PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron lost his absolute majority in Parliament on Tuesday, after seven members of his party decamped to form a new group focused on environmental concerns.
The defecting lawmakers, largely from the more liberal side of Macron’s camp, did not directly take issue with his coronavirus response, but articulated a more radical vision of what should come next.
“Nothing should be the same after covid-19,” the group, which calls itself Ecology, Democracy, Solidarity, said in a statement on Tuesday. “This test, a real sanitary, societal and economic hurricane, violently revealed all the flaws and limits of our development model, maintained for decades.”
The group said it sees in the eventual aftermath of the pandemic an opportunity to exert more leverage in favor of a green policy agenda — “a strong ambition of social and ecological transformation.”
“Faced with the immense challenges of climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, mass unemployment, we must change our lifestyles,” the statement read.
The group includes 17 representatives: seven members Macron’s party, nine former members of his party and one from another party.
A spokesman for Macron’s party attacked the defectors for their timing.
“I do not understand the timing or the objective of this group,” Sylvain Maillard told France’s Europe 1 radio station Tuesday afternoon. “We are in the midst of a health crisis; the French have nothing to do with the creation of a ninth group in the Assembly.”
As president, Macron has sought to promote himself as an environmentalist and a champion of the Paris climate accord. In recent months, his ministers told Air France that its bailout money would be conditioned on an agreement to cut carbon emissions. His government also has offered incentives to get more people biking and keep car emissions low after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
But Macron’s earlier effort to increase France’s fuel tax was shot down by “yellow vest” protesters, who argued that working-class people outside the main cities were being asked to make all the sacrifices to meet climate change goals.
Macron has been criticized from the left before. Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot abruptly quit in 2018, accusing the government of having a lax approach to tackling climate change that favored grandiose declarations instead of concrete actions.
Tuesday’s defectors combined both of those critiques.
One of the defecting deputies described the impetus for the new faction as a way to bridge the gap between urban and rural France, a tension at the heart of recent upheavals.
“We believe there’s an urgent need to push for ecological transition projects but also to foster solidarity within our country,” Emilie Cariou, a member of the new faction, told Radio 1. “In Emmanuel Macron’s original project, there was ‘liberate and protect.’ Liberate, we did. On the other hand, ‘protecting’ is obviously not there.”
Looking ahead to the 2022 elections, Macron has used the pandemic as a chance to rebrand himself as a more compassionate president and to assure the public that the institutions of France’s generous welfare state will be well maintained throughout the public health crisis. But the fact that the revolt came from the left of Macron’s party suggests that his own faction viewed those promises as hollow, said Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist based at Sciences Po in Paris.
“This comes from the left of La République en Marche at the very moment Macron says he wants to embark on a more social agenda,” Cautrès said. “It means that these people don’t believe the state will really adhere to that social turn.”
Political power in France has traditionally shifted between a center-left and a center-right coalition. But when he ran for the presidency in 2017, Macron created a brand new party, styled as “neither right nor left.” He handpicked each deputy, promising what he called a centrist “revolution,” a French Third Way. It is not a coincidence that the party’s name, La République En Marche (“Republic on the Move”), includes Macron’s initials.
The party now has 288 seats in France’s 577-seat National Assembly, a decrease from 308 after he was elected.
Despite the loss of its previously commanding majority, the party probably will be able to move forward with the support of another centrist faction, Mouvement Démocrat (Modem), which has typically supported Macron in the past. There is also the potential to court center-right deputies from France’s other mainstream conservative parties, who are considered Macron-compatible.
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