The French president has called a surprise election, the outcome of which could reduce his power in the world.


PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron could wake up Monday morning – if he slept at all – with clipped wings.

The second high stakes round of the parliamentary elections on sunday will almost certainly affect the French leader’s influence in the field of Defense and Foreign AffairsIt could undermine his role as an energetic and influential figure in European and global affairs and as one of Ukraine’s main financiers. the war against Russiasay retired French military officials and analysts of French defense and foreign policy.

After the centrist president’s bloc finished in a distant third place last weekend, behind the rising far-right bloc, first round of voting For a new parliament, one of the few certainties before the decisive second round on Sunday is that Macron himself cannot emerge from the elections strengthened.

With many of his candidates already out of the race, Macron’s camp will fall short of the absolute majority that gave him enough room to maneuver during his first term as president in 2017. It will also likely fall well short of the 245 seats it won after his re-election in 2022. That made it the largest single group — albeit without a clear majority — in the outgoing National Assembly that Macron dissolved on June 9, triggering the surprise election after the far right handed his alliance a stinging defeat in France’s vote for the European Parliament.

This means that there are likely to be two outcomes that will reveal themselves on Sunday evening into Monday, once the official results are known.

In one scenario, France could end up with a fragmented parliament and a prime minister too weak to seriously undermine Macron’s constitutionally guaranteed role as head of the armed forces and, more broadly, unable or unwilling to meaningfully challenge his defense and foreign policy powers. Yet even in this best-case scenario for Macron, France risks becoming inward-looking, focused more on its polarized and volatile domestic politics than on its place and military activities around the world.

In a second scenario, the worst-case scenario for Macron, the far-right camp could achieve a historic victory on Sunday, leaving the president with a heavy burden. Jordan Bardella as prime minister, in an uneasy and potentially contentious power-sharing arrangement. Bardella, 28, is a protégé of Marine Le-Penwho leads the far-right Rassemblement National party, with Bardella as its chairman. Both Le Pen and Bardella have made it clear that, if in power, they will want to keep Macron in check and have a say in decision-making on defense, Europe and foreign affairs.

The French constitution provides only limited answers to how the various scenarios could play out. Much of it could depend on the personalities of those involved and their ability to compromise, French analysts say.

Bardella’s ‘red lines’

While the Constitution says the president is commander in chief, it also says the prime minister “is responsible for national defense.”

During the campaign, Bardella laid out what he would call “my red lines” regarding Ukraine if he ended up sharing power with Macron: no more French deliveries of long-range weapons that Ukraine could use to attack targets in Russia, and no more troops sent. a scenario that Macron suggested this year. Bardella said he does not want nuclear-armed France to come into direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. His party has historically located close to Russia and Le Pen cultivated ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and for years supported Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Who would have the final say in potential discussions about long-range weapons for Kiev is “actually a tricky question,” said François Heisbourg, a French analyst on defense and security issues at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“The president can probably do it if he wants to, but the prime minister can also say he can stop the president from doing it,” he says. “It could be a stalemate.”

“If they disagree with each other, they can actually prevent each other from doing something.”

Power-sharing is not new in France. But in previous cases, the president and prime minister have not been as politically opposed as Macron and Bardella.

“No one has yet attempted to test these respective forces to their ultimate conclusion. This is completely uncharted territory,” says Heisbourg.

Le Pen and Macron exchange shots

On the military front, Le Pen has already fired a warning shot, describing Macron’s role as commander in chief as “an honorary title for the president, since the prime minister is the one who holds the purse strings.” Macron responded: “What arrogance!”

Retired French Vice Admiral Michel Olhagaray, former head of the French Center for Advanced Military Studies, is concerned that what he describes as the constitutional “haze” over shared military responsibilities could spread through the ranks of the country’s armed forces.

Conflicting power-sharing could be “something extremely painful for the armies, to know who the armies will obey. Very painful, very difficult,” he says.

“In any case, the President of the Republic can no longer take personal initiatives, such as launching a (military) operation, etc., because this requires an agreement with the Prime Minister.”

Because the French military operates across the globe, with troops stationed on the eastern flank of the NATO alliance, in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, any changes in the setup of a power-sharing government will undoubtedly be closely watched by France’s international network of allies and partners.

“They will all ask: ‘But what happens? How will this evolve? What will become of France? Will France honour its commitments?’” Olhagaray says.

But analysts say the French nuclear powers should not be hit. The president keeps the nuclear codes, not least to ensure the arsenal retains its credibility as a deterrent by making sure potential enemies understand that a decision to strike is not made by a committee.

France looks inward

If Sunday’s vote fails to produce a clear majority for a single bloc, lawmakers may have to do something that is not traditional in France: form a coalition government. Because the prime minister at the helm needs broad consensus in parliament to keep the government from collapsing, that person is more likely to be a weakened junior partner in a power-sharing deal with Macron.

“The president will have much more control,” said retired General Dominique Trinquand, a former head of the French military mission to the United Nations.

In a coalition government, it can take time to reach consensus on difficult foreign policy issues, such as whether to significantly increase aid to Ukraine. Moreover, divisive issues can be shelved.

“The room for manoeuvre would become smaller,” says Frédéric Charillon, professor of political science at Paris Cité University.

“In France, we are much more used to this kind of presidential system of monarchical foreign policy, where the president says, ‘I will do this, I will do that.’”

But in the power-sharing arrangement with a new prime minister that Macron now faces, “it cannot be done that way.”

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