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
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- REM is the largest single party, but cannot form a
government without going into coalition with another party - most
likely the Republicans.
- 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.
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.