French Election: Macron “Landslide” Masks Growing Revolt

THE ELECTION of 39-year-old centrist neophyte Emmanuel Macron as President of France raises more problems than it will solve, and almost guarantees the continued growth in support for the far-Right Front National led by Marine Le Pen; Macron’s victory — whilst ostensibly convincing — portends ongoing instability whilst a reasonable slate of economic-based policies misses the point. A boilover, five years hence, is a virtual certainty.

About the nicest thing I can find to say of socialists who win elections in Western countries at the moment — or even, as in this case, those who call themselves “centrists” — is that their greatest impact is almost invariably to speed the election of their opponents, and to hasten the decline of their parties; today’s news is a little different, for France’s new President is yet to be tested on any meaningful level, and is yet to translate his support into a party structure at all, let alone kill it off on account of his actions.

But the news that “centrist” Emmanuel Macron has been elected overnight as President of France’s Fifth Republic is unremarkable, despite the 2:1 split of votes in his favour; newspaper reports crowing that Macron’s victory was the “second-largest win since 1965” ignore the fact that the largest was recorded by Jacques Chirac over the far-Right Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, and that yesterday’s triumph was over the same far-Right organisation, led by Le Pen’s daughter, which nevertheless doubled its support based on the 2002 result.

I’m not what one would ordinarily characterise as a supporter of the Front National, but quite literally — if forced to choose between Macron and Marine Le Pen — the latter would be preferable, even if a peg was required to secure my nose before making such a judgement.

First things first: readers may wish to peruse reports of the French election from other press sources here and here; I am also including a comment piece tonight from Robert Gottliebsen, for the itinerary of Macron policies it details are in fact a double-edged sword in terms of the new President’s likely impact — and his political fortunes henceforth.

But like Justin Trudeau in Canada — a barely reconstructed warrior of the illiberal Left who is, in any case, making a fine botch of his job — Macron arrives at the Élysée Palace with no appreciable political experience; briefly a minister under the outgoing Socialist regime, it is arguable the new President has fashioned himself as a “centrist” for no better reason than to run out on his old mates at the Socialist Party, and to distance himself from the wreckage of the presidency of Francois Holland for personal political advancement.

Even the lamentable Trudeau stands innocent of such a charge of political bastardry.

Macron will quickly find — especially if the centre-Right Les Républicains seize control of France’s National Assembly, as seems probable — that glib lines and a facile (if photogenic) media facade are poor armaments with which to fight the very real problems France faces as it marches toward the 20s: the high levels of immigration under the EU’s “freedom of movement” charter that, in turn, are fuelling social unrest and dislocation; resentment among the indigenous population toward France’s burgeoning Muslim population; the ongoing (and seemingly permanent) spectre of terrorist attacks; and growing hostility toward Brussels, as the anti-EU sentiment that led to Brexit in the UK gestates and develops across much of the continental mainland beyond Germany.

On one interpretation, scoring 65% of the vote in a two-candidate runoff is a landslide by any measure.

Yet the 35% scored by Le Pen, against a candidate untarnished by the scandals and controversy that dogged Chirac through much of his tenure, shows that not only has the Front National doubled its support in the 15 years since it last reached a runoff, but suggests its potential vote may even have been depressed by the resolute refusal of all other parties to endorse Le Pen against Macron — even those on the Right and/or of a similar anti-EU bent.

During the campaign, Le Pen suggested that France would be run by a woman irrespective of the election result: either herself, or German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was a powerful line, and one that will resonate strongly in the years ahead should Macron falter, or fail to deliver as Hollande did, or if he is seen to be little more than the tail on Germany’s dog.*

The policies Macron has been elected upon — as detailed by Gottliebsen — are, in themselves, innocuous enough.

But the bulk of this program — tax cuts, strongly enforced borders, a smaller public service, reduced social security contributions (read: superannuation), and a raft of pro-business measures — would comfortably form the platform of a centre-Right government in most Western countries.

The problem is that most, if not all of it, is unlikely to ever be implemented: Macron’s old chums on the Left are likely to be disinclined to make a success of him, and his would-be mates on the Right (should they prevail in elections later this month for the National Assembly) are likely to want far stronger measures than Macron is prepared to offer.

One of the problems with standing as President in France without a political party (let alone one to hijack, as some claim Donald Trump did in the USA) is that if successful, one ends up with no power base at all: and if candidates from Macron’s En Marche! movement fail to make huge inroads, his presidency will be doomed before it even starts.

Such is the predicament of a 39-year-old kid with delusions of adequacy: the child President in difficult times, in a hostile and fast-evolving geopolitical landscape, is odds-on to deliver an absolute debacle.

Anyone who stands for office with failed socialist Barack Obama cheering from one corner, and unelectable megalomaniac Hillary Clinton cheering from the other, hardly constitutes an ideal candidate for anything.

But all of this aside, it is France’s social problems — not its economy, which Macron’s policies are squarely aimed at — that will form his greatest challenge, and his failure to offer more to address these speaks to an appalling naivety at best, or a culpable dereliction of responsibility at worst.

