Macron’s France: ‘En Marche!’ to business as usual?
‘Victory for Macron, for France, the EU & the world’ tweeted Hillary Clinton after the second round of the French election in May. The international liberal media shared her delight. Dubbed as the antithesis of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and, most closely, his defeated adversary Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron has become the poster boy for a ‘third way’ in contemporary politics. Young and energetic, victory for Macron’s En Marche! movement coincided with the almost complete destruction of the Ancien Régime of the left-leaning Socialist Party and centre-right Republicans, who had dominated French politics since the 1980s. Macron embodied a new France, one which rallied against the old, stuffy career politicians of before and promised a fresh economically centrist and socially progressive alternative to the wave of right-wing populism sweeping Europe. Macron was Europe’s Justin Trudeau, a ray of light and vision of the future in dark political times for the EU. With a majority of 308 seats, the world seemed to be Macron’s oyster.
Yet, the French do not seem to be sold. The July polls showed Macron’s approval rating plummeting by 10 percentage points, the biggest drop for a new leader since Jacques Chirac suffered a dip of 15 percentage points in 1995. The French media, too, has begun to turn on their hero. The criticism of Macron’s sneering superiority, a former Rothschild banker unable to resist a photo opportunity or burnish his credentials as the king of cool, does not look like it is going away. And whilst Macron has been sure to be seen with everyone from Rihanna to Bono, many commentators are beginning to question whether the slick PR campaign only masks a familiar tale of 1990s centrism. More insidious concerns lurk around Macron’s attempts to stand above democracy. He has voiced plans to reduce the number of elected MPs, award more power to the executive, and is attempting to make the emergency powers granted since the November 2015 terror attacks a part of normal legislation. Some claim that the man who compared himself to the Roman god Jupiter during his election campaign wants to be a king and not a president.
What should we make of Macron’s France? Is this the end for the politics of left and right? What do he and En Marche stand for? Does Macron represent a new European anti-elite political realignment? Or is Macron merely more of the same but with better PR? Does Macron offer an alternative to the rise in populist support throughout Europe? Or is Macron himself a populist?