A new wave of lawmakers promises to upend the French political order

A few months ago, Mathilde Hignet, 29, spent most of her time accounting for her parents’ apple cider and potato farm in Brittany.

She is now one of 302 new faces in France’s National Assembly, which has 577 members, after a legislative election that deprived President Emmanuel Macron of a majority and undermined the country’s political order.

“I may not know all the right codes of political behavior, but people are reassured to see that I speak like them,” said Hignet, who ran under a left-wing banner in a northeastern constituency. west where she narrowly beat the candidate of Macron’s centrist party. .

By choosing these new lawmakers for parliament, French voters sent a disconcerting message just two months after giving Macron a second term. Amid high abstention rates, they elected historically large blocs of far-right and far-left MPs and just 245 for the president’s alliance, raising the risk of a stalemate unless Macron can withdraw the deputies to reach the 289 votes necessary to pass his program.

Riding on powerful anti-Macron sentiments, opposition parties have tapped into latent discontent over the rising cost of living and exposed deep divisions between cities and rural areas and between winners and losers of society who have often expressed themselves in the street – as in the yellow vests 2018 events.

Mathilde Hignet, new French MP, who ran under a left-wing banner in Brittany

The end result is a younger, socially diverse parliament that will be much harder for Macron to ride as he did for much of his first term when he had an absolute majority. It will also test the French political class, which is not as accustomed to parliamentary negotiations seen in other European countries, and where all parties will have their eye on winning the presidency in 2027 when Macron is gone. .

The president claimed to be a troublemaker himself when he ran as “neither left nor right” to win the 2017 presidential election, accompanied by a group of MPs that included more political novices and women than ever. But the former investment banker has governed from the top down and his strongest support this year has come from voters over 70.

The composition of the new promotion underlines significant changes in the National Assembly for two decades, including an increase in the number of workers, according to a study by the University Cevipof-Sciences Po.

These include Rachel Keke, a cleaner at a hotel who helped lead a strike against her employer, hotel group Accor, near Paris and won better pay and conditions. Born in Ivory Coast, Keke is one of 131 deputies elected for the Nupes alliance of green, socialist and far-left forces led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Rachel Keke of the leftist party La France Insoumise arrives at the National Assembly
Rachel Keke of the left-wing party La France Insoumise arrives at the National Assembly © Thomas Padilla/AP

And Jorys Bovet, a 29-year-old delivery driver, won one of 89 seats won by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) in a rural town in central France.

Although more than half of lawmakers are still executives and knowledge workers, they are fewer than in 2017, when Macron came to power. The average age in the new National Assembly is 48.5 years against 47 years in 2017 and 55 years in 2007, according to the analysis of Cevipof-Sciences Po, below the European average of 53 years.

“The RN has always trusted young people,” said Jordan Guitton, 27, winner in the Aube constituency in eastern France for the far-right party. “It sends a signal to our constituents that we are close to them and their concerns, and that we are always planning for the future.”

Guitton, whose family owned a local auto repair business, is part of a generation of far-right activists who have built a presence locally but have struggled to break through nationally — until now. He said the RN’s newfound strength in the National Assembly was a step towards “eliminating the establishment class” and taking the party to power in 2027.

The RN’s grassroots campaign by candidates who said they shared people’s frustrations with rising fuel prices or poor transport links in rural areas helped the eurosceptic, anti-immigration party boost its score only eight seats last time.

Annick Cousin, who was a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital near the south-west town of Agen, said she now wanted to relay these local concerns as a newly elected RN parliamentarian.

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“My job was to receive people in the hospital who are often in great distress, so you have to take the time to listen to them,” the 48-year-old said of her job. “I will listen to people and take what they tell me to the National Assembly.”

Macron’s first test will be a set of anti-inflation measures he plans to present to Parliament this summer that aim to ease the problems of struggling households with measures such as energy bill rebates and checks food.

However, the various opposition parties want their proposals to be included, such as eliminating gasoline taxes or increasing the minimum wage. Reaching an agreement without adding too much to the bill could still prove difficult.

“Macron always pulls out the checkbook when we need structural reforms,” ​​said Christelle d’intorni, a lawyer and first parliamentarian in a southern constituency for the conservative Les Républicains party. The centre-right won 61 seats and represents a key bloc that Macron will have to woo.

Jordan Guitton, new French deputy of the National Rally
Newly elected lawmaker Jordan Guitton said the RN’s new strength in the National Assembly was a step towards “riding the class of the establishment”.

But forging a consensus will not be easy because it is not necessarily in the political interests of the parties to help advance Macron’s agenda even when they agree with his proposals.

“In the next five years, we will see the emergence on the national scene of new political figures from left and right, as we saw the young guard of Macron’s allies in 2017,” said Bruno Cautrès, political scientist at Sciences Po.

“They’ll want to make their mark by acting as a strong opposition, so it’s hard to see why they would want to cooperate with the government’s agenda.”

Another of the new parliamentarians, Antoine Léaument, wants to shake up the tactics in the assembly in another way. A former communications intern at Mélenchon, the 32-year-old plans to share his daily life via YouTube to lay out the workings of the “secret” institution, in the vein of social media-savvy Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the public. United States.

“If I manage to be the French Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I would be very proud,” said Léaument.