I hear the sound of … two hundred hands clapping
In mid-October, 100 leftie Deputies and Senators (plus one ‘Constructive’ right-winger) wrote an open letter to Libération. What, they enquired, would be the effects of the Government’s tax and budget measures on France’s Seriously Wealthy?
The Finance Ministry responded with a Halloween shocker. France’s 100 wealthiest households will each see their tax bills slashed by an average of €582,380. While the ‘Top 1000’ will garner cuts of an average €172,220 per household. Overall 1% of France’s households will be rewarded with a mouth-watering 44% of Macron’s total tax cuts.
Communication, communication, communication
The President has continued his dramatic U-turn in communications policy. First it was another blockbuster interview, with Der Spiegel granted access to the latterly-loquacious President. That was followed by Emmanuel Macron’s very first live TV interview with real live French TV journalists on TF1 and LCI over all of 75 minutes. Famine to feast indeed. Shows what 3 months and a giant tumble in public opinion can get you to reflect on – Ifop has Macron dropping back to 42% satisfied, down 3 points in October.
Spiegel‘s front cover (over a hypnotically-gazing President) was topped and tailed by ‘I am not arrogant’ and ‘I say and do what I want’
Some choice Macron quotes, with some of Der Spiegel‘s questions to show the extent of their punchiness. [I have no idea as to the language of either questions or answers]
- it’s only possible to know what to do in a specific moment once you’ve understood the zeitgeist
- [asked whether the history of the Elysée Palace made it a bit suffocating] you can leave this place when you want to. I go out and say and do what I want – even if people may find that shocking … What is clear is that being President is the end of innocence for you as an individual. Nothing is innocent any more when you are President. And that changes your life dramatically … when you are President, everything is significant, at least for others. Everything is important and could even have profound consequences. That is sometimes troubling, yes. But it isn’t overwhelming. Spiegel: Do you think Angela Merkel feels the same way? Macron: Germany is different from France. You are more Protestant, which results in a significant difference. Through the Church, French society was structured vertically, from top to bottom. I am convinced that it has remained so until today. That might sound shocking to some – and don’t worry, I don’t see myself as a king. But whether you like it or not, France’s history is unique in Europe. Not to put too fine a point on it, France is a country of regicidal monarchists. It is a paradox: the French want to elect a king but they would like to be able to overthrow him whenever they want
- I am a strong believer that modern political life must rediscover a sense for symbolism. We need to develop a kind of political heroism [a recurring Macronian theme this]. I don’t mean that I want to play the hero. But we need to be amenable once again to creating grand narratives … The idea that you have to deconstruct and destroy all grand narratives is not a good one … I am sometimes surprised that it is the media that are the first ones to exhibit a lack of trust in grand narratives. They believe that destroying something is part of their journalistic purpose because something grand must inevitably contain an element of evil. Critique is necessary, but where does this hate for the so-called grand narrative come from? … We need [this narrative] badly! Why is a portion of our youth so fascinated by extremes, jihadism for example? Why do modern democracies refuse to allow their citizens to dream? Why can’t there be such a thing a democratic heroism?
- Spiegel: You have been increasingly criticized in France due to your aloofness. You have been accused of arrogance and hubris. Macron: Who is levelling those accusations? The press. Spiegel: Not just the press. Macron: Have you ever heard anyone on the street say “He is aloof”. Spiegel: Yes. Macron: I am not aloof . When I travel through the country, when I visit a factory, my staff tells me after three hours that I am ruining the schedule. When I am with French people, I am not aloof because I belong to them. My view is that the French President belongs to the French people because he emanates from them.
- [Sorbonne speech on Europe] Regarding the speech, I am quite modest about it … My initiative contains some new elements, but I also revisited ideas that have been around for a while and been proposed by others. Der Spiegel: Modesty has thus far not been one of your most noticeable qualities.
- Spiegel: Does Trump make you afraid? Macron: (Thinks for some time before answering.) Trump is here, he is the head of a global power. I speak with him and explain my views. We have an extremely cordial relationship. Sometimes, we have contradictory views, but sometimes we agree. I won’t stop working with him.
- Spiegel: You speak of a united Europe, but one gets the impression that you are fond of taking unilateral action – things like inviting Trump to Paris, offering to mediate between the Iraqi government and the Kurds following the independence referendum and holding an important speech on the future of Europe two days after the German elections. Macron: Every country has its own diplomacy. Being part of Europe doesn’t mean giving up one’s independence or no longer being able to take the initiative … You will also have noted I intentionally avoided holding my Sorbonne speech before the elections in Germany. I coordinated closely with the Chancellor and spoke with her at the end of the campaign and even on the evening of the election. She even received a copy of my speech before I delivered it. Spiegel: Did you change anything in your speech as a result? Macron: I took into account some things and deliberately left open the technical implementation on some points … But we are essentially in agreement: the Chancellor concurs with the goals and direction I outlined in my speech, and that is important to me.
- Spiegel: “France must make it possible for Europe to take a leading role in the free world” you said recently. That doesn’t sound particularly modest either. Macron: Ambition is never modest. If modesty means to have middling success, then I can only say: I’m not interested.
