hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 9 May 2017


“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”
Charles de Gaulle

Steyning, England. 9 May. What will a Macron presidency mean for France, for Europe, and Brexit Britain? It seems strangely appropriate to be writing about the victory of French President-elect Emmanuel Macron not far from Hastings. Listening to some of Macron’s fierce anti-British rhetoric during the campaign one could be forgiven for thinking Britain might face another battle thereof; 1066 and all that! Still, a bit of ‘ros-bif frapping’ during an election campign in France, works just as well as frog-bashing over here. Theresa May is hard at it as well.

It is certainly a relief that Macron has seen off the challenge of the Rightist Marine Le Pen. She would have been Donald J. with ‘belles’ on if she had taken the Elys e. Thankfully, by winning some 66% of the second round vote Macron now has a decisive if strangely lacklustre majority behind him. He will need it. The challenges France faces are immense. The country is mired in debt, its banking system creaky at best, and it as divided a country as Britain is these days, if not more so.

If Macron means what he said about reforming France expect early fireworks. Le Pen accused Macron of being the harbinger of ‘globalisation sauvage’ beloved of ‘les méchants anglossaxons’. There is little evidence this alumnus of the ultra-elite ENA is that, but he does seem to recognise that if France is to be made fit for twenty-first century competitive purpose wholesale reform of the labour and finance markets must take place. This course will put him in direct confrontation (and early) with powerful vested interests, such as the union conglomerate the CGT and the other big four union conglomerates. In the past French presidents have repeatedly backed down in the face of their wrecking opposition to reform. It will be clear very quickly if Macron is really prepared to take on France’s deeply-rooted anti-reform blocs.

Another stern political challenge will be getting much of his programme through the ‘assemblée nationale’.  Given the very putative nature of ‘en marche’ the political party he created means it is unlikely to form a majority after June’s parliamentary elections. Ironically, the most likely allies for Macron could be the centre-right in the form of ‘les républicains’, at least younger Generation X members of parliament. The Old Guard on the centre-right, such as Juppé and Sarkozy despise Macron for denying them power which they had thought theirs by right after the disastrous Hollande years.  Perhaps Macron might seek to fashion some form of German-style Grosse Koalition or GroKo. It will not be easy.

Macron also wears his pro-EU leanings on his sleeve and has called for the rebirth of the Franco-German axis as the driving force behind deeper political and monetary union. He has also called for the EU to be ‘reformed’, but just how and in what direction is as yet unclear. Clearly, Macron will need to forge a substantive position on the EU and quickly, precisely because France is far more central to the Union than Britain ever was. The test could come relatively quickly. With the loss of Britain’s net 12% contribution to the EU budget would Macron really be willing to reduce the burden on the urban taxpayer of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy?  The CAP continues to swallow 40% of the EU budget but French politicians and farmers view the CAP in much the same way the British Left see the National Health Service; an ancient holy relic that is above and beyond reform.

One thing Macron will have to resolve and quickly is the balance to be struck between further Europeanisation, globalisation and modernisation for and in France.  After all, Macron will not modernise France through the EU, which is simply protectionism writ large. One reason Brussels is so angry about Brexit is because the EU needs British taxpayer’s money for as long as possible to put off the ‘evil’ day when the consequence of the EU’s own inertia and the dark reality it hides finally bites.

In his dealings with Britain Macron will have to a choice to make – friend or foe? He will not be allowed to be a perfidious both. His campaign rhetoric on Brexit was aggressive to say the least, calling the vote to leave a ‘crime’ (so much for democracy). He is also calling for a ‘Europe First’ policy that would see British firms excluded from lucrative EU-backed large public projects, whilst expecting Britain to allow French firms to be able to compete for such projects in the UK.  Critically, he threatens to scrap the 2003 Le Touquet agreement which would in effect mean France passing onto Britain large numbers of illegal immigrants that should have been processed in France.

Macron will need to be careful because Britain is a top five world economic and military power, and a UN Security Council Permanent Member. If he seeks to burnish his pro-EU credentials by leading the charge toward a punishment Brexit he can say goodbye to the Franco-British strategic partnership nd he would damage NATO. It is obvious speaking to people round here the British people are up for a fight with echoes of 1940 clearly part of the mood. Britain and France need each other and Macron would be well advised to seek to act as friend of both London and Brussels so that a deal can be fashioned.

However, his greatest challenge will be to simply keep a Le Pen out of power in 2022.With the population of the Middle East and North Africa slated to double by 2050. And, with little suggestion that governance, economies of hope will improve to match such a population explosion France will be in the front-line of the coming immigration invasion. Emmanuel Macron, slayer of populism? Forget it!
Macron is young (39), acutely ambitious, and clearly very able. He will need to be given the agenda he inherits.   Reforming France, the EU, and maintaining good relations with Britain whilst trying to manage immigration, combat populism, and maintain the standing of Paris in Europe and the world is a Herculean task.

Macro-France or micro-France? Bon chance, M. Macron!
Julian Lindley-French               

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