France’s lower house of parliament elected Yael Braun-Pivet of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance as its speaker on Tuesday, the first woman to hold the post.
Reflecting on events in the US, Ms Braun-Pivet defended the right to abortion in France and called on the chamber to be “vigilant” about protecting the law.
The National Assembly held its first session since Mr Macron’s party lost its majority in elections and the far-right and left camps of French politics were strengthened.
The centrist Ensemble alliance has the most seats in the assembly but no longer enough to pass laws on its own. The assembly is France’s most powerful house of parliament.
The divided chamber is preparing to tackle proposals on fighting inflation and enshrining abortion rights in the French constitution, in response to the US Supreme Court decision last week to strip women’s constitutional protections for abortion.
Abortion in France was legalised in 1975 and has broad political support.
“The brutal decision handed down last Friday by the US Supreme Court, that reversed its commitment, that shocked us so much, is a stark reminder to be vigilant,” Ms Braun-Pivet said.
“Nothing should be taken for granted. History is made of great progress but is always under threat of being reversed,” she told MPs.
“This right was fought for and was inalienable. It is my conviction as a woman today is that we need to be the watchdog so that it stays in place forever.”
Ms Braun-Pivet, a former socialist, joined Mr Macron’s party in 2016 and is a newcomer to lawmaking. She was chosen in a secret ballot over candidates from rival parties.
The left-wing Nupes coalition is the biggest opposition force in the assembly, and its legislators made a grand entrance on Tuesday with its diverse cross-section of politicians, including many young people in office for the first time.
Nupes hopes to challenge Mr Macron’s efforts to cut taxes and increase the retirement age from 62 to 65.
The far-right party of three-times presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the National Rally, won a record number of seats and is expected to pursue anti-immigration policies.
All three top parties plan competing measures aimed at helping working-class households to cope with high inflation fuelled by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Women remain in the minority in the assembly, and Ms Braun-Pivet’s appointment was seen as sending an important message about women in politics.
Ms Braun-Pivet, a lawyer who spent several years living in Asia, was first elected in 2017 and re-elected this month in her district west of Paris. She was chairwoman of the assembly’s law committee for five years.
The assembly is taking on a more larger role now than it has had in 20 years.
Mr Macron’s supporters worry that the new legislature will cause gridlock and block his efforts to make France’s economy more business-friendly and pass climate legislation. His critics said it is more representative of France.
“The French people compel us to work together, to debate rather than to fight each other. They’ve chosen us, they’ve elected us and we share, whatever our differences, a responsibility to answer to this assembly which is the face of France,” Mr Braun-Pivet said.
Sebastien Chenu of National Rally said his party would push for debates on “Islamism” and immigration.
“We will oppose without any concessions Emmanuel Macron’s reforms, like the pension reform in particular,” he said.
Louis Boyard of Nupes said his alliance had many ideas.
“We must revive the economy through consumption. By raising the minimum wage to €1,500 ($1,575). By freezing prices. We have plenty of proposals.”
As elected officials paraded through the garden towards the assembly building, two deputies from French Polynesia arrived wearing traditional attire. The assembly, however, remains largely a place of suits and ties.
Members will choose committee leaders in the coming days, and either Nupes or the National Rally may win control of the finance commission, which is in charge of controlling the state’s budget.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne — the second woman to hold that post — will set out the government’s goals in a speech next week, and may face a confidence vote shortly ëafterward.