Analysis: The fragmented left in France poses a new risk for Macron

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  • Mélenchon calls for a broad left-wing alliance
  • For the moment, Macron’s allies seen with the majority in the Assembly
  • But seek to extend their appeal to the environment

LILLE, France, April 26 (Reuters) – Left-wing French voters have helped Emmanuel Macron eliminate the far-right, at least for now. The question is whether he can keep enough on board to give him the solid majority in parliament he needs to make his presidency work.

Their hearts and minds will be a key battleground in June’s National Assembly elections as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the undisputed leader of the left after his third-place finish in the presidential race, seeks to lure them to his side.

Quentin Guenard, a 19-year-old law student in Lille, in the north of the country, is one of those voters who supported Macron for the presidency “without being a fervent supporter” but who are now toying with the idea of ​​giving their vote in Melenchon.

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“I’m totally torn,” Guenard told Reuters, saying it was a draw between Macron’s centrist movement and Melenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise party.

“I really hope that Emmanuel Macron will listen to some of the ideas of his rivals,” he added, calling in particular for a greater emphasis on social protection and efforts to combat climate change.

France’s two-tier political system makes legislative elections almost as crucial as choosing the president.

While the president sets the general direction of the country, the parliamentary vote determines the composition of the government and can even force the president to form an awkward coalition with a prime minister from a rival faction.

In theory, the numbers favor Macron and his allies: a Harris Interactive poll this week showed they should get a majority as long as he can strike a center-right alliance with the parties. Read more

But the fly in Macron’s ointment could still come from Melenchon, who is already in talks to unite France’s disparate left-wing forces – from communists and ecologists to the once-dominant Socialist Party – under a single banner.

Egos and vested interests could still make any form of left-wing electoral pact difficult. But even the much-defeated socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo – whose own party is now in crisis – said this week that a “new left” was needed.

Melenchon’s policies may still be too tough for some supporters on the left: His platform would restore wealth taxes, cap inheritances, limit companies’ right to pay dividends or fire workers, and reexamine the role of France in NATO and the European Union.

Lille, a left-leaning stronghold that has had a socialist mayor for decades, will be a testing ground for whether it can now expand its appeal.

In addition to cost-of-living fears that have become the main theme of the presidential campaign, many left-leaning voters want to see action on issues ranging from a greater commitment to gender equality to the fight against police brutality.

Some of Macron’s plans, meanwhile, are not acceptable to the left, such as raising the retirement age or tougher rules on unemployment benefits.

“I don’t know who I will vote for (in June), but it will definitely be the left,” said Marianne Batteux, a 20-year-old political student at the University of Lille who voted for Mélenchon during the from the first round before passing to Macron in the second round to block Marine Le Pen.

“Melenchon is a big part of French politics. I feel he has the ability to bring people in,” Batteux said, although she called his drive to become prime minister “fantasy”.

The Harris Poll estimated that left-wing parties would together reach as many as 93 seats out of the 577 seats in the National Assembly. With the far right seen gaining up to 147 seats, that leaves Macron a comfortable cushion if he can unite the center around him.

But France’s broken party system means there’s no certainty, even traditional conservatives in disarray after their presidential candidate did so badly she can’t seek state reimbursement millions of euros in campaign costs.

Already on election night, Macron, in his victory speech, reached out to the left, promising a break with the first term and a new approach that “leaves no one behind.”

Clinging to a French nostalgia for the central planning that rebuilt the country after World War II, he also said he would task his next prime minister with making nuclear-dependent France the first major economy to phase out fuels. fossils.

Indeed, some pro-Macron activists have previously tried to persuade leftist voters that his support for offshore wind power and the European Union’s goal of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 were the sign of its green credentials.

“We tell them that the real environmentalist is Macron,” said Mathieu Cavarrat-Soler of the campaign group Jeunes avec Macron.

But even some of his supporters at his victory rally in front of the Eiffel Tower on Sunday will want to be convinced.

“He spoke (of ecology) at first, but then he didn’t make it a priority,” said English teacher Myriam Perounnet.

(This story has been reclassified to add a month to paragraph 2)

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Additional reporting by Layli Foroudi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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