2017 06 – News From France


Macron: new package for old programme?

Macron has undeniable elements of novelty; the main one is that he does not belong to an established party. (He gets 12 minutes airtime for his candidates for the forthcoming general election, as opposed to 120 minutes for the traditional parties.  He is appealing against this application of the rules.) Then he did various novelty things, like fielding 50% women candidates and having 50% women ministers in his cabinet.

He made pronouncements that go against the prevailing winds: ‘colonisation was a crime against humanity’, ‘anti-homosexual marriage campaigners were humiliated’.  He said in his investiture speech, paying homage to past presidents, that Jacques Chirac ‘knew how to say ‘no’ to the warmongers’. Another original phrase was “There is no such thing as French culture, but there is culture in France”. His programme has original proposals: only 12 pupils per class in some poor areas, no mobile phones in the classroom.

On the other hand, his first action at home is to fight for three points of the Labour Law that were not included when it was passed last year by decree. That is, establish the right for employers to sack workers more easily and cheaply by putting a cap on the amount paid out to unfairly sacked employees, secondly, allow in-house plant based agreements instead of sector wide branch agreements, thirdly, reduce the number of groups that represent employees within companies.

These measures if passed would make the life of ordinary people harder, by removing security of employment and making possible longer hours and more unpleasant conditions. It would make employment law more similar to that in England. So we might finally get the ‘modernisation’ that France has been urged to make all these years, thanks to a new packaging of the old liberal goal.


Macron and the EU.

Maybe there is something new here. Macron wants deeper fiscal integration, a Eurozone budget and finance minister, parliamentary oversight of the EZ, and to complete the banking union. He has proposed a form of European protectionism: procurement for local authorities would be reserved to European firms.

An article in the Financial Times reproduced in the Irish Times (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/uk-set-to-suffer-as-macron-revives-franco-german-relations-1.3084044#.WRq6BpkdF9c.mailto) by FT political columnist Janan Ganesh, says that Macron has the strength to return Europe to its European roots, away from Anglo-Saxon domination. Now is the time, according to Ganesh, that the divide and rule policy of Britain against Europe for centuries has come to an end.  Ganesh says:

“A lifetime since the second World War, the British in particular still overrate German ambition and under-rate French strength. Nothing can change these views, not the German chancellor’s obvious reluctance as a hegemon, not France’s tenacity in defence of its own interests. It is as though a nation’s performance circa 1940 defines its true self forever.

This complacency about one continental power and paranoia about another leaves Britain unprepared for Macron’s ultimate project: the restoration of Franco-German leadership of the EU. We assume it cannot happen because France is too weak and Germany too keen to dominate, but the first need not always be true and the second has not been true for 70 years.

Macron envisages a grand bargain in which Berlin secures the euro with a fiscal union while Paris agrees to structural reform at home. Such a trade would revive an old relationship that has atrophied through the weakness of his predecessors and the economy they oversaw. If it happens – and the freshness of his electoral mandate gives him a shot – then Britain enters an invidious position.

It has worked for centuries to avoid a concentration of power in mainland Europe.

A coherent, decisively led Europe will always be a problem for Britain. It cannot not be. It has the power to set the terms of access to the continental market and exclude Britain from any influence over events that nevertheless affect it. London’s way around the problem was always to divide and conquer, and it paid handsome returns in recent decades. With its French-style commitment to national powers and Germanic enthusiasm for commerce, it played each country off against the other, alternating alliances between them to craft an EU more to its liking. Hence the single market, the eastward expansion, the bespoke opt-outs.”

Can we really conclude with J. Ganesh that, thanks to Macron, Europe will be harder to divide and rule? Is this just a warning that this political columnist of the FT is sending out, for it to be acted on?

He points out twice that Germany does not want to take the lead politically in Europe; he could also point out that Macron is imitating England in his pursuit of a flexible, i.e. cowed and powerless workforce. He cannot be sure that Macron is really determined to renew Europe. He is just showing a perspective of what might be, to send a shiver down some spines. Other articles by Ganesh show him to revel in paradoxical and original views.

He does sketch out a view of a renewed Europe that would be good for Europe, especially if it led to a renewed Commission with a Europe-centred mission instead of a globalized one. Unfortunately, the price to pay is a reform of the Labour Code, and forcing French workers towards flexibility, which will be hard to do. It is not impossible; it is why it was so important for Macron to appear to be something entirely new, so that the longstanding effort to liberalise Labour Law should appear as something somewhat new too, or part of something entirely new, so it gets a chance to be implemented.

Macron can’t be European at the same time as a supporter of the United States to the point of putting the US first; and he has in the past put the interests of the US before French interests. He says he does not support TTIP for now, although he supports the similar treaty with Canada, CETA. When he was finance minister he could have saved the great French firm Alstom and avoid its takeover by General Electrics, but he did not do so, even though there is a law of protection of French firms which he could have used.


The General Election

We are in a new situation because the party system has broken down. The main parties are no longer the main parties. As mentioned above, this has led to the strange allocation of airtime for candidates: 12 minutes for la Republique en Marche (Macron’s party) against 2 hours for the Socialists and the Republicans. The Socialist Party was reduced to very little in the presidential elections: its candidate came 5th, with 6% of the vote on 7th May. Many socialist candidates have offered their support to Macron, the most prominent being the Prime Minister Emmanuel Valls.  Many candidates standing for the Socialist party say they will support Macron.

The Party ‘The Republicans’ was also humiliated in the presidential election; its candidate spent the entire campaign trying to defend himself against accusations of corruptions which everybody thought were well founded. Republicans are also defecting and joining Macron’s party.

Macron has nominated his ministers from both of the main parties, as well as from no party.  His prime minister is a member of the Republicans. As for the National Front, the same coalition that worked to keep it out of the presidency will work to keep it from having Members of Parliament. Like every other party, it gets air time according to the number of deputies it has in the Lower Chamber. It has two MPs (députés) at the moment and is not likely to get many more. Their defeat has put them in turmoil, and at the same time the media have stopped giving them prominence.


The influence of England

  1. Ganesh says that England regards France and Germany as if they were still the same as in 1940, and this is a mistake. But it is not a mistake. It is an attitude which serves marvellously to keep these two countries in a situation of inferiority, and Britain in a situation of superiority. Moreover the two countries embrace this inferiority with self-abasing masochism.

It was not always like that. The necessity of waging the Cold War against the USSR as soon as Germany was defeated meant that France was allowed to uphold the myth that she fought against Germany from the 18th June 1940 with De Gaulle’s appeal to the French, and that she was one of the victors. The instrumentalisation of the Holocaust for the defence of Israel did not start straightaway.

Since the fall of the USSR, the need to smooth the sensitivities of the two countries has disappeared. They have been made the willing instrument of their own abasement.  As yet another example, during his campaign Macron spent time in front of Holocaust monuments and spoke of France’s ‘shameful’ past.

Yet England bears a heavy responsibility in the wars of the twentieth century. She turned a continental war into a world war in 1914, after actively preparing for it.  After the war, England was careful that France did not get the guarantees against Germany that she wanted. The Treaty of Versailles could have been designed to foment the next war. England encouraged Hitler to break it, and then suddenly stopped this encouragement and declared war without this time making any preparations for it. This dropped the ally France into defeat and occupation; the occupation, and the inevitable accommodations that go with it, has served ever since as a lever against France.

This aspect of history is hidden, Germany and France seemingly not knowing the part of responsibility borne by England. This is an enormous handicap, and one that will survive Brexit. It seems that Macron is not going to shrug it off but will go into battle still carrying this burden, if he does indeed intend to rebuild Europe.