Emmanuel Macron. A difficult man to label. His various views, positions, actions and histories have allowed him to fit into a whole variety of categories. Some see him as the black and white rival of the recently resurging rise in right-wing politics. Others, as a continuation of the establishment. Many, as a new take on neoliberalism and centrism. A few, as a revolutionary reformer, a modern Napoleon attempting to adapt French culture.
It is fairly indisputable that Macron is of contemporary importance. He seems to make the UK headlines almost as much as the eerily quiet Theresa May nowadays, for a number of reasons; his position on the world stage more than domestically, it appears.
Though only a few months into his tenure, the time seems acceptable to make a brief glance at what Macron has achieved and how he is perceived. The first few months of any leader will very often give us a glimpse into to how history may remember them. Obama, however honest his intentions may have been, will no doubt go down as the president that didn’t do particularly much. Trump, the controversial president with big plans but hindered by the bureaucratic process. May, the stoic leader put off balance after being overburdened by Brexit and failing to react to growing opposition.
King Emmanuel I:
The constant re-occurence of Versailles as the backdrop to Macron’s first few months is no coincidence.
The palace of the Sun King creates symbolism so blunt that it is impossible to miss. Macron and his administration are making a bold attempt to show him as the young reformer, willing to bypass the French legislative if that is what it takes to transform the country.
Instead of comparing him to Louis XIV; to the king famous for almost bankrupting France for spending so opulently; the administration is being far smarter. The headline that shot around the world as Macron resoundingly defeated Le Pen was ‘Emmanuel Macron, youngest French President since Napoleon Bonaparte’. Napoleon, the dark horse who rose from the sidelines. The general who saw the terrors of Robespierre’s revolutionary Convention and who transformed them into an empire built on ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. The emperor who, even in defeat, created a legacy so powerful that many in France maintain a sense of pride from it even today.
Macron is throwing down the gloves. He is challenging the legacy of France’s most praised leader.
Comparing his term with the Corsican is no easy challenge. All of Macron’s failures will be twice as damaging if he maintains this facade. What he really needs is results.
In terms of actual reform, the administration appears to be lacking. Perhaps too early in his presidency to judge, but little in terms of de facto legislation or policy has been implemented. However, this doesn’t discredit his vision. Macron is maintaining a lot of suspense. He continually claims he will end ‘defeatism’ and ‘cynicism’ in politics, he claims he will bypass the red-tape of the French bureaucracy, and he claims the country needs a new king.
To quote Mr. Macron, from his interview with journalist Eric Fottorino:
“In French politics, this absence is the presence of a King, a King whom, fundamentally, I don’t think the French people wanted dead.”
Only time will tell if Macron’s bold claims come into fruition. As Zhou Enlai stated when asked about the impact of the French Revolution:
“It’s too soon to say.” The same can be said of Macron.
The dark horse to Trump’s white castle:
To bring things down to earth, probably the most popular lens through which to analyse Macron is the one showing him as the defender of European liberalism and trade.
Arguably, the biggest political success of the 2016 was the breakthrough of reactionaries and traditional conservatism. Brexit, Trump and nearly Le Pen signalled that the neoliberalism, centrism and globalism that have dominated global politics since the 1980’s are going out of fashion. The European Union, a strong symbol of free-trade and right-wing economics has been cast aside by the UK in an attempt to focus on cultural traditions over economic stability. The same can be said of Trumps’ more left-leaning approach to globalism: abandoning TTIP and NAFTA in favour of American industry.
By completely wiping the floor in the French presidential election, Macron appears to be reacting to these changes. He is a symbol that the legacies of Reagan, Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron are not quite dead in the water.
Macron has made increasing efforts to guide the European Union in the wake of Brexit. He’s been the global voice of opposition to Donald Trump, over the USA withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. Most significantly, his domestic promises show that he is setting a clear precedence. Whilst France was in many ways behind the rest of the world in terms of the neoliberal revolution, electing socialist after socialist, Macron is finally allowing the country to catch up.
Macron has promised to:
- Cut corporate tax to 25%.
- Cut local housing tax.
- Reform wealth tax.
- Cut public spending by €60 billion a year.
- Cut 120,000 government employees by not filling in vacancies after retirement.
- Spend €50 billion over 5 years on supply-side investments such as training and infrastructure.
- Privatise and increase the availability of pharmaceutical products and services.
By implementing these reletively free-market policies, it is clear that Macron has intentions to react to the left-leaning approach of Trump and Brexit.
Whilst both of the aforementioned views see Macron as a reformer – be it a revolutionary or reactionary – many simply see him as a continuation of the establishment.
Macron’s policies are big, bold and brazen. So much so, in-fact, that it appears to many critiques as though he is simply a posing for support. A populist to defeat populism, of sorts.
Ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls described Mr. Macron as “populism lite”. The claim is that Macron is simply using his policies as a publicity stunt and will simply continue the socialist-leaning policies of the previous French government.
Further criticism arose from candidate Francois Fillon who stated:
“[The french public would] not place their fate in the hands of a man with no experience, who had demonstrated nothing.”
With so little coming from the domestic front, it appears to many as though this is becoming true. Despite his claims and intentions, Macron has failed to implement any note-worthy neoliberal policies as of yet. The impact he has had – defending the EU and the Paris Climate Accord – are barely symbols of what he stood for when compared to candidates who were open about their links to the previous regime.
These views can be called into question, however. Over the past 2 months, Macron has increased his position in the French legislature and has also imposed plans to further alter the bureaucratic system in the hopes of implementing his policies. Even if these are not direct signs of free-market policies, there is certainly a glimmer of reform on the horizon that is becoming increasingly hard to miss.
At the end of the day, only time will give us the answer to our questions. Time which happens to be working in the French president’s favour.
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