Press play to listen to this article
Voice by artificial intelligence.
John Litchfield Former foreign editor of The Independent, who was the newspaper’s Paris correspondent for 20 years.
In 2017, Emmanuel Macron promised a new, consensual kind of politics. He said he would be a revolutionary in a suit who would dismantle special interest groups, limit opportunities and break down the barriers that stifled France’s prosperity.
Last June, Macron spoke of a “new way of governing”. the French are he said A local newspaper in France is “fed up with reforms coming from above”.
Nine months later, riots broke out in several French cities. The French capital has blocked highways, transport and energy strikes, and is being collected as President Macron used special constitutional powers to impose pension reforms that 70% of French adults dislike. There is a pile of garbage that is not there.
Far from being a ‘revolutionary fit’, Mr Macron has become a traditional French leader who confronts a situation where the French people are stuck. Like Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande before him, he seeks to reform France against its will.
Yet there is something hysterical about the current political mood in France that goes beyond the protests faced by Macron’s predecessor.
This is partly due to Macron himself. He promised a consensual, bottom-up approach, eliminating vested interests and eliminating the frozen thinking of political parties and trade unions.
He eventually ended up imposing a rather modest pension reform, almost by edict, which was rejected by the majority of voters and was (successfully) misplaced by the unions and opposition he was trying to alienate. I was told
President Macron left almost all of the pension reform salesmanship to Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne and the rest of the government. They have done a muddled job of pitching a muddled but enlightened reform of a system that is permanently in the red and will struggle to survive unless the official retirement age is gradually raised.
But is it “brutal” and “violent” reform? Even moderate union leaders insist? Not likely.
France’s official retirement age will gradually increase from 62 to 64 by 2030. That means the Frenchman will retire within seven years of her, sooner than most Europeans do now.
The hysteria of the pension debate reflects a shattered political climate. Since the collapse of the old left-right system ten years ago (encouraged and drawn from by Macron himself), French politics has become increasingly turbulent and polarized.
Left is more determined left. The right is drifting towards the extreme right. Macron has never properly institutionalized or channeled his “new center”.
He has been accused by both the left and the right of “breaking” or “breaking” France. Within 15 months of his first victory in the 2017 election, he faced an unprecedented grassroots uprising by his yellow vest movement over gasoline and diesel taxes in rural and suburban France.
Less than 11 months after being re-elected last April, he is facing the biggest union protests in 20 years that threaten to erupt into riots.
But did Macron “break” France?
The unemployment rate under his supervision fell from 9.4% to 7.2%. Youth unemployment has fallen even more dramatically. Macron’s labor law changes and payroll tax cuts — controversial at the time — claim a portion of the credit.
State spending on health services has increased significantly for the first time in a century (although hospitals are struggling and doctors complain about low wages). The French have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s surge in energy prices fairly well, thanks to a huge program of government spending.
The refusal of Macron and his aides to get their point across is often baffling, mixed with arrogance and resignation.
A good example is the pension issue. Most militant workers on railroads, the Paris metro, and power plants advocate special pension schemes that allow them to retire in their fifties.
These governments are permanently in the red, losing 3 billion euros a year to rail workers alone. The deficit is financed by the state, taxpayers who retire long after the railroad workers. Most of the special deals will be phased out as part of Macron’s reforms.
The government is strangely reluctant to use this kind of financial argument. Accumulation of public debt 3 trillion euros (114% of GDP) need not worry about creditors.
What now? Anxiety subsides. Born’s government will almost certainly survive a condemnation motion in parliament on Monday. Her reward will almost certainly be dismissed by Macron within a month.
The new prime minister will try to make a fresh start, but Macron’s remaining second term will be overshadowed by a dispute over pensions. He promised to reduce the unemployment rate to his 5.5% (i.e. full employment) by the end of his second term, but for a minority and centrist government passed the labor law reforms he wanted. would be difficult to do.
Among other things, Macron has no clear successor. Several centrist politicians are eager to follow him, but Macron’s “brand” and approach won’t win big votes in 2027.
He eliminated political parties and trade unions and failed to establish direct ties with the French people. He was unable to convince the French that they were suffering from the obstruction and vested interests of certain interest groups.
Macron succeeds on several counts. The first defined “macronism” failed.
Marine Le Pen and the Far Right are patiently waiting as the Left is radicalized and fragmented and the Center Right is crippled by selfish infighting.