Wry & Dry

Who is Emmanuel Macron?

Who is Emmanuel Macron?

Last week, W&D looked to the London Review of Books for some deeper thoughts on Teresa May (some of which were, it now seems, amazingly prescient).  

But there is more to Europe than the Brits.  Le French, of course.  Which is why last week also saw the W&D exclusive article on the presumptive First Lady of France.   But there has been Reader demand for insights on her husband: Emmanuel Macron, the likely next French President.

And so, once again, W&D turns to the LRB for guidance... 

*  The French presidential election has seen countless ‘firsts’: an incumbent president not standing for a second term; his party’s candidate getting only 6% of the vote; a final round that includes neither of the two main parties; a likely winner with no party at all; a losing candidate who delivered speeches via hologram.

*  The unemployment rate hit a 13-year high in (incumbent President) Hollande’s first year and stayed above the European Union’s average for his entire term. In 2014, having already abandoned the promised 75% tax rate, the government granted €41 billion in tax breaks for companies over three years, in the name of job creation. Several left-wing members of the government resigned. Benoît Hamon, then education minister, now the Socialists’ defeated candidate for the presidency, was among them.

*  One of Hollande’s more striking new appointments was of a 36-year-old political novice as economic minister. The surprise was not so much Emmanuel Macron’s background in banking, or his lack of left-wing credentials, or even his lack of experience. It was more that so few people had heard of him. He had been deputy secretary-general at the Elysée Palace since 2012, when Hollande plucked him from Rothschild. His advisory role in a multibillion dollar Nestlé acquisition had earned him the nickname ‘The Mozart of Finance’.

*  Macron was a key figure in Hollande’s government between 2014 and 2016, and was even partly responsible for his unpopularity. The Loi Macron (Macron Law) made working hours and pay more flexible and let shops open on Sundays. The prime minister, Manuel Valls, had to force the bill through Parliament amid public protest and accusations from the Socialist deputy Yann Galut that Macron was ‘disowning all the values of the left’.

*  Hollande and Macron share a political outlook. They are both fundamentally pro-business, pro-EU pragmatists, in favour of ‘moving beyond the right-left divide’. Hollande wrote these words in a book published under a pseudonym in 1985, La Gauche bouge; Macron made them the centre of his presidential campaign. ‘I am neither left nor right,’ he says.

*  François Fillon, the conservative candidate, sought to exploit their similarities. He called Macron ‘Emmanuel Hollande’. The slur didn’t stick – the most surprising thing of all about this election so far is that the economic minister of the most unpopular president on record should be the most popular candidate to replace him – but Le Pen will try it again in the final round. Of all the candidates, Macron was the one predicted to defeat her the most convincingly, but he is also the one she is most comfortable confronting. He epitomises the ‘elite establishment’ that, despite her own millionaire roots, she loves to rail against.

*  ‘In one year,’ Macron declared in his first-round victory speech, ‘we have changed the face of French political life.’ If he wins, he will indeed change the face of French politics. There’ll be a new pin-up boy.


W&D's view is that it isn’t clear how much will change beyond that.  

Readers will recall that, three years ago, Mateo Renzi burst on to the Italian scene with a plan to transform his country’s staid political and economic ways.  He crashed, when his constitutional reform plan failed and he had to resign as prime minister.

Renzi's problem was the government and the Luddite voters.  Macron's problems will come from three powerful groups in France.

The first is the industrialists.

Remember that the rise of Macron was essentially driven by the massive barrage of media promotion given to him for over a year up to the election.  It’s important in this context to know that most French media are owned by powerful industrialists, many of them exactly the same people who depend on orders from state, or quasi-state, entities for their profits. But even state-owned TV channels, which accept advertising, favour the dominant message of neo-liberalism and start-up evangelism.

The second is the unionists.

Any suggestion at watering down France's extraordinarily restrictive labour market will be choked at birth by unionists.  It is in the DNA of these folk to keep the walls of protection up and fresh air of flexible labour markets out.  This is one of the reasons why France's unemployment rate has hovered around 10% for the decade.  The World Economic Forum Global Competitive Index says that the highest problematic factor in doing business in France was restrictive labor regulations.

In labor market efficiency France ranked 51st in the world, just behind Benin, Russia and Cyprus. 

The third is the bureaucracy.

This is best encapsulated by...

Image result for french bureaucracy

And hence the same WEF report stated that inefficient government bureaucracy was the fourth problem in doing business (just behind Restrictive labor regulations, tax rates and tax regulations). 

And with those three ossified interest groups with which to do battle, Macron will end up like his Italian stablemate.

In the knackery.