The Corner


Macron: L’état c’est lui

If there’s one thing of which we can be sure about 2017, it is that one of its more paradoxical moments was the election of Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency.

Writing in Law and Liberty, Guillaume de Thieulloy:

Macron succeeded mainly because he was considered “new”: young, without any political experience, without any electoral mandate. Of course, one could recall that he was in charge of economic policy during the Hollande presidency—a policy that was not exactly successful. For that matter, he was a strong supporter of the policies that have been applied for decades. But he was “new” and it was enough.

With the subsequent sweeping victory of LREM, Macron’s new political movement, in parliament (in terms of seats, if not terms of the population: More than half the adult population did not bother to vote, a remarkable declaration of indifference by French standards), Macron is in the catbird seat.

De Thieulloy:

It’s important to note that many of these members of Parliament are even newer than Macron. Many of them have never held office before. And many know little of public finance, foreign affairs issues, or even the rules of the National Assembly. So, a large contingent of MPs don’t have any political identity save the “label” LREM and the support of Emmanuel Macron, and have rudimentary, if any, political skills. One assumes that they will vote the way President Macron will ask them to vote, and espouse policies that government ministers tell them are good….

Some in the French media speak of a government by “pronunciamento.” That’s not completely off the mark, for one sees no real checks and balances, now, to the presidential will. No political power can resist his decisions at this point. But it could instead be considered a return to the “Gaullist” conception of the chief of state: the only one chosen by the French people, independent of the parties and the lobbies, like a king. Just as Macron could be seen as a populist with an anti-populist roadmap, he could also be considered a “Gaullist” with an anti-Gaullist roadmap. This would mean a President independent of the parties, not to promote France’s independence but, on the contrary, to promote a better European integration or a wider opening of the borders.

What could go wrong?

But perhaps we are all too slow to keep up.

The BBC (from before Bastille Day):

French President Emmanuel Macron will break with tradition and not give a news conference on Bastille Day because his “complex thoughts” may prove too much for journalists, reports say.

But’s what not too difficult to understand is that, even by the standards of anyone who makes his way to the French presidency, Macron is uncomfortable with dissent.

The Independent:

Just days after the new President rode alongside the head of the armed forces in the Bastille Day parade, General Pierre de Villiers resigned, saying – with quite brutal directness – that the model of the armed forces, as envisaged, would not “guarantee the protection of France”. The next day, he strode out of the Defence Ministry to applause from a guard of honour. The sequence was shown on the chief of staff’s Twitter feed, with a one-word caption: “Merci”.

With hindsight, Macron may accept that he could have acted differently. Having taken umbrage at confidential criticisms the general had made of defence cuts, he then gave de Villiers a very public dressing down – at the top brass’s summer party, no less. This, almost as much as the unexpected reductions in spending on military procurement, seems to have convinced the five-star general his time was up. 

Interesting times ahead, I think.