The Once and Future Jupiter
‘In the French political system, it’s the figure of the King which is absent: I fundamentally believe that the French people didn’t want him dead.’ (E Macron, July 2015 – with more of his ‘philosophy’ available here in a previous post.)
Many commentators – especially those from the French Hard Left and the UK’s not-so-hard right – have taken delight mocking President Macron’s Jupiter-esque pretensions.
This may have achieved its apotheosis in the following Spectator piece from Charles Moore (High Tory ex-editor of both Telegraph and Spectator, and Thatcher’s biographer): ‘President Macron’s speech on Monday to the combined houses of parliament in the Palace of Versailles proved how stunningly different are the French from the British. Imagine our head of state promising to cut the size of parliament by a third. Imagine her, or even her prime minister, promising to renew the nation with ‘the spirit of conquest’, as M. Macron did. We are often accused of nostalgia for empire, but we would never say such a thing, or even think it. Imagine the ribaldry which would descend upon M. Macron’s equivalent — if our constitution could have such a phenomenon — for striding though the marble halls past a guard of honour holding their swords erect, and then dumping more than an hour of grandiloquence upon the assembly. I laughed out loud. The occasion’s pride perhaps presaged, I couldn’t help wondering, some mighty fall, as did Louis XVI’s gathering of the Estates-General in Versailles in 1789. Yet one would not have wanted it otherwise, because its Frenchness was mesmerising. Although M. Macron is pint-sized, his preposterous, magnificent performance reminded me of watching lofty de Gaulle on television when I was a boy. Pure theatre, which the republic surely needs.’
‘Pure theatre’ it was indeed. The Economist highlighted the President referring five times to the ‘grandeur’ of France. But Le Monde’s ever-readable Gérard Courtois, in a piece captioned “Groundless accusations against ‘Jupiter'” pointed out that ‘This sort of republican monarchy is the very foundation of the Vth Republic’.
The President defined for Congress the outlines of his legislative programme, intended to achieve his ambition to bring about a serious transformation of France. While, by way of collateral damage on those who found the exercise hard to stomach, President Macron promised to be back each year for a similar State of the Nation overview.
‘An institutional Big Bang’ (Le Monde)
The commentators and the bad-mouthers got it wrong. The President’s speech to Congress a day before the PM’s address to the National Assembly was not timed so as to push the PM further into Jupiter’s all-powerful shade. The President said ‘[I] fix the direction of the Presidential term … It’s up to the Prime Minister … to bring it about.’
The President stated the broad outlines of his self-styled ‘revolution’. He said it was a response to France’s ‘impatience’ to bring about ‘a profound transformation’, saying that France cannot have ‘5 years of half-measures’. But he would leave to Prime Minister Philippe the challenge of determining (and describing) the means.
The plans were stark simplicity:
- reduce Parliament by a third to some 400 Deputies and 200 Senators … drawing up new electoral boundaries will surely lead to interesting discussions (U.S. Governor Gerry has become immortalised through his creation of a supposedly salamander-shaped Boston constituency. Could this process give a new meaning to philippic?)
- introduce a ‘dose’ of proportional representation in the Legislative Elections [maybe 25% of the National Assembly?] ‘to allow all streams of opinion to be better represented’ [Consequence? Definitely more seats for the Front National]
- enhance the independence of the judicial system by removing ex-Presidents from a seat on the Constitutional Council and scrapping the ‘special’ Court for trying Ministers who commit misconduct in exercising their office
- at some point limit Deputies/Senators to 3 consecutive Parliamentary terms
- legislate less but accelerate Parliamentary processes.
All with the ‘threat that if the constitutional changes haven’t been carried out within a year, then the President’ will put them to a referendum.
After the Lord Mayor’s Show?
Not at all. It really was a double act. Prime Minister (and amateur boxer) Philippe gave it to the National Assembly unvarnished: ‘France is up against the ropes … ducking and weaving won’t save us’. Here’s some of it, from the Big Picture to glorious detail, from the Smack of Firm Government to the Realities of the Complexity of Government.
