Will Macron be the Third Man of the social-liberal left, after Schroder and Blair? (Bezat, Le Monde) Will Macron become France’s Thatcher? (Mortimer, The Spectator)

‘Of course I never said that I saw myself as Jupiter’. A man who never said that speaks and speaks and speaks and … 

‘Macron, The Big Interview’ duly thudded onto the news-stands last week. BIG it certainly was. Over 12 pages of weekly magazine Le Point we got some fairly dense philosophical analysis of the President’s views on a huge range of subjects (and don’t forget the further 9 pages of pictures, including 1 cute dog).

A hard-jaw-jutting, very determined President Macron (with perhaps just the faintest soupçon of a smile playing about his lips) looked out at us from the front cover. And, from that long interview [what clearer statement could there be that this represented Day 1 of the President’s Post-Trappist Period?] his sentiment chosen by Le Point to accompany the photo were: ‘We must revive political heroism’.

Overall, he claimed ‘We’ve turned the page on three decades of ineffectiveness … [but] the forces of the old world are ever-present and still committed to wreck France.’

What had he learnt since taking office? That this was only the beginning of the ‘combat’. Pointedly, words such as ‘combat’, ‘battle’, ‘conquest’, ‘bellicose’, ‘conquer’, ‘hero’ (several of them repeated) littered the interview.

A pot-pourri of those subjects addressed:

The First Hundred Days – rejecting that timescale as a measure, he said ‘you don’t get things done in a hundred days’ … but still thought it worth mentioning that His Hundred Days were the most active following any Presidential Election.

Terrorism – ‘The terrorists want to erode the fundamentals of our country and our Republic so as to provoke a moral collapse and trigger civil war

Le Point quoted Louis XIV’s advice to his grandson, the King of Spain (‘Be the master; have neither favourites nor Prime Ministers’), and asked whether he endorsed those principles – ‘Court society … still exists in another form. France is an old country and the monarchic fantasy is ever-present’

‘Reforming the Labour Law, reducing the deficit, transforming the way the State is managed, reforming the tax system. These are all only the means of achieving another objective: freeing up people’s energies, and thus ending our fraud of recent years, that of a country which is tough for the weak, but which boasts of equality and fraternity, of a country corseted by rules … but which considers itself a country of liberty, an inegalitarian country … an inefficient and unjust country.’ Strong stuff.

Cuts in funding for Government-funded employment contracts for the long-term unemployed, used especially in municipal authorities and, education – ‘The rate of return to long-term stable employment of those who have had one of these employment contracts is very low’ [Note that all 6 Associations of Municipal Authorities – all currently run almost exclusively by Républicains, since their major victories in the last sets of local Elections – are making common cause against the Government’s planned cuts of a third from over 400,000 funded contracts which cuts the Associations describe as ‘brutal’. Although there’s surely more than a certain piquancy in the fact that the programme of former Républicain Presidential candidate Fillon was to abolish every one of these Government-funded employment contracts altogether.]

Labour Law – ‘We are the only major EU economy which has not defeated mass unemployment for more than three decades … over 30 years, youth unemployment has never dropped below 15% and it’s currently near 25%.’

The effects of globalisation – ‘For thirty years who has been most sacrificed? The young, the under-qualified, the immigrant and the children of immigrants … Those who reproach me [for not being concerned about those who miss out on the benefits of globalisation] are those who trade on this misery either in setting the rest of the country against them or by exploiting them politically.’

Accelerated departure of the Armies’ Chief of Staff following the President’s clear statement on ‘Who’s the daddy?’ – ‘A storm in a teacup … No regrets.’ [Those amused by comparing national cliched expressions should know that, over here, that storm is rather to be found in a ‘glass of water’]

Defence capability – ‘Our army is the leading European army and No. 2 in the free world’ … although it’s just possible that Turkey would have a view on this ranking

Housing aid cuts for the low paid will continue – It will be ‘In the context of an overall transformation which must lower rents’ [The President later called on all landlords to reduce their rents by €5/month to compensate for the reduction in housing benefits. The success of his ‘call’ is not so far entirely clear, or at all.]

Europe – ‘No-one wants a Europe which specialises in bureaucratic interference’

Asked about former President Giscard’s 2009 comment that France should be a ‘great mid-sized power’ – ‘France must become nothing less than a great power again. It’s essential.’

And Emmanuel Macron told us he still has time to read. Regularly. Every evening. This summer he especially liked Daoud’s Zabor or The Psalms. Daoud’s first book was The Meursault Investigation, a reworking of Camus’s The Outsider, which got some great reviews as well as some French literary awards. A review is available here – and why not buy it too? Other bookseller outlets are, of course, available.

