Emmanuel Macron cannot win the French presidency, they said, and certainly not a parliamentary majority. They were wrong, and the impossible is now virtually certain. After next Sunday’s second round vote, the “Republic on the Move” will hold more than 400 of 577 seats in the National Assembly, plus additional support from candidates of other parties declaring they will support the President’s programme. How to explain this miraculous turn of events and should the Jewish community be comforted or concerned?
The legislative landslide has many sources, some highly visible and others subterranean. Emmanuel Macron himself became thoroughly Presidential and instantly operational the moment he was elected. He dominated the news with a visit to Mrs Merkel in Berlin, a high-profile handshake with Donald Trump, NATO and G7 meetings, and topped this off with a carefully orchestrated visit by Vladimir Putin to Versailles the showcase of French monarchical splendour. The press acclaimed this foreign policy debut as “faultless”. The people felt uplifted.The prime minister said, “France is back”.
Macron added “the Republic” to his party’s name and orchestrated a highly disciplined campaign. His coherent centrist policy package contrasted with the confusion and weak leadership to left and right. He appointed competent centre right figures as prime minister and ministers of finance, budget and education. His supporters maintained their enthusiasm and the press was friendly.
Above all, the electorate has called for renewal – new faces, new ideas, fewer professional politicians, more open and pragmatic governance methods, an administration they can trust. While politics has been business as usual, society has been changing profoundly. Macronites are self-confident professionals, entrepreneurs, managers and researchers who see globalisation as a given, not an option and Europe as an opportunity, not an infringement of national sovereignty.
They value personal freedom and initiative and reject jobs for life in public administration. They see ethnic and religious diversity as normal and fully compatible with their national identity.
But the new government must reach out beyond its parliamentary majority and engage the public. The record high abstention rate (51 per cent) is a warning. Macron must negotiate with the unions and other interest groups that have systematically stymied past reform efforts. His appointments must be exemplary and scandals dealt with promptly and fairly. He must address the grievances of the “periphery” still tempted by hard-line nationalists on the right and the anti-capitalistic dreamers of the hard left.
Strong and efficient government must be in the Jewish interest, and Macron’s sensitivity to religious diversity will comfort Jewish institutions and the orthodox. However, Jews in France face new forms of discrimination that are overlooked or denied. Two episodes highlight the problem.
Several weeks ago, during the presidential campaign, a Jewish school director was assaulted in her home and bundled over the balcony to her death, but the authorities refused to acknowledge the antiaemitic character of this horrific act and the press stayed silent. More recently, a TV documentary showing the dangerous extent of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in Paris suburbs was cut by the channel’s new management.
The legislative tsunami has washed away Israel’s best friend in parliament, Claude Goasguen, and the courageous former prime minister, Manuel Valls, is not certain to be re-elected. Gerard Collomb, the new Interior Minister, is very close to President Macron and now responsible for the police, internal security and religious affairs. He was a successful Mayor of Lyon, France’s second largest city, where he developed close relations with Islamic institutions in France and Muslim states abroad. The future of the Jewish community here may well depend on the rules of the game he devises for the practice of Islam in secular France.
Reuven Levi, Paris