Good news : Macron is human (may be)
For the past 35 years France has been in static mode. One step to the left, one step to the right, staying on the same spot. Then one person decided to get it moving forward “en marche !” It appeared as easy as lifting the earth on one’ shoulders, Atlas style
Who is Mr. Macron and how did he get where he is now ? More important : what is his agenda ?The magazine “The Economist” has just published a three page article about the man, just as many other media did (or will do). When I quote from this article, I identify it by (E).Macron was born to a provincial middle-class family, both his parents being busy medical doctors, he was raised by his teacher grand-mother. He gained an intensive love both for reading and for thinking. At 15 he had a role in a school drama play : his talent for acting will come useful later as his career unfolds.
At the time he met a teacher, 24 years his senior, whom he will marry ten years later. While the on-line blogs pretend that this marriage is humbug, to hide a gay nature, the French electorate couldn’t care less.
AT 16 he wins the “Concours Générale” in French language and literature, which means that he ranked first among all the brilliant students of his generation. He also won a prize in a piano contest. After failing a first admittance test he insisted to be examined again by the same teacher who rejected him previously. Not for him to avoid obstacles ! He then spent two years studying literature and failed twice the entrance to the highest literature school “The Ecole Normale Supérieure”. As a matter of fact he did not cram for the exams but was busy writing two novels he never finished, realising that he would not be the next young writer prodigy.(That was lucky for all future Nobel prize winners )
At the age of 24 he met and developed a mutual fascination with an aging philosophy professor, Paul Ricoeur, for whom he served as editorial assistant. Much of Macron’s thinking originated from that meeting : instead of France’s confrontational politics, his approach is one of dialogue and synthesis of contrary points of view. In his speeches most sentences are balanced : “Employers need… but at the same time employees are right to demand…” etc. He got a degree in philosophy, attended a school of political science, and played tennis, soccer …and kick boxing.
From his youngest years he “had an uncommon flair for making people feel he is keenly interested in them. Macron, says a former colleague, is “a networking machine”. Wherever he goes, he collects friends.
He enters and graduates (of course at the top of his class) the Ecole Nationale d’Administration. Three of the past five French Presidents, almost all of the cabinets of French ministers come from this elite school.His ranking allows him to be named at the Finance Ministry as “Inspecteur des Finances” (like Giscard, Juppé before him) where he spends four years to become familiar with the way the government is being run.
He then decides to enter private business and goes for a job interview with the manager of Banque Rotschild. As the man told on TV about this meeting : “Don’t look for another job, you are hired not as a trainee but as a managing partner. I have never made in my life such a proposition to anybody else, but I have never met previously someone like Emmanuel Macron”. In a two year banking career he earned a multi-million bonus for organising some of the largest deals of the bank …and then resigned.
The path of Macron towards the presidency is characterised by his high degree of ability but also by an incredible list of lucky (for him) events. Somebody up there, in the heavens, has been eliminating all obstacles that could have impeded his progress…on top of the right choices he made on every turn.He joined Hollande’s team preparing an electoral program for the future president, at the time when the shoo-in socialist candidate for the 2012 election was called Dominique Strauss Kahn. DSK’s sexual excesses were known by the French press, however it took the New York Sofitel incident to put an end to his political career.
As an advisor in the Elysée Palace Macron advocated quite a few policies that Hollande would only follow partially and so he resigned and planned to return to the business world. Then the incumbent Minister of the Economy got involved in a scandal about his hidden foreign accounts…and Manuel Valls called for Macron to replace monsieur Cahuzac.As a minister Macron managed to carry out some small reforms…but overhauling the Labour laws met too strong resistance…so he resigned and started his own party.
At the time he had just a few hundred followers and the potential presidential candidates included two French presidents and three ex-prime ministers. None survived the preliminary polls of the Right and the Left. Sarkozy was felled by the hatred he accumulated at the time of his stay in power, Juppé made a mess ot his campaign by focusing exclusively on his opposition to Sarkozy and it’s Fillon who came up on the top. Suddenly the media got the revelation of the vast public sums Fillon pocketed through the alleged work of his wife (smaller amounts would not have upset the French) and his program of strict austerity for the country seemed too hypocritical to swallow. On the left Hollande proved too unpopular to stand for a re-election and Manuel Valls too right-wing for the Socialists he planned to represent. Macron wisely stayed out of the preliminary rounds, as his message was that the opposition of Right and Left no longer corresponded to the “l’esprit des temps”. As goes the saying : “Nothing is stronger than an idea of which the time has come”.
