PARIS >> French President Emmanuel Macron’s upstart centrist party suffered its first electoral blow today, as traditional conservatives dominated Senate elections amid mounting disenchantment with Macron’s leadership.
The results damage Macron’s legitimacy as he seeks to make his mark on Europe’s future and embarks on a divisive labor law overhaul that he hopes will invigorate the moribund French economy. Truckers plan to block highways and fuel depots Monday in the latest show of anti-Macron defiance.
Macron could still pass his reforms despite the election result, however. That’s because the lower house of Parliament has the final say in legislation over the Senate, and because lawmakers from the conservative Republicans party support many of Macron’s pro-business policy plans.
Official results from voting across mainland France showed the Republicans clearly winning today’s vote for about half the chamber’s 348 seats, followed by the Socialists, traditional centrists, and Macron’s 17-month-old Republic on the Move! party.
A final count including France’s overseas territories is expected in the coming days.
Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front, struggling with internal strife and muddled strategy since her second-place showing in the May presidential race, failed to land a single Senate seat.
French broadcasters’ projections forecast the Republicans having between 146 and 156 seats in the new Senate, while Macron’s party is set to have just about 22. That’s especially devastating after Macron overwhelmingly won May elections and his party clinched a large majority in June elections for the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
Macron himself didn’t comment on today’s Senate embarrassment, but Republic on the Move! tried to look at the bright side.
It noted that the party won Senate seats for the first time since Macron founded it last year, in an attempt to attract voters tired of traditional parties and their failure to end chronic double-digit unemployment.
Republic on the Move! blamed the indirect voting system for its weak showing today: Senators aren’t chosen by the public but by some 75,000 elected officials across the country. Since Macron’s party was only created in 2016, it has scant representation among those officials. Also, many of them are upset by Macron’s plan to slash the budgets of local authorities.
Macron’s party said today’s elections were “by nature more difficult for a young political movement like ours,” and said that those casting ballots today “have not yet acknowledged that the French have already moved beyond (traditional political) divides.”
The lower house has the final say in French lawmaking, but Macron also needs support in the Senate to follow through quickly on other major changes he has promised, notably to unemployment benefits, the pension system and the French Constitution.
While Macron has charmed President Donald Trump and other international allies, the 39-year-old French leader has struggled at home.
Tens of thousands of people protested Saturday in Paris over Macron’s labor law changes, which they fear are dismantling the French way of life. More protests and strikes lay ahead.
Macron insists the changes — which reduce union powers and give companies more freedom to lay off workers — are need to create jobs and compete globally.
Macron’s team is hoping today’s election results don’t dent France’s influence as he pushes his vision for a post-Brexit Europe in a sweeping policy speech Tuesday. After months in the spotlight as the vibrant new champion of European unity, Macron now risks being overshadowed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bolstered by her party’s re-election today.