French left blasts Macron, demands keys to government

France's new National Assembly: seats by political party (Nalini LEPETIT-CHELLA)
France's new National Assembly: seats by political party (Nalini LEPETIT-CHELLA)

French left-wingers attacked President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday after he called for a broad coalition government, demanding that their parliamentary bloc should propose a prime minister.

No single force won Sunday's second-round vote outright, though a broad alliance of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong National Assembly.

The result left France rudderless at home, where it will host the Olympic Games in just over two weeks, and weakened abroad, where Macron was in Washington for a NATO summit.

In an open letter to voters, Macron said Wednesday that "nobody won" the ballot.

He has left his centrist prime minister, Gabriel Attal, in place and called on parties to find common ground for a broad coalition.

Socialist Party chief Olivier Faure accused Macron of failing to "respect the vote of the French people", while LFI figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon blasted the "return of the royal veto".

Sophie Binet, head of France's biggest trade union federation, the CGT, also enlisted the image of the republic's long-gone monarchy to attack the president.

"It's like having Louis XVI locking himself away in Versailles," she said, referring to the king guillotined in 1793 during the French Revolution.

- 'Bring people together' -

The president's letter appeared to rule out a role for either LFI -- the largest player in the New Popular Front (NFP) left alliance -- or the far-right National Rally (RN) in the new coalition.

Voters from different camps joined forces in the second-round run-off to shut the RN out of power in a "republican front", allowing Macron's followers to claim second place with 164 seats and leaving the far right in third at 143.

With each of the three blocs controlling roughly one-third of the chamber, it may be a long slog to find a government able to survive a no-confidence vote.

"We can't form a national unity government with just one camp," Macron ally Francois Bayrou told AFP.

The conservative Republicans party -- the re-badged vehicle of former presidents like Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, but now reduced to 40 seats -- refuses to join a government, but could provide parliamentary support.

Three-time RN presidential candidate Marine Le Pen meanwhile dismissed Macron's letter as a "disgraceful circus".

She now has her eyes on France's next presidential election in 2027, when term limits will prevent Macron -- who beat her twice in previous contests -- from standing again.

- Economic fears -

Financial markets are anxious, with warnings this week from ratings agencies that uncertainty over government finances could lead to credit downgrades for France's over three-trillion-euro ($3.25 trillion) debt pile.

On Thursday, Bank of France governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau warned against the left's economic programme without specifically naming the NFP.

The NFP has vowed to increase the minimum wage, raise taxes on companies and the wealthy and roll back Macron's pension reform that raised the retirement age.

"In the economic competition, our small firms, our companies can't be weighed down with excessive wage costs, including the minimum wage, and by taxes that are too heavy," Villeroy told broadcaster France Info.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday that France needed a total of 25 billion euros this year to keep its promise of getting its finances back under control.

France is aiming for a deficit of 5.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year, he said, smaller than last year's 5.5 percent but still way above the eurozone's three-percent deficit limit.

The possibility of the leftist bloc gaining power has weighed on France's creditworthiness, with buyers of French government bonds demanding a substantial risk premium over benchmark Germany's debt.

This means France now has to pay investors a higher return than Portugal, although still less than Spain.