As Macron forms party, Brussels ponders its affiliation

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron watch a live broadcast of the televised debate between Macron and Marine Le Pen in a bar. Paris, May 2017. [Ian Langsdon/EPA]

Emmanuel Macron’s start-up political party on Thursday (11 May) announced a list of 428 candidates for French parliamentary elections in June, a move likely to shake up French politics. In Brussels, the liberal ALDE group hopes En Marche! will join its ranks.

Macron’s election in a victory over the National Front’s Marine Le Pen on Sunday (7 May) has destroyed the dominance of the centre-left and centre-right parties which have ruled over French politics for nearly 60 years.

Macron, the Fifth Republic's unusual eighth president

Just one year after making his big political gamble, Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France with more than 65% of the vote on Sunday (7 May). EURACTIV France reports.

His party, La République En Marche! (Republic on the Move,) had previously said it would stand in every one of the National Assembly’s 577 seats – represented Macron’s first stab at creating a parliamentary power base that will help him push forward with reforms once in office.

Party Secretary General Richard Ferrand said the remaining number of candidates was a matter for further discussion and that the party was leaving the door open to politicians of other political stripes to come over to Macron’s side.

“We want to leave them time until Wednesday to say so,” he told a news conference. “We want to build a majority for change and therefore obtain for En Marche! an absolute majority in the National Assembly,” Ferrand said, adding that they had combed through more than 19,000 applications.

Macron officially takes power as president on Sunday (14 May).

He is building a party structure from the wreckage of the Socialists, whose candidate pooled only 6% of the presidential vote in the first round. The list issued by En Marche! on Thursday included 24 outgoing Socialist lawmakers and no conservative ones.

Just over half of the candidates come from civil society and one-half of them are women, fulfilling promises from Macron’s presidential campaign.

An exception for Valls

Ferrand announced an exception for Socialist ex-Premier Manuel Valls, a pro-business politician close to Macron on economic policy, who earlier this week said he wanted to help the 39-year-old ex-banker achieve a majority.

Valls has outraged his fellow Socialists by saying the Socialist Party was “dead” and that he would like to join Macron’s movement and help create a new presidential majority.

However, Valls was not included among the candidates of En Marche! Ferrand explained that the former premier had been elected too many times in the past to fit the criteria the party has laid out.

But Ferrand said En Marche! would not be putting a candidate up against Valls, thereby offering a better chance of victory to a man who could be useful to Macron in the future.

Civil society component

Ferrand said 52% of the candidates had never held elected office before and that their average age was 46 years old.

The list included Hollande’s communications advisor Gaspard Gantzer and former Junior Minister of Environment Barbara Pompili, an ex-Greens lawmaker, but few well-known names – reflecting the emphasis Macron has placed on building a party on civil society.

To qualify, would-be candidates, including total newcomers to politics, filled extensive on-line applications with CVs and explanatory letters for pre-screening and follow-up interviews, according to local media interviews with some of them.

European affiliation

Macron’s victory was seen across the world as a victory for supporters of European Union integration over Le Pen’s anti-EU proposals, which included ditching the euro currency.

In Brussels, pundits keep guessing on the affiliation the new French presidential party will choose. The liberal ALDE group appears confident that En Marche! will join its ranks. However, it is unlikely that any announcements will be made before the end of the second round of the parliamentary election on 18 June.

French often frown at the ‘liberal’ political tag. In France, the concept of liberalism has traditionally been associated with economic liberalism, as well with the libertarian and radical traditions.

In Brussels, the concept of liberalism is associated with centrism, a capacity to form alliances both with the centre-left and the centre-right, as well as pro-EU and even federalist views on Europe.

In the event that Macron’s party joins ALDE, some see its present leader Guy Verhofstadt as a possible replacement for current Council President Donald Tusk in two years’ time.

Others believe that Margrethe Vestager, the very popular Danish Competition Commissioner, could succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the Commission. Vestager was the political leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party (Radicale Venstre).

Socialist President François Hollande is due to formally hand over power on Sunday to Macron in an Élysée Palace ceremony. On Monday (15 May), Macron is expected to announce the name of France’s new premier.