Emmanuel Macron launches new party: A game-changer in French politics?

Emmanuel Macron launches new party: A game-changer in French politics?

By Nicolas Tenzer

France’s Minister of Economy, Emmanuel Macron, announced on April 6th that he launched a new political party, En Marche! that aims at making obsolete the classical cleavages between the right and the left.

Although he identifies as progressive, Macron is outspoken in advocating for entrepreneurship, competition, reform of the public sector and labor-market’s regulations.

This stance generates opposition from many socialist leaders and the left side of the political spectrum, but support from the employers’ organizations, the startupers, and those who blame the ruling-class for not taking measures to liberalize the French economy.

Macron’s ambition is to reshuffle the political stage. Both conservative and socialist parties are perceived as unable to both change their policies in order to reform the country and their internal machinery to open up for a new generation of politicians.

If Macron succeeds, it will be a true game-changer in French politics, a he would bulldoze the ancient political classifications and mindset. Is he likely to succeed? There is a small chance that this undertaking could dramatically fail if some basic lessons are not taken into account.

Overcoming the distrust of politics?

Macron’s party appears in a period characterized by the repudiation of Hollande’s government (only 15% favor him), the rise of far right’s Le Pen (she is likely to reach the second round of the presidential election), a strong division within the conservative party Les Republicans (LR), a growing protest from civil society, and demonstrations against a draft of laws aimed at liberalizing the labor market.

The distrust of politicians is growing whereas the expectations towards politics remain quite high – which is part of France’s “exceptionalism”.

Even if not popular in France, Macron’s economic liberalism (not to compare with Thatcher’s or Reagan’s) appears as something new, and he enjoys a favorable opinion.

He is praised as a young politician able to break with the old-fashioned and fruitless political parties. In fact, French progressive liberalism is not that new. Mitterrand’s Prime Minister, Michel Rocard, was in the same line and some intellectuals already advocate for this change, without refuting the claim for more justice and equality.

The French socialists never made their doctrinal revolution the way it was shaped at Bad Godesberg’s SPD congress in 1959 or with Blair’s New Labour.

In many European countries, the social-democrats also face sharper contests from leftist voters. In France, the Socialist Party gathers members whose ideological stances are all but homogeneous.

While heading it from 1997 to 2008, Francois Hollande managed to shape the “synthesis” between conflicting positions, while Macron is willing to try another way that will render obsolete its very existence. Nevertheless, the Socialist Party is not Macron’s only target.

He is also targeting the conservative LR which is divided between those who praise Europe, market economy, and liberal values, and others who are more Eurosceptic, interventionist, complacent towards Putin’s Russia, hardly liberal on moral values, and follows the far right’s stance on immigrants. Macron’s new party could attract the first ones as well as some of the Centrists.

Shaping a big picture

Many obstacles are affecting Macron’s move forward. If Hollande, though unpopular, decides to run for a second term in 2017, it’s unlikely that Macron will. He owes Hollande everything and he would bring himself into disrepute by opposing him.

Some imagine that there could be a mutually profitable Hollande-Macron ticket, but it would require that Hollande has the intention of changing course, which remains unlikely. If Hollande doesn’t run, the Socialists are unlikely to endorse Macron’s candidacy, and he would have to run against their candidate.

The showdown will be tough. Moreover, since French law prohibits corporate funding of political campaigns and provides public subsidies to parties that already have representatives in parliament, there are financial issues.

However, this impediment could be overcome. Thirdly, Macron would have to be convincing enough to attract voters from both sides of the political spectrum, and this will obviously depend on who will compete for the conservatives. Fourthly, the “neither right nor left” stance may be not sustainable in the long run: overcoming the current cleavages cannot mean de-politicization.

The main challenge for Macron is to go beyond his economic discourse that appears to his critics as mostly negative (to decrease regulations), and to shape a big picture – a comprehensive vision of the world and the French society.

He is committed to bridge the gap between the elites he is identified with and the un-globalized parts of the French society, as his adversaries will discredit his party as being “the elites versus the rest.”

In other words, how to answer the claims and anxiety of the social outcasts, and not only those of the internationalized fringe of the society? In the past, some think tanks have lost their credibility because they only gather well-paid managers, members of the elitist public service’s, who were advocating sacrifices for all but themselves.

Having crossed the Rubicon, Macron knows that while expressing his views on sensitive issues – that may clash with his colleagues’ ‑ his position within the government may become untenable.

Promoting entrepreneurship and the end of corporations won’t be enough. Macron will have to provide French citizens with a coherent discourse that embraces social, cultural, security, and economic issues, a vision of Europe, and geopolitics.

It should be based on liberal values and an open society. The fight against inequalities will remain pivotal, and he could demonstrate – as many, including myself, did ‑ that taxation shows strong limitations in achieving this goal.

Education is also a tool to lower inequalities and to promote the best of the poorest and discriminated parts of the society, but it doesn’t have to sacrifice quality and excellence or lower its requirements. To promote dramatic changes in social and economic policies would require burden-sharing.

France remains among the most pessimistic countries in the world, fearing a gloomy decline, and politics matters on this. If some are combating pessimism in creating start-ups or fleeing abroad, most of them are tempted to ask for more protection and to embrace protests that can’t lead to any sustainable future.

Insecurity is also linked to uncertainties on values, and the economy is unable to answer their yearnings. Politics is all about perception and goes far beyond rationality.

Liberal values – human rights, fight against discrimination, access for all to quality public goods, promotion of a liberal world order and the rule of law ‑ and openness shall be the lynchpin.

Concretely, this means being outspoken in welcoming refugees, guaranteeing basic freedoms, privacy and independence of justice, fighting terrorism and crimes, and protecting the freedom of press against conflicts of interest and the state’s control. It implicates offering a vision of Europe based on human rights, constitutional order, and social progress.

Some have pointed it out that, badly advised, he made a blunder while advocating better relationships with Putin’s Russia and lifting the sanctions. He will certainly reconsider this stance since being complacent to the Kremlin – aggressive abroad and repressive at home ‑ is incompatible with liberal principles.

A long way ahead

No European political party nowadays being in the same time liberal and progressive, and promoting European values is in a weak position and illiberal values are gaining ground. If Macron is able to capture the essence of the dangerous European momentum and to encapsulate his breakthrough into a comprehensive stance, his party may become a game changer.

He may have this far-reaching ambition. Statesmanship also only turns to be so by acting on a broad scale and confronting deadly issues. Economy may be a straightjacket. Any leader will have to make the leap from Silicon Valley to Syria’s mass graves, and to capture the tragedy of history in the dark times where we are living now. There will be a long course ahead.

Nicolas Tenzer is the chairman of Center for Study and Research on Political Decision (CERAP), editor of the review Le Banquet, associate professor at Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA, Sciences-Po Paris) and has been invited as a guest professor at many US, Canadian, and South Korean Universities. He is also a former Department head with the French Strategic Planning Office and has authored three official reports to the French government and has served as a senior consultant to international organizations. Follow Nicolas on Twitter @NTenzer

Categories: Europe, Politics

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