Echoes of the idiot-simple Obama creed of seeing the good in people, and focusing on the virtues of potential and achievement and striving for success, are simply not good enough in a country that at times has appeared primed to explode.

To the outside observer, France has become a powderkeg; unable to cope with the social stresses of integrating massive numbers of immigrants, and unable to resolve the dislocation and simmering tensions those who have already arrived have sparked, Macron’s is likely to simply be the latest in a procession of French administrations — from both the Left and the Right — that have, through reprehensible ineptitude on social policy, hastened the decline of France as a society, a state, and as a power.

Ongoing interference from the EU — especially if Britain is seen to exit the union on terms favourable to itself, and with minimal domestic fallout — can only spur the anti-EU sentiment that is already bubbling within the French population. If Merkel is seen to run France, as Le Pen suggests, the moderate undercurrent of demand for a “Frexit” will become a stampede.

All of this points to ongoing growth in the support the Front National is able to command: and in five years’ time Le Pen, who hasn’t been as badly beaten this week as a cursory inspection of the margin might suggest, will almost certainly stand again.

At that point, all bets would be off. If I were inclined to wager a tenner, though, I’d expect her to win: whilst we wish Macron well and hope he succeeds, the overwhelming likelihood is that he won’t.

If and when he doesn’t, France will turn Right. The question is how much damage the country will sustain in the five years before its next opportunity to elect its monarch.

 

*No implication that Merkel is a dog is intended. I am simply using the old “tail wagging the dog” analogy.

Arrogant Frog: The Self-Delusion Of Valery Giscard d’Estaing

Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing is spending his dotage the same way he has spent the rest of his life: fantasising about his own importance. This time he wants to build a shrine to himself to preserve his “place in history.” Alas, there are no funds with which to do so.

The Times has reported this week that Giscard, 87, is selling his family’s silver, porcelain, works of art and other heirlooms — including an 18th-century marble statue by Pierre Julien — to raise funds for a museum that he intends to open in his own honour.

The looming sale is also said to include various items of memorabilia from his time in office as President of France.

The fire sale has become necessary on account of Giscard’s failure to sell a stately home he owns — for $3 million — in order to renovate another château he acquired some years ago to turn that, too, into a monument to himself.

It’s sad stuff, really, and it comes near the end of a life, and an ancestry, that seems to have been preoccupied with enhancing the publicly perceived importance of himself and his family.

Giscard’s father — clearly a craven to aristocratic aspiration — convinced government officials in 1922 that his family was in fact descended from nobility, claiming an obscure link to the aristocratic d’Estaing family; his family has been styled Giscard d’Estaing ever since.

Obviously, the aristocratic inclinations of the father were inherited by the son.

VGE — as Giscard is commonly referred to in France — has been nothing if not ambitious over the years.

It is, however, a fair comment that the great shame is that his ambitions and aspirations were pursued with far more vigour than his duties of state — certainly in later years — and that rather than leave behind the legacy of a great presidency, VGE will be remembered at home and abroad as the mediocrity he was as President.

His record of plotting and scheming in elected office dates back to the 1960s, during which he was widely regarded as being responsible for driving French war hero and President Charles de Gaulle from office; de Gaulle’s replacement as President, Georges Pompidou, died suddenly in office in 1974, and Giscard was narrowly elected President.

His term in office started out well enough, but his administration soon became unpopular; mired in scandals often with himself at the centre of them, even his fellow world leaders grew tired of him — Margaret Thatcher, for one, found his constant self-aggrandisement irritating.

And — beaten by a serial loser in Francois Mitterrand in 1981 — VGE earned the dubious distinction of both being the first French President of the modern era to fail to be re-elected, and the first to be ousted by a socialist: a unique double whammy not matched until Nicolas Sarkozy lost to Francois Hollande earlier this year.

What is it with past leaders and their determination to inflate the public record of themselves? Is this a French thing, or is it politicians in general?

The question might seem obvious, until it is remembered that VGE, having failed to sell the family château to bankroll his exercises in self-promotion — a grand stately home that has been in his family for the better part of 100 years — is now busily liquidating all of the assets of value it contains, some of them virtually priceless, to pay for this latest attempted excursion into immortality.

Such is the ridicule VGE has attracted over the years that he is largely regarded as a simple figure of fun by his countryfolk; indeed, a putative attempt to regain the presidency in 1995 died a quiet death when it was realised he was so unpopular he would struggle to attract double-digit support in the first round of France’s two-stage election process.

And these latest activities to build monuments to himself are merely the latest in a long, long line of adventures that have attracted negative publicity; one of the most notorious of these episodes involved the publication in 2009 of a novel entitled The Princess And The President, in which he seemed to suggest he had had an affair with the late Princess Diana.

Stung by the public outcry, VGE was forced to publicly state that the romance contained in the novel was purely fictitious.

Everyone knows that politicians see themselves as a cut above the rest of us; the “rulers and the ruled” mentality, and VGE — with his adopted family history of aristocracy and clear delusions of grandeur — apparently seeks to prove it.

What do readers think? Should former leaders go gently and softly into the night, or is there a case for eulogising them in the way Valery Giscard d’Estaing seeks to do for himself?