President Emmanuel Macron was poised to forge ahead with pro-EU, business-friendly reforms today after his centrist party redrew France's political map with a resounding victory in parliamentary elections. Although it fell short of a predicted landslide, Macron's Republic on the Move (REM) and its centrist ally MoDem won 350 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly after Sunday's runoff vote.
The result also means REM can if necessary govern without the support of MoDem, which won 42 seats. The election was being closely watched in Europe and around the world to see if France's youngest-ever leader would secure a mandate to push through his pro-EU reform agenda. The new body will be nearly six years younger on average, have a record 224 women lawmakers, and will be strikingly more varied in background if politically less experienced. The trailblazing party that 39-year-old Macron founded just 14 months ago has caused a political earthquake even if the winning score was considerably lower than the 470 seats predicted by some pre-vote surveys. "A profoundly renewed political generation takes over the reins of legislative power," wrote editorialist Alexis Brezet in the right-leaning daily Le Figaro. Macron's confident start at home, where he has concentrated on trying to restore the lost prestige of the president, and his bold action on the international stage has inspired a raft of positive headlines. Macron wants to use his majority in parliament to pursue his agenda of loosening labour laws and overhauling France's social security system. He has already had little pushback on his stated intention to use executive orders to push through reforms without parliamentary debate -- though street protests over the erosion of cherished workers' rights such as those seen last year are considered likely. The parliamentary boost also strengthens Macron's hand on the European stage as the EU heads into negotiations on Britain's departure from the bloc. The staunch europhile -- in stark contrast to presidential rival Marine Le Pen -- will take part in his first EU summit Thursday and Friday in Brussels. He wants a leadership role in countering the kind of nationalism that far-right leader Le Pen represents, which spurred the Brexit vote and helped propel Donald Trump to the US presidency. Macron's detractors point to a record-low turnout of just under 44 per cent in yesterday's polling, saying he cannot claim to enjoy a deep vein of support. Radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon described it as "a sort of civic general strike". The Macron team acknowledged the criticism, with government spokesman Christophe Castaner admitting: "We got a clear majority but at the same time, the French people didn't want to sign a blank cheque." REM routed the Socialists and heavily defeated the rightwing Republicans, while Le Pen's National Front (FN) had a disappointing night. Le Pen entered parliament for the first time in her career in one of eight seats won by the FN. But Le Pen's nationalist party fell well short of its 15 -seat target that would have allowed it to form a parliamentary group -- a status that gives a party more influence in setting the agenda. She insisted the FN would still be a key player, saying: "We are the only force of resistance to the watering down of France, of its social model and its identity." The Socialists (PS) were the biggest losers, punished for the high unemployment, social unrest and lost national confidence that marked their five years in power. The party of Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande shed more than 250 seats, obtaining just 30. The Republicans and their allies fared better, hanging on to 130 seats, down from over 200 in the last parliament, and remaining the main opposition party. The conservative party had enough seats to "defend its convictions", said the party's leader for the elections, Francois Baroin, calling on Macron to heed the record low turnout, which he said sent "a message". Melenchon's hard-left France Unbowed won 17 seats as it also struggled to maintain the momentum it had during the presidential election. Only 140 incumbents held onto their seats, which they will occupy alongside no fewer than 425 new members, characterised by younger, more ethnically diverse lawmakers. And women will make up 38.8 per cent of the new parliament, compared with 25.8 per cent in the outgoing parliament -- a figure that placed France 63rd in the world for women in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Around half of REM's candidates are virtual unknowns drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism. The other half are a mix of centrists and moderate left- and right-wing politicians drawn from established parties including ally MoDem.