The French Parliamentary elections: What is En Marche? Where did it come from? Will it last?

By Rhodri Sheldrake Davies

Since its founding in 2016 by now-French President Emmanuel Macron and political adviser Ismaël Emelien, En Marche has torn apart the French political landscape. It is now undisputed as a dominant force, with 309 seats in the National Assembly and more than 360,000 adherents.

En Marche has been linked with the wave of Centrist politics sweeping the western world, being compared by some commentators to Spain’s Ciudadanos, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and even the United Kingdom’s New Labour. However, what many  have perhaps failed to comprehend is how radically different En Marche is, even when compared with other seemingly similar centrist movements.

Choosing to describe itself not as a party, but rather as a movement of like-minded people, much like Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, En Marche is manifestly committed to a ‘new way’ of conducting politics. For now, this seems to have caught the attention the French electorate, which (as proven by the Presidential election), has tired of the complacent, monotonous conduct of the more established parties.

En Marche’s sudden success in the National Assembly can be somewhat attributed to its generally radical centrist policies. Unlike its opponents on the right (Les Republicains and the FN) and its opponents on the left (The socialist bloc and Melenchon’s LFI), the party has sidelined the ongoing debate in French Politics, between the right’s Gaullism and the left’s Socialism. Instead, it has tactfully chosen to invoke founding national concept of Liberté – in a big way. It sports openly pro-EU policies alongside a libertarian economic position, as well as a desire to boost social mobility via economic reform, rather than extra spending.

This policy platform has fed into the party’s ‘broad-church’ appeal. To further this, En Marche has even gone as far as to allow adherents to the group to remain part of other French republican parties. The party’s multi-partisan approach has in turn enabled the party to attract highly motivated and experienced campaigners from both Les Republicans and the Socialist Bloc, bringing with them much needed political professionalism. This all forms part of En Marche’s aim “to bring together left and right”, marking it out from the increasingly polarized political landscape of Europe.

Another key aspect of En Marche’s success has been its ability to harness the political momentum provided by its Grassroots campaigning units called ‘comités locaux’. These have allowed the party to retain local connections on issues whilst also facilitating coordination with the wider national movement, something which proved vital during the presidential election in allowing the party to mobilize large numbers of supporters into highly effective campaigning units, seemingly overnight.

To anyone outside the bubble of French politics, it may look as if the party’s power in the National assembly and Macron’s position in the presidency are bound to guarantee its dominance at least for the next 4 years. However, this is not necessarily the case, with recent polling indicating that support for Macron’s presidency has fallen below that of Donald Trump’s, something put down to his apparent inaction since his assumption of office last May.

As well as this, it’s vital not to forget that France is currently going through turbulent times. Challenges such as a looming second refugee crisis, a continued climate of terror and growing tensions in the international system are once again making the front-pages of the national media, issues which brought the previous socialist presidency to its knees. How the party, and its president, deals with these issues, whilst also implementing the change it has promised, will be absolutely vital to its future success (or failure).

If it is to survive, the party’s internal structure also needs serious, radical reshuffling, to allow it to forward a wider ranging and more coherent policy base, despite Macron’s brash statement that his thoughts were “too complex” for journalists. For En Marche to see itself happily cemented into French (and European) politics in the long term, it must focus now on transitioning from an efficient campaigning and media management machine into an effective party of government with a clear policy base which the French public can get behind. 

Whilst to some outsiders En Marche’s future may look promising, the party cannot take the risk of complacency if it is to affirm its position in French politics for years to come.

Photograph: Lorie Shaull via flickr

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