- He condemned ‘the French addiction to public spending … dancing on a volcano rumbling ever-louder’ while quoting ‘How many times can a man turn his head Pretending he just doesn’t see’ some €2147 billion of debt, €42 billion being paid off in interest every year
- He’ll increase the price of a packet of 20 ciggies from €7 to €10 over 5 years
- Because the deficit is worse than feared, the campaign promise to exempt 80% of households from a local property tax by 2020 is out to ‘consultation’ with a timetable to emerge, but don’t hold your breath before the end of this Parliament
- 3 current compulsory vaccinations for babies/children will become 11 next year
- He delayed changes to the (much-loved/much-hated, depending on one’s position in the political spectrum) wealth tax and other tax changes until 2019 at least
- There’ll be ‘selection’ (or rather ‘requirements’) to get into University from 2018
- €50 billion will be invested in clean technology, training, health, transport, agriculture, modernisation of the State … if only the money can be found some place [as we speak, Ministers are looking for Government holdings to flog off]
- He insisted that Corporation Tax will drop from its current 33.3% to 25% by 2022
… and the National Assembly loved it: 370 Députés said ‘Yes’, 67 said ‘No’ and 129 couldn’t make up their minds whether to be the Government’s critical supporter or friendly opponents … and so adopted the new favourite electoral statement, abstention.
LREM voted ‘Yes’. The Front National and Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France said ‘No’. Old socialists and conservatives split all ways (another part of The New Politics).
In extra-Parliamentary moves, the employers’ federation MEDEF got worried by the prospective delays in goodies, while Communist trade union CGT condemned a ‘programme of austerity’ and called ‘All Out on 12th September’. As Le Monde commented ‘Mr Philippe has set out on a narrow path to achieve his objectives. The smallest faux pas will awake the volcano’.
- Le Pen (In The Matter of Fake Euro-Parliament Assistants) – to face charges in Court
- Ferrand (In The Matter of Favouritism While Running a Not-For-Profit Organisation) ex-Minister current leader of LREM in Parliament – interviewed by the judiciary for at least 7 hours two days ago
- Pénicaud (In The Matter of Favouritism While Working At Business France Promoting France in Las Vegas While Then-Economics-Minister Macron Was Present) current Minister of Labour – judicial enquiry opened
President Macron in his Versailles speech condemned ‘a constant search for scandal’.
Right-leaning Le Figaro reported gleefully that some 1500 of the self-styled Marcheurs en Colère [members of LREM who are angry … out of a Very Grand Total of a claimed LREM membership of 373,000] are denouncing LREM’s lack of democratic processes, as the Party tries to create various conventional hierarchies.
Vive la non-différence franco-britannique – at least last autumn when Ipsos polled 17K adults in 22 countries, seeking opinions on various statements. How different would it be today with the French now more upbeat and the Brits the very reverse?
‘The economy of my country is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful’:
- Mexico 94% agreed (max)
- Sweden 56% agreed (min)
- Overall 76% agreed
- GB 76% agreed
- France 75% agreed
‘Our Government does not prioritise the concerns of people like me’:
- Mexico 87% agreed (max)
- Japan 50% agreed (min)
- Overall 71% agreed
- France 73% agreed
- GB 72% agreed
‘I have a high level of trust in businesses in general’:
- Indonesia 78% (max) agreed
- France 27% (min) agreed
- Overall 42% agreed
- GB (31%) agreed
In the ‘It’s a Funny Old World’ corner, YouGov finds this week that in the UK 42% are favourable to Merkel, 39% to Macron … and 32% to Prime Minister Theresa May. For the sake of interest (and completeness) in France Merkel has 57% approval, Macron 46% and May 26% (putting her a very short nose ahead of Popular Putin on 24%).
For those who continue to find that – despite Germany’s overweening Balance of Trade surplus – there’s something seriously special about Chancellor Merkel, here’s an excellent set of Merkel photos, eye-rolling at Putin at the G20, courtesy of Buzzfeed.