Emmanuel Macron

 The Macron presidency

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The Emmanuel Macron presidency
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Emmanuel Macron, the youngest French leader since Napoleon, has promised a new French Renaissance – the rebirth of a nation that has suffered from thirty years of relative economic and social decline. It will not be easy, but he has already made a start

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Three years ago, noone outside family and friends, and acquaintances from school and work, had heard of Emmanuel Macron. Today hs is the President of France, and the youngest person to lead France since Napoleon Bonaparte. Like Napoleon, he has promised to make France great again – but that is where all resemblances end.  Macron is no Napoleon; his plan to revive France is not military nor imperialistic; it's economic social and European, and is already being put into action.
   With Emmanuel Macron, French and international pundits will need to get used to expecting the unexpected. The fact that Macron is now President of France is just the first of many surprises.  
   The rule book of political orthodoxy in France has just been thrown out of the window, and those who expect to predict the Macron presidency according to the French political tradition of the past 50 years are in for many more surprises.  
   For many, Macron's first big surprise after taking up office has been to appoint a conservative politician as prime minister.  Forty-six year old Edouard Philippe, until now mayor of Le Havre, has no experience of government, but plenty of experience of politics. 
   Yet this appointment of a moderate conservative to the post of Prime Minister will not have surprised anyone who has gauged the profound dislocation of traditional politics that Macron is in the process of engineering. Nor should anyone be surprised by his appointment of a mix of well-known moderates from several different traditional parties, to posts in his first government or administration. The first Macron administration contains three senior figures from the Socialist Party, all centre-left moderates, together with three leading figures from the conservative Républicains party, notably Edouard Philippe and Bruno Lemaire, along with François Bayrou from the centrist Modem party (Mouvement Democratique), and popular TV environmentalist Nicolas Hulot, as well as new faces as yet largely unknown to the French public.
   In brief, the composition of the first Macron government should have surprised nobody, as it reflects exactly what Macron's mould-busting movement "En Marche"  - now known as "La République en Marche, or REM) is all about. About breaking out of the classic left-right division that has paralysed French politics and reined back the French economy for the best part of thirty years; about forming a government of the centre that will not be the prisoner of militant hard-liners of the left or of the right because it will not depend on the support of hard-liners for its survival. On paper it looks good ; the events of the coming six months will tell if the ideal can stand up to the reality of government.

   However the first Macron government may be short-lived.  Its makeup owes as much to the President's desire to unite pro-Europe moderate politicans of the left and the right into a consensual government of the centre, as it does to help Macron get a parliamentary majority out of the general election that takes place in June. By including well-known figures from the left, the right and the centre into his first team, Macron is wrong-footing both the Socialists and the conservative Républicains who will field candidates in the upcoming general elections against candidates from REM.  With some of their own - or formerly their own - in the new government, neither the Socialists nor the Republicans will be able to claim that REM is on the other side of the classic left-right divide; and moderate voters from the left and the right can see that REM is a new force in French politics that has taken on board popular leading figures  from the party for which they voted in the past.
   If all goes according to plan, and REM can get an absolute majority of seats in the next French parliament, then the present government, with its balance of centre-left and centre-right ministers, may well continue unchanged, or largely unchanged, for a couple of years if not longer. A cabinet reshuffle may not be required.  If REM fails to get an absolute majority of deputies in the French Parliament as a result of the upcoming elections, then a new government will have to be formed.
   If REM does not get the absolute majority that Macron is looking for, several scenarios are possible.
  1. REM has a relative majority, but as the largest single party can win over a number of moderates from the Socialist party or the Republicans, to form a government without going into any formal coalition.
  2. REM is the largest single party, but cannot form a government without going into coalition with another party - most likely the Republicans.
  3. REM is not the largest party. The Republicans obtain a relative majority, or even an absolute majority (unlikely), and can form a Republican-led coalition or a Republican government.
   Other scenarios are possible, but unlikely, apart from one that is not being entertained by the pundits, is unlikely, but could also occur. In this situation  REM does not achieve a satisfactory working majority in parliament, either as a coalition partner, or outside a coalition, and without a working parliamentary majority Macron simply dissolves parliament and calls new elections, giving French voters the choice between stability with a REM government, or political and economic chaos with a parliament where three or four competing political parties vie for power and prestige.

  Assuming that in June, or maybe in September if new elections are necessary, REM does then achieve a working majority in the French parliament, Macron will then have almost five years to get the French economy back on the rails, bring down France's endemic unemployment, and show, through falling unemployment and rising living standards, that France is on the road to recovery.  
   Though Macron's political background is as an adviser to Socialist president François Hollande, and as minister of the economy in the Hollande government, Macron is no collectivist socialist. It is telling that he has appointed figures from the Republican party to the key economic jobs in his first administration. Macron is pro-business, pro-innovation and against the legislative red-tape that can complicate the life of French businesses. If his administration changes after the June elections, expect to see more centre-right figures coming in to government, not less.

  Expect also to see plenty of protests in France over the coming months. Macron's economic reforms are not going to go down well with the left wing trade unions; and with unemployment still standing at 10% there are plenty of people in France who are more than ready to take to the streets in the time-honoured French tradition of active protest. On the other hand it is unlikely that a Macron government will follow the French tradition of the past thirty years, and give in to the demands of vociferous demonstrators on the streets. As economics minister Macron already pushed through business reforms that were hotly contested by the unions, and they were just those that he could promote as part of a Socialist government. Tax reforms, more labour reforms and other economic reforms are likely to cause storms of protest; but Macron and his supporters know that it is precisely because governments in the past, of the left and of the right, have failed to push through the necessary economic reforms, that the French economy and unemployment are in the situation they are in today.

  Change in France is likely to be painful for some, if not for all, but Emmanuel Macron has been elected on a ticket of change with a commitment to put France back on the road to strength and prosperity, and to do so firmly within the framework of the European Union.  At the head of a movement he himself has created, with no paymasters to report back to, no militants to satisfy other than those who are militating for him, and no partners to rein him in, Macron has an open road to enact the reforms that he knows are vital if France is to get back on the road to prosperity.  And as long as he has the parliamentary majority to carry out his programme, he will do so in spite of the howls of protest from vested interests    that have derailed so many vitally needed reforms in France over the past thirty years.
  The "unexpected" in France will only be unexpected to those who remain entrenched in a vision of politics and economics derived from the traditions of the past fifty years. To those who understand where Emmanuel Macron has come from, and where is wants to go, the "unexpected" would be for him to give up on his bold ambitions, not to carry them through.
  And finally, if there is one thing that concentrates many minds in France right now, it is the realisation that if Macron does not succeed, the door will be wide open for a victory of Marine Le Pen and the far right in elections in 2022. 

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Emmanuel Macron addressing the Ecole Polytechnique.
Creative commons photo by Jeremy Barande.