By Marta Garde
Paris, May 19 (efe-epa).- The party of French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday lost its absolute majority in the National Assembly after the creation of a new dissident group that accuses him of having strayed from the ideals that brought him to power in 2017.
The 17 lawmakers within the new Ecology, Democracy, Solidariry (EDS) political grouping – seven of whom come from the government coalition and the rest mainly being former members of the group – left the “Macronist” group one seat short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority in the lower – and dominant – house of the Assembly.
The most recent blow is more symbolic than political: Macron’s La Republique En March (LREM) continues to command the loyalty of the 46 lawmakers with the centrist MoDem, but the schism points up the difficulty of maintaining cohesion within a party that took over the legislature three years ago but included many political neophytes without any experience in government.
“We will be a positive group, of proposals, coalition and innovation. We want to contribute a new impulse. We will be demanding, not to impose a dogma, but because the urgent ecological situation and solidarity forces us to be,” said the group’s co-president, former Macronist Matthieu Orphelin, in his speech announcing the move.
Orphelin shares the leadership of the new grouping with Paula Forteza, and the lawmakers are pushing a more social doctrine, with dissident candidate for the Paris mayor’s office, Cedric Villani, and former Socialist Ecology Minister Delphine Batho serving as the two vice presidents.
This is the ninth group to emerge within the French legislature, a record number of political groupings under the Fifth Republic, and it sets forth as its key priority “massively” supporting municipal investments to bring about an ecological transition, “transforming democracy via a real transparency in public life” and achieving true equality between men and women, all of which are more leftist elements than Macron has embraced up to now.
“We are at an inflexion point. The coming weeks and months will be determinative for the future of France and the planet. We don’t want this crisis to accelerate inequalities,” Forteza emphasized, going on to defend a temporary inheritance tax and a universal basic income for all people over age 18.
This is not the first time that Macron has lost support within the National Assembly. In June 2017, he had the backing of 314 lawmakers, but this latest group of legislators to abandon him has been accused of betrayal by those who believe that, amid the coronavirus pandemic, unity must take precedence over other considerations.
Macron’s LREM party, which was created by the former investment banker as the vehicle to take him into the presidency in 2017, has already endured a series of defections by legislators frustrated by his tight hold over decision-making and his pro-business policies.
Nevertheless, the timing of the defections is bad for Macron as he battles to regain his political momentum after a crippling string of crises, chief among them the so-called “yellow vest” street revolt against pension reform and the longest transport strike in modern French history.
The spokesman for the new group, Hubert Julien-Laferriere, justified the exodus by saying that it was steadily becoming “more complicated” to defend the ideals whereby they were elected three years ago and emphasizing that it was not they who had moved away from their promises.
Government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye said, in contrast, that the economic evolution during Macron’s five-year term had been clear right from the start and the program has not diverged from his initial proposals.
Macron has not commented publicly on the issue but, according to French media, he was furious when he received the news of the defections, which nevertheless had been an open secret since March.
“De Gaulle told us that France is strong when it remains united, when it seeks the path of cohesion in the name of a specific idea of France that unites us beyond our disagreements,” he said on Sunday at the ceremony commemorating the late general and former French president.
It was a call for unity with a twofold purpose: uniting France amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 28,200 here, and the brewing departure of a key group of lawmakers from the ruling party.