French trade union boss hints at protests during Olympics if left is kept from power

Emmanuel Macron was accused by one political rival of carrying out a ‘democratic coup’  (AP)
Emmanuel Macron was accused by one political rival of carrying out a ‘democratic coup’ (AP)

A top trade union leader has urged President Emmanuel Macron to ensure a left-wing alliance is allowed to govern after a surprise win in France’s snap election – hinting that any alternative could be met with protests during the Paris Olympics.

Breaking his silence since the New Popular Front (NFP) grouping – which spans the radical and centre-left and greens – beat his own centrist camp into second place in Sunday’s election, Mr Macron issued an open letter on Wednesday claiming that “no one had won” and asked “republican forces” to form a “solid majority” to govern.

The French president called the snap election in the wake of large gains made by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party in European elections in June. RN then performed strongly in the first round of voting in the French parliamentary elections, before an agreement by the leftist bloc and Macron’s Together grouping meant that more than 200 candidates dropped out before the second round in an effort to prevent the vote against RN from being split.

The result was NFP winning around 180 seats in the 577-seat parliament, Macron’s group around 160 and Le Pen’s party around 140. All three blocs are more than 100 seats short of an absolute majority of 289 seats. With weeks of talks expected over who could become the next prime minister, and what a government will look like, Mr Macron’s ally and current prime minister Gabriel Attal offered his resignation but has been asked to stay on by Mr Macron.

Faced with a hung parliament, Mr Macron called in his open letter for a coalition of all MPs, with the exception of the populist National Rally and the radical left France Unbowed (LFI) party, who are a significant part of the NFP alliance but are seen as almost as extreme as RN by many in the French president’s centrist group.

Hitting back, Sophie Binet, leader of the CGT union, said on Thursday that Mr Macron was in denial about the result of the election and should appoint as prime minister whoever the NFP picks. Members of the alliance have been trying all week to agree on a name and a strategy to govern without a majority.

Emmanuel Macron must snap out of his denialism. He has lost the election... He’s like Louis XVI holed up at Versailles. He must listen to the country and stop being so disconnected,” Ms Binet said on LCI television.

Ms Binet hinted that protests could continue during the Olympics if Macron did not comply, saying “at this stage, we haven’t planned any strikes during the Olympics, but if Macron continues to throw petrol on to the flames...” The Olympic Games start on 26 July.

Sophie Binet, leader of the CGT union (AP)
Sophie Binet, leader of the CGT union (AP)

In his open letter, the French president called on all parties “that identify with republican institutions, rule of law, parliamentarianism, a pro-European stance and French independence to have a sincere, loyal dialogue to build a solid – necessarily plural – majority for the country”.

That has been understood to mean he wants a coalition of centrists and moderate parties from the NFP, such as the Socialists and Greens. The letter provoked a furore among other politicians, with centre-left socialist party leader Olivier Faure telling France 2 television that Mr Macron must “respect” the choice of French voters. Former deputy of the French National Assembly Gilles Le Gendre said that “Macronism is over” and “the president has remained deaf”. Speaking with BFMTV, Mr Le Gendre said: “The only coalition that exists today is a coalition against the president of the republic.”

The railway workers’ branch of the CGT responded by calling for protests on 18 July, the day when the newly elected parliament is scheduled to convene. It said the protests should take place in front of prefectures, the seats of state authority all around the country, and in front of the National Assembly in Paris, to demand that the NFP form a government.

The leader of the radical left LFI, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, also slammed Mr Macron, saying: “It is the return of the royal veto over universal suffrage! That is enough. He must bow down and call on the NFP. That is simply democracy.”

Manon Aubry, a member of the European Parliament for LFI, denounced a “total denial of democracy”. She continued: “Today, what he is doing, that is to say refusing the verdict of the ballot boxes, has a name: it is a democratic coup.”

Reuters contributed to this report