This week, the new French president Emmanuel Macron unveiled his portrait officiel and it was glittering, clean and displayed the fresh face of the new France. It contained ambiguous symbols, including classic literature, showing its orchestrator’s enjoyment for the theatrical. Going into the future, the question is whether or not this portrait will become a reverse Dorian Gray, where the picture remains the same while the man himself becomes wicked, or whether its real life subject will maintain the same rosy image over the next five years.
When Justin Trudeau was heralded as some saviour of liberalism, I cringed, for he’s an incompetent twit with good PR. When Hillary Clinton ran for president, there was indeed much to cringe about, and equally much to be worried about given her sketchy past in politics. And as such, when Macron, someone who I saw as similar to and was compared to the aforementioned two names, became the front-runner of the French Presidential Election, I was annoyed. He was better than Le Pen, but by no means an answer to anyone’s problems, and I saw Francois Fillon as a far better option for the country.
But the past couple of months have completely changed my mind. As it stands, I can see nobody else in that Presidential race who could have provided the leadership and reform that France needs. Fillon, though likely having the same economic aims, would not be supported by parliament and country for his emplois fictifs scandal and on account of him being a well-established political figure. The parliamentary elections would have served to weaken him, I believe. Macron, on the other hand, the centrist fresh face who delights in his own intelligence, has won a solid parliamentary majority and is at least acceptable to all but the most extreme in the Assemblée Nationale.
My initial concerns with Macron were on social issues, namely islamism and immigration. France’s problems currently involve a mass anger with globalisation, and the successes of far-left Mélenchon and far-right Le Pen in both the presidential and parliamentary elections (though the latter did far worse in the parliamentary elections than was expected, with her second in command Florian Philippot failing to gain a seat) demonstrate this. I saw Fillon as a moderate answer to these problems – someone who promised to deal with the problem of Islamism (outlined in his very well argued book Vaincre le Totalitarisme Islamique) yet would not do so as stupidly as Le Pen proposed. I still am sceptical of Macron’s record and lack of promises on this, but his wish for a short national service as well as his clear adoration of French culture (his victory speech was given before Le Louvre; he is known for good taste in French literature) convince me into seeing him as someone willing to defend his country’s cultural heritage when threatened.*
But this is irrelevant, since I think Macron has succeeded in making his presidency about France’s place on the world stage and about its economic prosperity (which is very much linked to the former). He wants France to be the face of Europe, I believe, and has shown this in the way he’s invited the two great powers of the world, Putin and Trump, to Paris in such short time. Putin was there just days after his inauguration, and Macron managed to take a diplomatic but firm approach to him, shown in his dismissal of RT News and Sputnik while standing right by the Russian president. In that moment, Macron showed he was not in the mood for flattery and cowing to big world figures, but rather more wanted to be his own big figure. He understands the potential of France as being the best (this of course links to the way he wishes to expand the military and modernise France’s nuclear arsenal). Furthermore, he has invited the U.S. President to his country for Bastille Day, a day of celebration for the entire country. This controversial decision I think seeks to approach the Trump conundrum in the best way possible – by making him feel special. The egomaniac Trump gets to feel gifted that he is the star in France on such a special day; Macron gets to show off the miraculous culture and force of his own country in the military parade on the Champs-Élysées. In terms of his diplomacy, the new president has done everything to make his country proud.
Just a little side note, could you imagine if the Tories invited Donald Trump for a visit on such a significant day of celebration? Say, the Queen’s birthday or some form of Jubilee, for example. The left in this country would be out on the streets in force complaining that the country is accepting some sort of Nazi (as they see Trump) rather than understanding the importance of strong diplomacy. Equally, many on the left kick up a huge furore over the Tories’ economic policies, yet treat Macron as some saviour of Europe despite his neoliberalism.
Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies are not entirely new. Yet for a country like France, held down by high taxation, stagnant unemployment, and a short working week, his image of the country as a “start-up nation” is refreshing. He promises to make France the economic centre of Europe, and seeks to reap rewards from Britain’s potential economic instability following Brexit. As a pro-Brexit Brit, this, as well as his love of the EU, does make me worried (especially given the potential election of Jeremy Corbyn), but I see Macron’s approach as natural for someone who wants his country to do well. I can hardly blame him for wanting his country to do well, and the response from our government should be to do the most possible to ensure our country remains attractive.
I do take issue with his European protectionism, however. And many in the EU suffer from this – they refuse to accept that much can be gained from dealing with the world outside of Europe. Yes, it’s true, the EU is a great trading bloc and an economic benefit, but its leaders should look to being more concerned with global trading. Macron’s proposed “Buy European Act” is a symbol that he wants to strengthen the EU and punish countries outside of it. This should be condemned as protectionist, but it isn’t because being pro-EU apparently makes people neoliberal just from that.
To add to another double standard which hits the Tories but not others in Europe is austerity measures, which Macron wants to introduce. As it stands, France’s expenditure is dramatically high, and the new president wants to reduce this by making €60bn worth of cuts to the public sector over his first term. He also wants to, for example, reduce corporation tax and weaken labour laws, in effort to decrease unemployment and invigorate French business. As a result of his proposed plans, the markets treated his election favourably, and confidence was created around Europe.
For Brexit Britain, Emmanuel Macron may be bad news. But one cannot blame him for getting the best for his people. For many disassociated French citizens, he may seem a sad symbol for the failures of globalism. But if he pulls off his reforms and makes visible improvements in France, he can change their outlook. The man is by no means perfect, and he is still in his honeymoon period right now so who knows how long I will be head-over-heels for him, yet one cannot help thinking that he can do a lot of good for France – he may be the perfect man for the time.
*Macron was criticised for saying that “there isn’t a French culture” but rather a “culture in France that is diverse”. I do have to say, that this does worry me. It shows, I think, an enthusiasm for multiculturalism which doesn’t play well everywhere it’s been adopted. It was, indeed, the overwhelmingly moderate David Cameron who, in 2011, said that state multiculturalism had failed. A country should have a unified culture and society in which people can feel patriotic and feel part of a community. Different views openly expressed, of course, but not a state encouragement of many different cultures.