Summer is over, Macron’s honeymoon too.

Now that the holidays – and the honeymoon period – are over,our French blogger, Reuven Levi, looks into President Macron's immediate future

September 06, 2017 11:31

“C’est la Rentrée!” It’s back to school, back to work and back to the harsh reality of French politics. Despite indifferent summer weather in much of France, the tourist inflow set a record with Americans and Japanese back in force. Economic growth and job creation exceeded forecasts. But President Macron celebrated his 100 days in office with a sharp fall in popularity, mostly of his own making.

Before the recess, parliament passed a popular law to forbid parliamentarians from hiring family members and to hold them to account when spending their parliamentary allowances. But no-one noticed. Macron continued to notch up foreign policy successes, like the promising immigrant management deal with Libya. But voters care mostly about what affects them directly and in that domain Macron simply dropped the ball. A series of unexpected and unexplained budget cuts upset the military, public servants, local authorities, students, retirees and the assisted poor. Firing the charismatic army chief-of-staff did not help.

Explanations abound to explain the Macron setback. Overconfidence. Inexperience of the Prime Minister and many of his Ministers. Presidential absence on the domestic front and distain for the media.In parliament, Macron’s party showed arrogance, amateurism and poor leadership. On the flip side, however, enthusiastic newcomers challenged procedures that rewarded longevity rather than performance.

After a short vacation, President Macron marked his return with new instructions for his ministers and an impressive 15-page interview in a Le Point, a major weekly magazine, answering his critics and laying out his vision for the future. He sees France strong, competitive, self-confident, committed to excellence. Free market structural reforms no right-wing government has ever dared contemplate and a European ambition with Germany no recent French President could have carried for want of credibility.

Beyond his innate abilities, chutzpah and adaptability, Macron benefits from a new political landscape and a demoralised opposition. The conservatives have a sizeable parliamentary group, but their ranks include “pragmatists” ready to vote with the government. The socialists lack numbers, leadership and ideas. Marine Le Pen has disappointed the far right, her party is divided on Europe and her anti-immigration policies are going mainstream. Poor electoral performance has cost opposition parties crucial public funding so the Greens fired staff without notice and the Socialists may sell their prestigious headquarters on the Left Bank. The only effective opposition for now is Melenchon ’s left wing populist party of young telegenic advocates of radical change unencumbered by considerations of feasibility or cost.

Macron’s ambitious labour market reform is unpopular on the left, so Melenchon and the radical CGT trade union have called for demonstrations in September though on different days, each hoping to lead a sustained protest movement. Wikipedia says the CGT can bring the country to a standstill because it is strong in the transport, energy and infrastructure sectors. But other unions achieved significant gains in long hours of summer negotiations and are holding their fire pending reforms still to come.

Israel, meanwhile, may be shedding some of its black sheep image. Israel’s hi-tech innovations are admired and as Europe confronts repeated acts of terrorism governments seek advice and co-operation from Israel’s intelligence services. Measures once condemned as Israeli excesses are adopted as indispensable to protect Europe’s residents. Municipal authorities are investing in Israeli-made road side protections and the media shows graphically how they work. Israel isincreasingly a player beyond its borders in the Middle East and Africa where France also has major interests. Macron’s pragmatism and the unpredictability of Mr Trump reinforce French interest in dialogue with Israel. A presidential visit is planned for the spring.


September 06, 2017 11:31

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