French trade unionist hints at Olympic protests if Macron blocks left from power

French President Macron votes in the first round of the 2024 snap legislative elections

By Jean-Stéphane Brosse and Kate Entringer

PARIS (Reuters) - A top French trade union leader on Thursday urged President Emmanuel Macron to let a left-wing alliance govern after it came first in a legislative election, hinting that any alternative could be met with protests during the Paris Olympics.

In his first public comments since the New Popular Front (NFP) beat his own centrist camp into second place in Sunday's election, Macron said on Wednesday that "no one had won" and asked "republican forces" to form a "solid majority" to govern.

That has been understood to mean he wants a coalition of centrists and moderate parties from the NFP, such as the Socialists and Greens, excluding the hard-left insurgent party France Unbowed which he deems beyond the respectable spectrum.

Sophie Binet, leader of the CGT union, said 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," Binet said on LCI television.

Macron's comments have been met with howls of anger on the left, including from the railway workers' branch of the CGT, which responded by calling for protests on July 18, 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.

"Let's not allow our victory to be stolen from us!," its statement concluded.

Binet said "all of us should take part in these gatherings to keep the National Assembly under scrutiny and ensure that the people's vote is respected," hinting that protests could continue during the Olympics if Macron did not comply.

TROUBLE FOR THE GAMES?

"At this stage, we haven't planned any strikes during the Olympics, but if Macron continues to throw petrol on to the flames," she said, without finishing her sentence. The Olympics start on July 26.

Options for government include a broad coalition, a minority government or a technocratic government led by a non-politically affiliated person, which would seek to pass laws in parliament on a case-by-case basis, with ad hoc agreements.

The head of the larger, more moderate CFDT union, Marylise Leon, said the NFP's programme should be the starting point for the next government.

"That's what the citizens voted for. It's important to respect their vote," she said on France Inter radio.

NFP leaders have given no sign that they were prepared to break up the bloc, which was hastily assembled to unite the left against the far-right National Rally, which came first in European elections in June and in the first round of the legislative election.

However, days of feverish talks have yet to yield a consensus candidate for prime minister from within NFP ranks.

France Unbowed leaders have said one of them should get the job on the basis that they won the most seats out of NFP member parties, but the electoral maths is disputed because some lawmakers have yet to declare their allegiance.

The Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure has put himself forward too, making clear that, like the trade unionists, he believed there should be a left-wing government, not one cobbled together from pieces of the left and of the centre.

Faure portrayed Macron as disconnected from reality, seeking to maintain his people in power despite their electoral loss.

"Is it imaginable that the government that lost the election should still be in place for Bastille Day, for the Olympics, and why not for the autumn and we can enjoy their company for Christmas while we're at it?," he said on France 2 television late on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Keith Weir)