New Labour Law and The Left: ‘All against. Everyone for themselves’ (Libération)

Overall reaction to the publication of the new Labour Law was perhaps predictable. Business loves it, some trade unions hate it and The Left overall is in a state of utter confusion as to what it wants to do about it.

Employers’ organisations welcomed the Labour Law and are eagerly looking forward to its implementation within a couple of months – the 5 Ordinances will be formally adopted by the Ministerial Council on 22 September.

The ‘flexibility’ that business has long demanded will undeniably make ‘firing’ that much easier. This will be true in terms of both the quantum/maximum of redundancy payments, as well as the greater freedom for international companies to look in isolation at the performance of their French subsidiaries (as opposed to their companies as a whole). Other measures such as the reduction in the several separate trade union workplace ‘organisms’ which deal with management to one single body seem to be accepted as sensible reform.

However, the ‘hiring’ that should accompany these perhaps not-so-giant changes in the ‘freedom to manage Anglo-Saxon style’ may not be quite so evident. Indeed, several economists forecast that this liberalisation of the workplace rules will inevitably bring, initially at least, many more lay-offs. When the brakes on redundancies are taken off, companies which have maintained too large a workforce will be tempted to begin by firing people.

France’s 3 major trades unions are well and truly split, while perhaps, even showing some internal fissiparity. The broadly Communist CGT is holding their long-planned Day of Action against the Labour Law today (12 September). In fact, they seem to think it’s going to be such a success they’ve already decided on a further Day of Action on 21 September.

Both the usually very moderate CFDT and formerly-seriously-bolshie-but-now-strangely-acquiescent-at-least-at-Head-Office Force Ouvrière (FO) will not be participating in any CGT-led Day of Action. against the Labour Law.

The publicly-expressed reaction to the emergence of the detail of the Labour Law from both CFDT and FO was semi-critical. However, this was possibly for no more than the purposes of internal union consumption. ‘Disappointment’ reacted CFDT’s Berger. ‘Fundamental points of disagreement’ declared FO’s Mailly.

Though Mailly laid emphasis on FO’s new-found ‘militant reformism’ and emphasised the positive ‘real social dialogue’ that had occurred over three months of consultation with the Government. AND, he said, ‘I have had meetings with Emmanuel Macron’.

FO’s muted reaction may just be part of their attempt to preserve their energies for the coming struggle on the President’s proposed reforms to both professional training and unemployment insurance. Both these enormous programmers are run by funds which are currently managed jointly by employers and trades unions. A great deal of trade union influence (and money too) is derived from from the hugely indebted funds. Government – which necessarily bails them out – intends to take a proactive (and leading) management role in these pivotally important activities.

An interesting split in FO is beginning to emerge within their very decentralized ranks. Several parts of FO will disregard their leadership by supporting the CGT’s Day of Action. Of particular note is the support from FO members working in Transport and Energy (characterized by FO boss Mailly as ‘grumpy moaners’) where the CGT is also well represented. So it looks as though tomorrow might, for some, be a rather difficult day public-transport-wise. The timing may not be helped by (i) 2 Senators who have presented legislation to speed up the end of the SNCF monopoly and (ii) those proposing to bring to a premature end the freebies from which relatives of SNCF employees benefit.

And whilst trades unions fail to reach a common position, the political Left is just as split with Mélenchon’s France Unbowed organising its own 23 September march on Paris to fight the President’s ‘social coup d’Etat’ while most other parties of the Left – as well as the CGT trade union – will have nothing to do with it.

Some may remember that the joint forces of all 60+ of Parliament’s Deputies from the ‘broad Left’ had managed to muster enough votes to reach rare Socialist/Communist/France Unbowed agreement on referring the Labour Law to the Constitutional Council. The Council spent a couple of summer months reviewing the Law. And the answer? It will not be the constitutional cavalry which will come to The Left’s rescue. All the Left’s demands have been rejected by the Constitutional Council. It’s now only The Streets which can oppose.

But perhaps the reaction against the new Labour Law will be nowhere near as vigorous as it might have been. What has been finally delivered overall could hardly be further from what Candidate Macron promised would be a ‘Copernican Revolution’.

President Macron gets his retaliation in first

At the end of August the President caused something of a storm in France when he announced from Bucharest [thus initiating his change of mind on being willing to comment on domestic politics whilst overseas] that ‘France is not reformable’ and that ‘The French detest reforms’.

On his recent State visit to Greece he went far far further. This isn’t the time for reform, he said, ‘but for a fundamental transformation of France’ especially via the new Labour Law. ‘I am totally determined’, said the President, ‘and I will make no concessions, not to layabouts, cynics and extremists’. Extraordinary language. Is this the equivalent of Hilary Clinton’s description of Trump supporters as ‘deplorables’? Difficult to think of a better way to rouse your opponents.

