French opposition struggles to emerge from rubble of Macron victory

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 25, 2017 11:07 AM

By Ingrid Melander

PARIS (Reuters) - Battered and bruised from electoral defeat by Emmanuel Macron's centrists, France's Socialist Party is laying off most of its staff and selling its Paris base, while the centre-right Republicans limp on in search of a leader.

Facing falling membership after winning just six percent of the vote in the presidential election, the centre-left party told staff on Wednesday it would have to fire most of them, days after its historic headquarters was put up for sale to raise funds.

On the other side of the political divide, the conservative Republicans are leaderless and have struggled for months to decide whether to expel party members who have signed up to serve with Macron.

The two parties ruled France for decades, but Macron's Republic on the Move has stolen the middle ground from under their feet.

"Macron benefits from a large political space left vacant by the opposition," said Vincent Thibault of Elabe pollsters. "He has to face very few attacks from the other parties."

Fewer lawmakers and local officials mean the Socialist Party's income has fallen to 8 million euros ($9.42 million) a year from 28 million previously. Party treasurer Jean-Francois Debat told Reuters around 60 of 97 staff would have to go.

While the Republicans are the largest opposition group in the lower house of parliament and hold a majority in the senate, they are in barely better shape.

For the past five months they have struggled to stem Macron's poaching of their top officials, or to oppose economic policies that mirror their own.

In the latest of several meetings on membership, the party decided in principle on Tuesday to expel Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and other ministers serving in Macron's government.

But having failed to gather enough officials at the meeting, they were forced to postpone the actual decision for a week, drawing scorn from critics.

"It's grotesque," Sebastien Lecornu, a junior minister and one of those facing expulsion, told Le Parisien daily.

"They are punishing us for backing reforms that are useful to the country ... the right is committing suicide."

The far left and far right are also struggling to mount a credible opposition to 39-year-old Macron.

The far-right National Front, weakened by its own divisions, has become close to inaudible. Its leader Marine Le Pen had the worst ratings on record for France 2 television's top political show last week, with only 1.7 million viewers.

The far-left France Insoumise has been more vocal, and polls show it is seen as the strongest opponent. But it has struggled to get voters out on the streets against Macron's reforms and surveys show it is regarded more as a protest movement.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Yann Le Guernigou; Editing by Luke Baker and Andrew Roche)