Macron's ‘Renaissance’ Aims to Shake Up European Parliament

(Bloomberg) -- President Emmanuel Macron upended French politics two years ago when he swept aside the two mainstream parties that had dominated elections since the 1970s. Disrupting politics on a European level will be a trickier proposition.

Macron’s La Republique en Marche! is planning to form ad hoc coalitions after European Parliament elections in May rather than join an existing group in the assembly, pitting it against entrenched interests. The party, whose campaign is dubbed “Renaissance”, would then consider forming a new faction built around itself.

The current groups in the European Union assembly, however, aren’t going to fold so easily, said Thibault Muzergues, a French political scientist and author of “Class Quarters: How the New Social Tribes Redefine Western political Landscapes.” Macron’s plans would involve luring away lawmakers from the parties of allies such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, and grouping them with members who previously had been rivals.

“LREM has total wishful thinking,” Muzergues said. “The power of establish parties and groups is enormous, and Macron just doesn’t understand that. They are afraid he wants to blow up the system the way he did in France.”

The approach has already run into resistance and a senior European diplomat in Paris said Macron can’t expect the bloc to converge around him or his party, and for other political groups to fall in line with his plans for the continent’s future.

Macron’s decree published in newspapers in 22 languages across Europe earlier this month, calling for deeper EU integration and continental rule for minimum wage, has already received push-back from key allies in Germany and the Netherlands, and irking political parties across Europe could leave him further isolated.

European Shake-Up

“It isn’t lost on anyone that European politics is going through a mutation,” Nathalie Loiseau, who resigned Wednesday as France’s EU affairs minister to be head of LREM’s list of candidates. “We want to be a central group, and we will work with those who share our values and our view of an active Europe that works for the interest of its citizens.”

According to a February poll by Kantar Public, the center-right European People’s Party and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats will lose seats in May’s vote but remain the two largest groups in the EU-wide parliament. Two groups that will pick up the most seats are Macron’s populist nemesis, Europe of Nations and Freedom, and the liberals of Alde, often seen as Macron’s most natural allies, but whom LREM has ruled out joining.

Alternatively, strategists at LREM say their intention is to build on Alde as a base, and pry away moderate members of the EPP and the Socialists, as well as some Greens. Indeed, Macron’s preference for the next commission president is presumed to be Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner for competition, who is among a group of Alde candidates seeking top EU posts this year.

“They want to avoid getting drowned in an existing group,” said Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They would like to create a new formation in the center where there’s Alde, but not just join them.”

Napoleon en Marche

In forecasts published by the EU Parliament on March 1, LREM will have 22 seats in the 705-member European assembly to be formed after the May 23-26 ballot.

By comparison, 181 seats will be held by the No. 1 European People’s Party -- including 34 German Christian Democrats allied to Chancellor Angela Merkel -- and 135 places will belong to the No. 2 Socialists, according to the projection.

Lafont Rapnouil said Macron won’t be able to recreate in Brussels the revolution he achieved in France. Still the divisions exposed in the EPP over how to deal with the illiberal Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is a member of the EPP yet regularly attacks the EU and its politicians, could drive lawmakers to leave the group, he said. Furthermore, the fragmentation of left-of-center parties will make alliances necessary.

“We can see some re-composition underway,” Lafont Rapnouil said. “All parties have their doubts.”

LREM hasn’t stopped thinking big. “We have a certain responsibility because Macron is the only one making propositions on the European stage,” said Garance Pineau, head of European and international affairs at LREM. “It could be seen as a bit Napoleonic, but most of our partners are in favor of him playing this role.”

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