Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? Sunday’s sensational parliamentary elections in France saw the left-wing New Popular Front alliance (NPF) – including France Unbowed (LFI), the Communist Party, the Greens, as well as more moderate centre-left parties – emerge as the largest bloc with 182 seats, albeit far short of the 289 seats required for an absolute majority. 

Emmanuel Macron will therefore be forced to share power in some form of “cohabitation”, though it’s unlikely to be a particularly amorous arrangement.

The second round saw a historic voter turnout of 67.1% – the highest since 1997 and up from 46.2% in 2022 – but the result wasn’t what anyone was expecting. Marine Le Pen’s populist National Rally (RN) had triumphed in the first round of the elections last week, leading to giddy hopes of achieving an overall majority and forming a government for the first time since its launch in 1972. 

In the end, blocked by spurious electoral agreements between Macron’s centrists and the NPF, it crashed to third place with a still-decent 143 seats, up from 89 in the previous parliament. While Macron’s bet against the hard-right might have paid off, he appears to have overshot and now faces the threat of the radical left instead.

France has spent three periods run by opponents of the sitting president in the past before (1986-88, 1993-95, and 1997-2002). But these “cohabitations” weren’t supposed to happen under the Fifth Republic’s winner-takes-all political system, which had been specifically designed to ensure stable parliamentary government under a strong presidency. 

In a hung parliament, the president would normally be expected to appoint a prime minister from the group with the most seats. But the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a divisive figure within the NPF – a fractious alliance hastily cobbled together before the first round of the election on 30 June in a bid to block the RN from gaining power – and even some members of his own party, LFI, do not want him leading a government. All other parties have ruled out working with him.

Given this, Macron has begun “rainbow coalition’ discussions, despite his centrist Ensemble coming second with 168 seats. Unlike neighbouring Germany, Belgium, and Italy, however, France has had no tradition of coalition-building since its revolving-door governments of the 1950s. 

Expect long and protracted negotiations of a kind not seen on French soil in decades before a government emerges. At least Gabriel Attal is expected to stay on to run a caretaker administration and can provide the veneer of a reassuring welcome for the first arrivals to the Paris Olympics. O mon dieu.

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