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Troubled at home, Frenchman Macron remains a key global player

Emmanuel Macron may be weakened at home after legislative elections forced him into political maneuvering, but on the international stage, the French president has the resources to remain one of the world’s most influential leaders.

France’s foreign allies closely watched Sunday’s election where Macron’s alliance won the most seats but lost its majority in the National Assembly, France’s most powerful parliament.

The result has made the 44-year-old centrist’s life much harder at home, making it harder to implement his agenda – like pension changes and tax cuts. Still, he is unlikely to derail his international schedule in the immediate future.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Macron has been at the epicenter of international diplomacy and, despite a historic shift in French policy and growing polarization, experts say that is unlikely to change.

“There will be a lot more contrast between the pressure he might have at home versus his freedom of movement abroad,” said Laurie Dundon, France-based senior associate researcher at the European Leadership Network.

Macron, who is in Brussels for a two-day European Council summit, will travel next week to Germany for the G-7 meeting and the following week to Spain for the NATO summit.

The French president holds significant powers in foreign policy, European affairs and defence. He is also the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.

France has provided significant financial and military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion and sent its troops to bolster European defenses on its eastern flank. During the presidential campaign in the spring, Macron’s popularity grew due to his leadership role in efforts to end the war: he championed ever tougher sanctions against Moscow while keeping an open line with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and has been in almost constant contact with the Ukrainian President. Volodymyr Zelensky.

Macron, who won a second term against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in April, even visited Kyiv in the week between the two rounds of voting earlier this month, along with other European leaders.

France’s support for Ukraine is widely popular in the country according to opinion polls, and opposition leaders have carefully avoided criticizing it.

The left-wing coalition platform led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which has become the main French opposition force, is explicitly in favor of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On the far right, Le Pen, who has long had ties with Russia, now says he favors a “free Ukraine” while expressing reservations about arms deliveries.

“Foreign policy is not an area where Le Pen or Mélenchon want to spend their energy when they have so many domestic problems to challenge Macron,” Dundon said.

“None of them want to get involved in the mess of diplomacy over Russia and Ukraine,” she said.

First elected in 2017, Macron, resolutely pro-European, has never hidden his ambition to play a leading role in global diplomacy. His re-election in April cemented his position as a senior player in Europe in the face of the war in Ukraine and its consequences for the continent and beyond.

France’s strong presidential powers are a legacy of General Charles de Gaulle’s desire to have a stable political system throughout the Fifth Republic he established in 1958, after the post-war period had experienced successions of ephemeral and ineffective governments.

The president represents the country abroad, meeting foreign heads of state and government. It is the prime minister, appointed by the president, who is responsible to parliament.

The National Assembly has negligible power over the president’s foreign agenda, although it retains control of government spending.

“Parliament was not asked to give its opinion on the sending of arms to Ukraine, nor on France’s external operations, in particular in the Sahel, in the Middle East within the framework of the anti- ISIS, or in Afghanistan,” Nicolas Tenzer, Senior Researcher at the Center for European Policy Analysis, wrote.

However, Parliament must give its authorization for an extension of these operations after four months, he stressed.

The emboldened opposition, both left and right, may seek to use the power of parliament to force a debate. Every week, lawmakers have the right to question members of the government — but not the president — including on foreign policy. This is an opportunity to raise criticism on key issues.

But the debate in France is generally expected to remain centered on domestic politics.

In a sign that the president’s attention may at least temporarily turn to a political realignment at home, Macron barely mentioned his international agenda on Wednesday when he delivered his first speech since the legislative elections. He only briefly referred to the European meeting on Ukraine.

“I will only have one compass: that we move forward for the common good,” he told the French.

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Surk reported from Nice, France.


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