French parliament opens new era, after Macron lost majority

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France’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday opened its first session since President Emmanuel Macron’s party lost its majority, and is expected to elect a woman as speaker for the first time.

Legislative elections earlier this month shook up France’s political landscape. Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble (Together) still has the most seats but no longer enough to comfortably adopt laws.

The leftist Nupes coalition is the biggest opposition force, and its legislators made a grand joint entrance Tuesday, including a diverse cross-section of lawmakers including many young people in office for the first time. Nupes hopes to challenge Macron’s plans to cut taxes and raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.

The far-right party of three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the National Rally, won a record number of seats, and is expected to press anti-immigration policies.

All three top parties plan competing measures aimed at boosting working-class households cope with high inflation, fueled by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Among the first issues the new Assembly is expected to face is a proposal by Macron’s party to inscribe the right to abortion in the French constitution. The measure was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week to strip women’s constitutional protections for abortion.

“I think what happened in the United States is a warning to our democracies, and the French should be at the forefront of the rights and liberties for women,” said Benjamin Haddad, legislator from Macron’s party.

The centrist alliance chose Yael Braun-Pivet, a former Socialist who joined Macron’s party in 2016, as its candidate for the job of speaker, and she is considered the front-runner. The speaker is being chosen by secret ballot Tuesday.

The National Assembly, the most powerful house in France’s parliament, is taking on a more important role now than it has had in 20 years.

Macron’s supporters worry that the new legislature will cause political gridlock and block his efforts to make France’s economy more business-friendly and pass climate legislation. His critics say it is more representative of France.

National Rally legislator Sebastien Chenu said his far-right party would push for debate on “Islamism” and immigration.

“We will oppose without any concessions Emmanuel Macron’s reforms, like the pension reform in particular,” he said.

Amid high inflation, Nupes legislator Louis Boyrad said, “We must revive the economy through consumption. By raising the minimum wage to 1,500 euros. By freezing prices. We have plenty of proposals.”

Haddad struck a conciliatory tone. “We are going to work with other parties. The French have decided, they gave us the majority but the relative majority, so they want us to work with other groups, other MPs, build coalitions project by project, text by text, find compromise and negotiate.”—AP

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