign policy. This is an opportunity to raise criticism on important issues.

But the debate in France is expected to remain largely focused on domestic policies.

In a sign that the president’s focus may shift, at least temporarily, to political reparations at home, Macron hardly mentioned his international agenda when delivering his first speech since parliamentary elections on Wednesday. He only briefly mentioned the European meeting focused on Ukraine.

“I will have only one compass: that we proceed for the common good,” he said to the French.

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Surak reported from Nice, France.

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