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Issue #1789      August 9, 2017

Macron on the throne

After Brexit and Trump, Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France counts among the great political surprises of recent times. His rise to potentially unchecked political power has invited comparisons with all-powerful leaders of the Hexagon’s past.

President of France Emmanuel Macron declared recently that if legislators don’t quickly implement his planned parliamentary reforms, he will go over their heads.

Is he the Sun King – Louis XIV – the most supreme of all Europe’s absolute monarchs? Or perhaps like another King Louis, XVI, who faced a revolt of the masses and lost his head.

After taking the Elysée Palace in May, Macron stormed the National Assembly. His 350 (out of 577) seats dwarfed the 137 for François Fillon’s Republicans and 44 for Benoît Hamon’s Socialists, the two main parties for more than three decades.

Yet the voter abstention rate hit a record high of 58 percent in the second round of the parliamentary election. Despite his shock success, Macron’s hold over France is less solid than some predicted and certainly less than he would like.

Macron’s obsession with pomp has been rightly ridiculed in the French press. Not content with French historical comparisons, Macron has been reaching into classical mythology – promoting himself as king of the Roman gods, Jupiter, no less.

Aloof from mere mortals, he’s also distancing himself from the media, cancelling the traditional Bastille Day TV interview, for example. Most seriously, Macron appears determined to bypass parliament and rule by presidential decree. He declared recently that if legislators don’t quickly implement his planned parliamentary reforms, he will go over their heads.

Initial enthusiasm with Macron’s “democratic revolution” may soon give way to disillusionment: a dramatic situation where the former banker and Socialist minister may have all the levers of formal power but lacks backing on the streets.

Macron’s ambitions are large. His sell to the electorate was to bring France and Europe back from the brink, after Britain voted to exit the EU and Euroscepticism appeared to overwhelm even Europe’s founding member and long-time motor.

His resounding defeat of Marine Le Pen in presidential elections in May appeared to put paid to a Gallic rejection of the EU dream. The Front National (FN) secured just eight seats, half of Le Pen’s own modest target of 15. But for how long?

The 39-year-old Macron talks of “reforms” – code for rolling back of genuine reforms of capitalism secured by ordinary people and the left in decades of struggle, from cuts to the public sector and the welfare state to deregulating labour markets.

Rather than workers, it is business interests that must be championed. Gone is the Gaullist defence of “difference.” The most pro-European French leader ever seems ready to embrace the federalist dream.

Against forecasts that he’d soon be facing difficulties “cohabiting” with a parliamentary majority of one of France’s two major parties, in the space of just a few months he converted a vehicle to make him president into a party that overtook them at the ballot box.

Macron’s success was as dramatic as the collapse of the Socialists from whence he came. President François Hollande had promised to deliver jobs and defend the 99 percent against the rich and the greedy bankers.

Instead, unemployment rose on his watch (only in recent months falling to close to the levels when he was elected in May 2012), while he quietly dropped plans to reign in France’s financial sector (responsible, among many crimes and misdemeanours, for a big chunk of Greece’s unsustainable debt) as well as his 75 percent tax on earnings over €1 million.

For appearances’ sake, a youthful, apparent outsider was needed, and candidates with no political experience. Macron’s plan – backed by many in the establishment, including within the Socialist and Republican parties – was, as Tancredi in The Leopard puts it: “For things to remain the same, everything must change.”

Le Pen gained 10.6 million votes in the presidential elections on the back of calls for a referendum on EU and euro membership, as well as her politics of law and order and proposed anti-immigrant clampdown.

Even her much diminished three million score in parliamentary elections showed she has as much support as the radical left, whose position as critical supporters of the EU and European monetary union have seen many in blue-collar heartlands switch their political colours from socialist or communist red to fascist brown. (It has been said by observers and indeed it’s a debate with the FN itself, that Euroscepticism cost the party the election. In fact, Le Pen substantially toned down the anti-EU rhetoric towards the end of her campaign, while her rather poor personal TV performances were no doubt a factor too.)

Within the left, there’s been little “Left Exit,” or Lexit debate, even though regaining political and economic sovereignty would be popular. The risks of ducking the issue are huge. The monetary and fiscal one-size-fits-all straightjacket of Eurozone membership does not allow individual countries to manage their economies according to the needs of their citizens.

Few countries bar Germany – whose surpluses mirror the debts of Europe’s south – have benefited. It’s not just the leaders of Greece or Italy. Macron is condemned to crisis management too. When he falters – in fact, if you care to believe opinion polls, his popularity is already slipping – do we really want Le Pen at the guillotine?

Morning Star

Next article – Solidarity groups stand up for Venezuela

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