June 03, 2019
Reinventing the French right without Wauquiez
The European elections also sealed the fate of Laurent Wauquiez as the leader of Les Républicains (LR). With the worst ever election result of 8.5%, something needed to give. Deserted by those voters who backed up Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen, or those who simply did not like his personality or the party's programme, Wauquiez resigned just one week after the elections. Like Nicolas Sarkozy in 1999 and Jean-François Copé in 2014, Wauquiez made the party's defeat his personal defeat.
The big question is: can the party recover in time for the regional elections next year? This depends on whether as a party they can find a meaningful political space in the polarised political landscape with Macron's LREM on one side and Le Pen's RN on the other. Both LREM and RN have momentum going and Les Républicains are caught in the middle. After Sunday's elections disaster some LR mayors switched their allegiance to LREM for next year. Marion Maréchal, the niece of Marine Le Pen, also stirred the pot by suggesting yesterday on television a right-wing coalition centered on RN.
One could say that Macron's decision to meddle in the European election campaign paid off. It is an opening bid for the next regional elections next year, stylised him as a guarantor against the far right and reaffirmed that his election in 2017 was not an accident. His pull made him the natural choice for the centre-right. Many thus expect the government to continue to woo voters with a centre-right course in its upcoming reform proposals - unemployment, pensions and regional devolution - even risking an imbalance with respect to Macron's credentials on the left.
Wauquiez' departure does not solve the identity crisis of Les Républicains, in fact, it finally allows a debate about it, writes Guillaume Tabard in Le Figaro. Some party heavyweights suggest that, rather than fishing for votes in Le Pen's constituency, the party should target Macron's voters instead. This underpins the initiative launched by Gerard Larcher. It is no longer intended to circumvent Wauquiez or to settle his fate, but to define what the right is and invent a mode of organising a debate with local, regional and parliamentary leaders that allows all sensitivities from the right to find their place, so Tabard.