- Spiegel: Many French people view you as a representative of a world that’s not theirs. You have referred to these people as ‘slackers’ or have told them … they should find a job instead of protesting and creating chaos. Why do you do that? Macron: People have been accusing me of that ever since I got involved in politics. Some would just like to stick a pin through me like insect researchers do a dried butterfly and then say: Look, there’s the banker who doesn’t like people. If that were the case, I would not be here. I am not arrogant to the French – I am determined. During the election, I travelled across the country. I like my country and the French. I love talking with them and convincing them. It is my job each day to fight for my compatriots. But also to not succumb to demagoguery and lies or agree to favours.
- the wealth tax … doesn’t exist in Germany or elsewhere in Europe … Contrary to what some claim I am not doing this to help the rich. My predecessor taxed wealthy, successful people at a higher rate than ever before. And what happened? They left. And what came of it? Did unemployment drop? No. Spiegel: You are aware of the power of symbols. And by eliminating the wealth tax, you took a symbolic step that has riled up the left against you. Macron: I stand completely behind this decision. I am not from the political or banking elite. I am a child of the middle class far from Paris … I refuse to give in to the sad reflex of French envy because this envy paralyses our country. We cannot create jobs without company owners, the state cannot create jobs by decree. [Interesting that, even today, Macron’s references to Hollande are to his ‘predecessor’, while Sarkozy gets a personal name-check.]
That TF1/LCI interview
Here’s a still from the interview. Note (thanks to Buzzfeed’s Jourdain’s sharp eyes) behind the President a Shepard Fairey Marianne [he of the Obama ‘Hope’ image], above the fireplace an Alechinsky (a Belgian working in France) + seriously heavyweight books. We also learnt:
- The new Labour Law will be fully effective on 1.1.2018 ‘and [we]’ll see the full results in 18 months to 2 years’
- asked about his use of in-yer-face language like ‘cynics, layabouts, shit-stirring’ [see previous post for discussion on bordel] the President defended his use of language containing ‘home truths’, unlike the French ‘political élites’ who ‘have become used to not saying things’. He defended his use of the word bordel. He pointed out it was characterised ‘familiar’ by French language arbiter l’Académie française. He added that it had been an ‘aside’ and that his ‘speeches were not in that register’.
Commemoration, Commemoration, Commemoration
Nothing like a good look backwards to help you reflect on what to do going forwards. 2018 is replete with anniversaries:
- May ’68. An important date for the first President born post-les évenements (no less than nine years post). ‘Be realist. Demand the impossible’ will be the cry again as France tries to work out whether it’s remembering France’s biggest-ever general strike or a million on the Champs Elysées acclaiming General de Gaulle.
- 1958 – establishment of the Fifth Republic
- 1948 – Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man
- 1918 – end of the First World War
Warning! Sharp right turn ahead.
The Man Who … will lead the right-wing Républicain Party (after a pretend election by Party members against 2 other candidates) is Mr Laurent Wauquiez. He declined anything as pointless as a TV debate with his opponents.
This hard-line 42-years-old former Minister is a not-very-pleasant piece of populist work. He celebrates The Nation and France’s ‘roots’. He fights against ‘massive immigration’ and ‘handouts’. He blows a loud dog-whistle when he says ‘It’s not up to France to adapt itself for foreigners; it’s up to the foreigners to adapt themselves for France’.
Last weekend Wauquiez ratcheted up the bile in what the Journal de Dimanche referred to as a ‘vitriolic’ article. ‘[Macron’s] way of speaking about France and the French people shows there’s no love only haughtiness … He is, without doubt, the most Parisian President ever, and possessed by a hatred of the provinces … He chose … Jupiter because Jupiter’s not only the one who decides, but also the one cut off from the world of people. He’s not a god who protects, but a god who causes lightning to strike. He’s not the loving god of the Bible but the violent god of antiquity [Did Wauquiez really want to contrast the wrathful tooth-for-a-tooth Old Testament deity with the turn-the-other-cheek New Testament version but felt that might not go down so well with some of his voters?]
[Wauquiez’s Principal Message:] ‘The problems of France come back to its identity, its relationship with diversity, the question of multiculturalism … and the urgent question which produces a procession of dead people, fundamentalism. But Macron’s not prepared to face that; he flees from issues he views as toxic: the regulation of immigration … the question of islamism’. [Certainly sounds like a clarion call for Front National voters to return to their Républicains home]
PS on Turning Right
More news on what just has to be everyone’s favourite Ultra-Right Politico-Religiosos. Yes, again it’s news from Sens Commun, the Provisional Wing of France’s anti-gay marriage ‘movement’.
Its President, Christophe Billan, summed up their warped world view. He was riffing in right-wing rag L’Incorrect on the idea of sharing a common platform with temporarily(?)-departed Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (the Evil Granddaughter wot wants to return the Front National to its solid ultra-right roots and dropping any pretend Social-ism from their National Socialist platform).
Billan vomited: ‘You are either spiritually Christian or culturally Christian but you can’t be French without being firmly planted in one or other camp.’ None of that boring old ‘Judeo-Christian’ inheritance for Billan.
Some are born French, some achieve Frenchness, and some …
… declare their Frenchness through their longevity in both years alive and in France and having French offspring. This excellent news is by way of a small (and utterly inadequate) explanation of my over-extended silence.