Macron correctly judged what the electorate was thirsting for…. the last round of this long electoral season Macron faced Marine Le Pen. Under all circumstances he was slated to win as Marine’s candidacy was hobbled by her party’s past and also by a program that advocated both staying and leaving the euro zone. In the final TV duel amongst the two opponents Marine managed to make the worst performance of her long political career : instead of a close win the final score in favour of Macron was 66 %.
What qualities did Emmanuel Macron display to get to the top? To launch his own movement, with no previous political experience, he needed an enormous amount of nerve, what the Economist called “fearsome self-belief”. (The Yiddish word chutzpah seems the best description). His public speaking performance is by no means exceptional. (He is no Hitler, Mussolini or even Mélenchon).
What worked for him was his message. In a melancholy country, in prey of self-doubt he irradiated hope and optimism. After the disappointment of the last five Presidents the time was ripe for something new. It seemed obsolete that the country was condemned to an eternal opposition between Left and Right. He proposed a program carefully calibrated to be half-way between Right and Left/ Anyway the electoral season has lasted much too long, the various detailed programs of all the candidates much too boring…it was a matter of selecting the man who seemed the right leader, and Emmanuel Macron fitted the bill.
On the subject of the European Union and of globalisation he did not hesitate to promote unpopular ideas : one might not like some facts, but it’s no use to wish them away. France needs to join reality rather than dream about changing it overnightParliamentary elections will take place in June and some people bet that the ambitious reforms foreseen will never get through the Chambers. Strictly speaking a small minority of the electors had voted for Macron, if one takes into account the absentees, the people whose first choice was some other candidate …
Conceivably his party –cobbled together in haste- could get less than an absolute majority. Normally a newly elected president gets from the electorate a majority in the Parliament…. Macron’s bet is that the possible right and left oppositions would never agree on an alternative program so he will be the winner. Whenever in a constituency his party comes through in the first ballot, for the second ballot where generally there will only be two candidates left, he will get the help of whoever is excluded, whether it be Right or Left.
Also many politicians, especially on his right, will be loath to spend five (or ten ?) years opposing a program not too far from the one their party had proposed, and will be tempted to get some ministerial portfolio. So the coming parliamentary elections should not mean the end of his “ en marche”. (get moving).
How about the Unions ? Many labour leaders are opposed to many of Macron’s ideas : re-writing the Labor Law involves allowing firms to freely negotiate with their employees or the unions that the employees chose concerning working hours, wages other conditions. That would make the powerful centralised Union leaders quite redundant ! Foreseeing a maximum amount an employer can be condemned to, if the dismissal of an employee is judged unlawful by the Courts. Retirement rules of public employees are often a lot more favourable than the ones the rest of the country has to accept …However there is a general feeling that if France’s economy is to move forward, many of the traditional brakes will have to be removed.
How will the negotiations with the Unions go ? Much depends upon the public mood next Fall. While the Unions have a history of putting the country to standstill, when they dislike some reform proposal, they would be loath to do so against the overwhelming public opinion. Macron’s “Thatcher moment” is approaching (E)
What is Macron’s style like ? He displayed it when the day of inauguration at the Louvre Museum he walked for over a minute, alone, at the sound of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which happens to be the Hymn of the European Union. Only De Gaulle (and maybe Mitterrand) managed to match his solemnity !
His ministers also claim that he has become totally “presidential”. Paul Ricoeur, his mentor in philosophy, has taught him that the French needed to find in their leader a sense of “verticality”. Will this be sufficient ? Will some outside event help him, as it did so often in the past ?
If a huge storm should engulf whatever demonstration is organised against his policies, then indeed one might ask the question : is Macron fully human ?