The French want an elected king rather than simply a president. Emmanuel Macron has managed to return the festive aura that it lacked under so-called “normal president” Francois Hollande to the presidential office. Head of the French-Russian Analytical Center “Observo” Arnaud Dubien describes changes in France during the first year of Macron’s presidency.
Elected king. Domestic policy
Emmanuel Macron has managed to return the festive aura that it lacked under so-called “normal president” Francois Hollande to the presidential office. The French want an elected king rather than simply a normal president. Macron grasped the importance of the issue; he is not afraid of the words “vertical of power” and some analysts have even decided there are parallels with Napoleon in his style. This was obvious at Macron’s first speech in Louvres after his election. He attaches vast importance to symbols, grandeur and history, realizing that the French were short on these things during the presidencies of Hollande and Sarkozy.
Macron immediately initiated a number of reforms in various areas (labor, institutional and railway transport reform) because he believes that France has missed many things in the past 20 years. At any rate, it did not do what Germany and other European countries did. The new president opened several fronts in one go and is in constant motion. This is his second characteristic feature.
Naturally there are protests but they will be overcome because public opinion is ripe and there will be no repetition of what happened in 1995 when the Alain Juppe government under Jacques Chirac had to back-pedal on many initiatives. Now everyone, including the protesters, is convinced that Macron will go all the way. Maybe, a few amendments will be introduced to help everyone save face but in principle he will bring this story to the point.
Too far from provincial France?
As for the political context, it is clear that Macron stands to gain from the confusion of the opposition: the National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen have still not recovered from losing the debates before the second round of the presidential election; the Republicans are still shocked that Francois Fillon failed to make the second round. A bad situation is made worse by the fact that Macron who was perceived by the majority of the population as Hollande’s successor a year ago, is conducting sooner center-right policy de facto – Fillon’s numerous supporters welcome, for instance, the president’s struggle against trade unions. Now the main oppositionist is Left Front leader Jean-Luc Melenchon. The political scene is split but Macron keeps the situation under control. For the time being, the opposition is failing to look respectable and is unlikely to claim anything.
Polls show that Macron himself is not that popular. He has a disapproval rating of 60 percent. They do not want him to run for a second term because he and his policy represent the interests of that part of France that stands to gain from globalization – this part of France is successful, urbanistic, open-to-the world and dynamic. Many people in France are under the impression that this policy will only increase the gap between successful France and suffering France (I’m referring to peripheral France with its small cities and villages). This is not very pronounced politically for the time being but there is a risk that many voters will eventually think that Macron is too far from the France that needs support.
Foreign policy: playing on the contrast
Macron has ambitious foreign policy plans – to talk with the mighty of the Earth and position France as one of the great powers that plays a major role in international relations. Here he is playing on the contrast between Hollande whom many accused of neo-conservatism.
Macron appeals to realism and firm convictions. This is evident in Syria: as distinct from Hollande, he has not made Assad’s departure a condition in the political process. This is a position of realism because Assad has already won (at least militarily). He is also firm as regards red lines: as distinct from Hollande and Obama that abstained from bombing Syria in 2013 although they were convinced that Assad had used chemical agents, Macron made this move jointly with Donald Trump.
Europe and integration
However, Macron is obviously paying primary attention to Europe, that is, integration, consolidating the Euro zone and establishing new institutions and mechanisms. But he is unlikely to make much progress because he is in proud solitude in Europe.
He was hoping for German aid. Last year’s election showed that Angela Merkel’s position had weakened and that she needed to consider the attitudes of the people, which are sooner European – a striving for more caution in approaching immigration and financial issues. Also, Germany is always suspecting France of the desire to use German money in favor of southern Europe.
Elections in other countries – the Czech Republic and Austria and now in Italy show that by and large Europe is dominated by attitudes against integration.
During the first year of his diplomacy Macron visited India and Australia.
I think the emergence of a France-India-Australia axis is surprising. This is a new French geopolitical approach that is likely to curb China, although this is not admitted publicly.
One more issue that is worrying everyone is the nuclear deal with Iran. France does not want this agreement to derail but it seems Macron has failed to convince Trump to preserve it.
This could be skillfully used against the French president by showing that his trip to the United States, the slaps on the shoulder and the kisses, produced minimal results in the end. The US will rather listen to Israel than Europe on this issue.
As for France-Russia relations, they are not in the best shape. The Skripal case, Syria, etc., are not promoting cooperation. Nevertheless, Macron will pay a visit to Russia and this visit is considered very important.
However, there are also many positives – economic relations continue to be solid; major contracts are bound to be signed at the St. Petersburg Forum and the Trianon dialogue will be launched. Incidentally, many of the projects that are being discussed have been suggested by the French and Russian people. This shows that the two countries’ interest in each other remains strong and is not so dire after all.