The Sales have started

There’s not going to be any equivalent of Thatcher’s privatisations. Sid will definitely not be re-created as Sidney [I bet few of you knew that Sidney is said to be a name of French origin, to wit ‘From Saint-Denis’].

However, the French Government is reviewing its multiplicity of shareholdings. Currently, its shares in some 81 institutions are valued overall at some €100 billion. [Government started in the opposite direction by nationalising shipbuilder STX to prevent it falling into Italian hands. The Minister of the Economy is off to Italy shortly and will be trying to calm those still-very-vexed Italians. Yet today’s order of the day from Government is sell, sell, sell.]

Selling such investments as these obviously allows Government to get its paws on a one-off tranche of ready money without raising taxes
– 20% of Renault (€5 billion) but Government won’t want to sell too much for fear of ending with less shares than Nissan
– 29% of Engie (formerly GDF-Suez) (€10 billion)
– 51% of Aeroports de Paris (€7 billion)
– 72% of Française des Jeux – the State gambling monopoly which successfully (and utterly incredibly) prevents people in France betting with companies based outside France (€2 billion) and which – following the failures of both Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande (and the latter’s then Economy Minister, a certain Mr E. Macron) to get its privatisation away – could well soon find its €14 billion of annual bets run privately
– 14% of Orange (€5 billion)
– 17% of Air France-KLM (€0.7 billion)
etc etc
Last week 5% of Engie got sold, so that’s a tidy sum to put towards the putative €10 billion Government fund for ‘innovation’. And now The State Bookie is also said to be up for grabs.

Classics scholars still have their place here 

Prime Minister Philippe told Radio France last week that he’d bought ‘Spartacus : between myth and reality‘.  Does he see his role as that of a liberator of slaves?

At almost the same time Jean-Luc Mélenchon wrote in his blog a call to national rebellion against the oppressive Labour Law: ‘Spartacus’s revolt still speaks to us’.

His Eureka Moment: Europe’s not working 

His project appears ambitious: no less than the ‘democratic reconstruction’ of Europe. At nightfall, with the Parthenon as backdrop [an even more impressive setting than his Presidential kick-off with the Louvre Pyramide behind] President Macron launched his Plan for Europe.

‘The modern form of the State was invented here … through the sovereignty of the people of Athens … What have we Europeans done with our sovereignty? … What have we done with our democracy? … Today, in Europe, sovereignty, democracy and confidence are all in danger … I want us, collectively, to find the resources to radically reform Europe, beginning with a critical, deep examination of the last few years … We often lied to people, wanting them to believe that one could live the same way in Athens and Berlin. But who has been made to pay? … The Greek people.’

To support ‘this mad ambition to want a stronger Europe’ Emmanuel Macron wants a Eurozone budget AND a Eurozone Finance Minister AND a Eurozone Parliament. Further he announced his support for transnational lists of candidates for the next set of Euro-Elections in 2018. [The latter could handily replace those pesky Brit about-to-be-ex-Euro-MPs.]

She’s back

Marine Le Pen enjoyed her Rentrée with an interview on the main TF1 8pm news and a meeting two days later with some 500 activists under umbrellas on a very wet day. Le Pen claimed she was the leader of the Opposition by virtue of the French ‘having chosen the Front National, her candidature’ to be in the Presidential run-off.

Everything (whatever that may mean) is being prepared for a major relaunch during the Front National congress next March. We will have to wait till then to discover if the proposed re-branding will go so far as to lead to a change of that poisonous Party name. That’s certainly what Le Pen’s No. 2, Phillipot, is pushing for.

In the meantime, we have only a new logo (including the retention of that long-standing flame) and a new slogan to ‘enjoy’. But there’s still the poisonous name ‘Le Pen’ at the head. And as for the politics, some still hanker (take a bow Jean-Marie Le Pen) for a return to those better old days where immigration was the alpha and omega of the Front National.

Phillipot says the Party cannot just be ‘an anti-immigration trade union’ but must have a position on every political subject. Yet, there’s one hot issue where the Front National has been curiously silent: the new Labour Law. Not a word all summer.

Certainly, the latest Ifop poll for Le Journal de Dimanche brings nothing but bad news for Marine Le Pen. Responding to the question as to whether she

– is sectarian … 66% say yes
– is attached to democratic values … 44% say yes
– understands people like you … 41% say yes
– is competent … 35% say yes
– has solutions to get the country out of the crisis … 32% say yes
– has got what it take to be President … 27% say yes [yet that’s a mere 7 points less than the 34% who thought she was Presidential material during those (for me) worrying days back in March 2017]

But her message on Saturday was simple, direct and uncomplicated. The fight, she said, was against ‘terrorism, Islamism and immigration’. You can’t take Le Pen out of the woman.

[Footnote. For those who prefer pithy posts, sorry. For those who start at the end and work backwards … You have been warned.]

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