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French election: Macron to remain the decision-maker on foreign policy, EU enlargement “on autopilot”

Emanuel Macron; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The article has been updated.

The outcome of the second round of snap parliamentary elections in France indicates that the country will not significantly alter the current foreign policy course, including the position on the EU enlargement, EWB interlocutors say. They point out that it is unclear who will lead the new Government in Paris, but they believe that President Emmanuel Macron will continue to be the key decision-maker on foreign policy.

The left-wing coalition “New Popular Front” won the most seats in the election held on Sunday, whereas the centrist alliance “Together”, backed by Macron, won the second place. Contrary to the expectations, the far-right National Rally finished third. No coalition is even close to an overall majority.

Between the first round of the elections, won by the National Rally, and the second round, hundreds of left-wing and centrist candidates withdrew from the race to prevent the victory of the far-right coalition. It turns out that such a tactic has yielded results, but it remains unknown who will form the new Government and how long these negotiations will last.

The President of France called early parliamentary elections on 9 June, after it was clear that the National Rally won by far the most votes in the European Parliament election.

New Government to determine Macron’s manoeuvring space

Commenting on the impact of the election results, Pierre Mirel, a former Director of the Directorate-General for Enlargement at the European Commission, states for EWB that it is necessary to wait and see the program of the next Government.

“Since this morning, the air we breathe is obviously lighter after the defeat of the far-right party. However, as no majority has emerged at the National Assembly, France is ungovernable. To become functional, an agreement will need to be made between the most open parties on a common programme, even a minima, for the three years to come, until the next presidential election. Neither the Constitution nor the lack of practice and appetence will make the exercise easy. But there is no alternative to avoid chaos”, Pierre Mirel says.

He adds that it is, therefore, difficult to say what would be a common position on foreign policy, even more so regarding enlargement.

“I guess that a common republican front will give preference to national problems over foreign policy ones. Foreign policy has been a ‘reserved field’ of the president since de Gaulle. However, this is not in the Constitution but the result of the practice”, Pierre Mirel clarifies.

According to Mirel, now that President Macron has managed to save his camp in the new Assembly, he should be able to keep his hand on foreign policy.

“But his margin of manoeuvre will depend on the common programme agreed between the main parties”, Pierre Mirel concludes.

Loïc Tregoures, lecturer at the Université Catholique de Lille and the Institute for Advanced Studies in National Defence, expects no major changes of the French policy in these areas.

“Enlargement will be on autopilot because it is not a priority. No one will rush to stop Montenegro, for example. It is not the issue”, he says for EWB.

He also believes that Macron will remain the decision-maker in this area.

“Had the far right won, obviously they would have killed the enlargement. This is not the case here, so as far as there is no government or the government in place has no specific mandate in this area, President Macron can still be the one making the decisions”, Tregoures says.

He assesses that Macron will find enough people from the left-wing coalition to support the decisions he takes on the European level. Nevertheless, due to the unprecedentedly fragmented parliament, the positions that France takes will become more unpredictable in general .

“I can imagine that the parliament will demand a vote on certain issues. It can put France in a more difficult situation to make a decision. This means that, mostly, its influence will decrease and you will never know whether you can count on it”, Tregoures says.

Franz-Lothar Altmann, an independent German academic and professor of the international relations at the University of Bucharest, also stresses that in principle the President in France has the say in security and foreign politics, even if there is cohabitation which means if the Prime Minister is from the opposition.

“There will not be such a cohabitation, but the left wants the Prime Minister from their ranks. The question thus will be what kind of coalition will be formed and how strong the skeptical, anti-EU- and pro-Russian voices will be among the possible left-wing/middle coalition partners to the Macron group. This will, since Macron is in a weaker position now, also limit his activities in foreign politics in order to secure certain issues in domestic politics in the Parliament”, Franz-Lothar Altmann says for EWB.

Altmann adds that the more reluctant, even negative positions concerning enlargement may be more pronounced in the coalition. In any case, France, together with the Netherlands, is not at the forefront of the enlargement movement, he says.

What do French left-wing, right-wing and ruling parties think about the admitting of new members into the EU?

The largest party in the left-wing coalition, France Unbowed, led by veteran French political figure Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is known for its heavy criticism of Brussels. Mélenchon argues that the EU has become corrupt because of the neoliberal policies it pursues.

He also opposes the admission of new members until new criteria for “social harmonisation” in the Union are adopted, although he calls some candidate countries – Serbia and Montenegro – “good friends of France”.

On the other hand, Jordan Bardella, leader of the far-right National Rally, is openly opposed to EU enlargement. Bardella, among other things, publicly accused Macron of wanting to expand the 27-member EU by admitting ten more states, including Turkey.

Macron himself has largely revised his stance on the enlargement of the Union in recent years.

Five years ago, President of France was openly opposed to further enlargement of the EU, stressing that he rejected any enlargement before a deep institutional reform of the EU took place. He continues to insist on reforming the EU, but since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, that is, since February 2022, he has argued that it is necessary to speed up the enlargement process and has repeatedly warned of the danger of “enlargement fatigue”.

At the initiative of France, a new enlargement methodology was adopted at the beginning of 2020. In September 2023, the Franco-German working group published the proposals of experts for the reform of EU institutions in order for it to be ready for the admission of new members. The European Council recently invited the European Commission to propose concrete steps in this area by next year.

Marija Stojanović, Aleksandar Ivković

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