Macron’s party in driving seat before election

(AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s party heads into the first round of parliamentary elections on Sunday looking set to win the majority he needs to push through his ambitious reforms.

A number of opinion polls give Macron’s Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party around 30 percent of the vote, which would put it in the driving seat to secure an absolute majority in the second round on June 18.

With Macron’s party siphoning off support from France’s traditional political forces on the left and the right — the Socialists of his predecessor Francois Hollande and the conversative Republicans — the elections could radically redraw the political map.

On Friday, the final day of campaigning before the first round, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe urged voters to back the new president.

“The question that the French people must answer on Sunday is: do they want to give the president and the government he named a sufficient majority to begin the work of turning around the country?” he said on Europe 1 radio.

Macron’s party could be heading for as many as 400 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, according to some polls, a crushing victory for a president who many observers were predicting just weeks ago might struggle to win a majority.

Philippe is a conservative in Macron’s multi-hued government that the 39-year-old centrist assembled in a bid to break with decades of tribalist left-right politics.

The prime minister’s party, the Republicans, complained Friday that such domination by REM could be harmful.

“I don’t think it would be healthy for the democratic debate over the next five years,” said Francois Baroin, who is leading the Republicans in the legislative polls.

Marine Le Pen’s National Front meanwhile could struggle to gain 15 seats nationally, a score that would be an additional humiliation for her after she was soundly beaten by Macron in the presidential election.

In one cloud on Macron’s horizon, his small centrist ally, the MoDem party was placed under preliminary investigation on suspicion of employing fake parliamentary assistants in the European Parliament.

The investigation comes with one of Macron’s ministers and a key supporter, Richard Ferrand, also being probed over suspicions he favoured his wife in a property deal with a public health insurance fund when he headed the company.

Macron’s party has brushed off the accusations against Ferrand as unfounded.

– In tune –

Polls appear to suggest that Macron is in tune with the wishes of French voters to see deep changes to the political class. Many of REM’s 530 candidates come from civil society and have never run for office before.

Macron’s reform agenda is broad. The key plank is to build on an overhaul of the labour market that the previous Socialist government began — measures that brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets last year.

The government has said it plans to fast-track legislation through parliament using executive decrees in a country where many see the cost of hiring and firing as a brake on growth.

Unemployment, the issue that dogged Hollande’s presidency, is around 10 percent.

Macron and Philippe have already held softly-softly initial talks with the unions about their proposed reforms, without apparently showing much of their hand.

– ‘Must convince Germany’ –

Internationally, Germany has welcomed Macron’s election as a chance to reinvigorate the European Union as Britain begins negotiations to leave the bloc — although Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to win an absolute majority in Thursday’s general election risks upsetting the Brexit timetable.

The time could also be ripe for Europe’s old power couple to renew their romance, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s relationship with US President Donald Trump clearly strained.

“Emmanuel Macron’s election gives Europe new, but fragile, hope,” said veteran international affairs commentator Dominique Moisi.

“Trump and Brexit could act as a catalyst for the Franco-German pairing.”

However, Macron must show France’s European partner that he can deliver, Moisi warned.

“France must first of all turn its intentions into actions to convince Germany that, this time, it will follow through on its reforms,” he added.

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