feels like is ages since the President burnished his left(ish) credentials
The President enjoys A Bad Summer and then suffers A Horrid Rentrée:
- Macron’s body man, Benalla, is filmed beating up May Day protesters while impersonating a police officer
- Macron hesitantly, then cack-handedly, responds to Benalla scandal
- constitutional reforms to speed up legislative process are suspended sine die
- economic growth short of planned 2% – new over-optimistic hope is 1.7%
- Environment Minister resigns, citing an ‘accumulation of disappointments’
- President’s En Marche Party Deputy resigns to join centre-right UDI; others threaten to quit if their new National Assembly leader isn’t to their liking
- ‘Is Macron a good President?’ – 71% say No (Odoxa poll) and Macron’s support from the right drops 23 points since June; today’s Kantar Sofrés poll says 19% have an overall positive view of what the President’s achieved, with 60% negative
So what might turn attention from this flow of bad news for the now-nearly-everywhere-called President of the Rich? Well, you wait ages to see one of Macron’s long-forgotten ‘neo-social democratic’ initiatives. And then along come two and a half, with perhaps a hint of yet another.
First, a deeply symbolic acknowledgement that the French State tortured people during the Algerian War. Then a programme to combat poverty. A dilution in the promised end to Sarkozy’s ‘exit tax’, which affects fleeing entrepreneurs who’ve made capital gains in France. And, lastly, the idea of an in-depth reform of inheritance tax, nothing excluded, to deal with the inequalities linked to the privileges of birth.
The Audin Affair
The President ‘recognises, in the name of the French Republic, that Maurice Audin was tortured and then killed, or tortured to death, by soldiers who had arrested him at his home.’ Those stark words are part of a declaration which President Macron handed to Audin’s 87-year-old widow, Josette, at her Bagnolet home in the eastern Paris suburbs. Since Audin’s disappearance in 1957, she battled to get the French Government to tell the truth. What happened to the independence activist and Communist, father of their three children, after his arrest? Here’s film from left-leaning magazine l’Obs of part of the 90 minutes chat the President had with the Audin family.
Audin’s disappearance had, said the President, ‘been made possible by a system which successive Governments had developed … a system of ‘arrest and detention’ put in place under cover of the special powers granted to the armed forces at that time’. Audin’s ‘death was allowed by a law passed in Parliament in 1956, that gave the Government carte blanche to restore public order in Algeria’. With these words, President Macron becomes the first President to admit publicly that France, when the colonial power in Algeria, systematically used torture during Algeria’s war of independence.
Ten days after Audin’s arrest by French parachutists, during the Battle of Algiers, Mme Audin was told her husband had escaped, while being transferred to another gaol. In 1963, Audin’s death was finally recognised officially, even though his body had never been found. Then President Hollande stated publicly (2014) that Audin died in detention. It was left to President Macron to get France to admit to the truth. [Anyone wanting the flavour of what urban guerilla warfare actually means should see Pontecorvo’s excellent Battle of Algiers (1956), which was banned in France for 5 years post-release.]
The President’s statement is significant. The truth about Audin has long represented the difficulty for France to face up to its past. Algeria had been France’s colony from 1830 until 1962. The War of Independence was brutally fought, and brutally resisted by France. In February 2017, Candidate Macron visited Algeria and aroused strong protests back in France when he described colonialism on a local TV station (in French) as ‘A crime. A crime against humanity. It’s barbaric …’, calling on the French to apologise.
Historian Raphaelle Branche sees the Audin declaration as highly significant, telling Le Monde: ‘For the first time France accepts that, during the Algerian War, some French soldiers, in performing their duties, could have been guilty of what must be called war crimes. This recognition of the French State’s responsibility for torture, for the death and subsequent disappearance of the body of an unarmed man – arrested because suspected of belonging to an underground movement opposed to Algeria’s continuation as a French colony – marks a radical change in France’s official position … By highlighting the difference in what he’s saying from his predecessors who only identified isolated, atypical acts, Emmanuel Macron recognises that torture was an indispensable element in the repressive armoury that the French Army used from the beginning of the War. It is no longer possible to deny the systematic nature of torture in Algeria.’
Benjamin Stora (President of the National Museum of the History of Immigration) sees the President as having taken a step in ‘the great tradition of decisions which recognise historic responsibility’. It can be compared, he said, ‘though in another register and a different proportion’ to President Chirac’s 1995 statement about France’s rôle and responsibility in the roundup, deportation and extermination of 13,152 Jews in July 1942 during the Vel d’Hiv Round-up by 9000 French civil servants.
Right wing Le Figaro preferred to highlight other elements of the President’s statement, quoting his staff as wanting to make it clear that this was not ‘a text of repentance’. ‘We are not’ said an unnamed Elysée adviser, ‘self-flagellating. The text, taken as a whole, renders justice to Maurice Audin’ but ‘pays tribute to the overwhelming majority of French soldiers who neither supported not carried out torture.’
Political reaction to the President’s statement was predictable. Traditional positions were quickly adopted.The Senate leader of the right-wing Républicain Party, Retailleau, said: ‘Although we must never fear the truth … history must not be exploited: that is often a French national sport, endlessly crying mea culpa.’ Ultra-right Martine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally Party (formerly the Front National), charmingly condemned Macron on Le Figaro Talk for ‘committing a divisive act, imagining he could pander to the Communists. What’s the point in the President opening up old wounds, bringing up the Maurice Audin case? He wants to benefit from dividing the French people…’ Le Pen went on to accuse Audin of ‘hiding FLN terrorists who caused explosions’.
Why did President Macron make his statement? In her Le Monde commentary, Fressoz suggests it was because the accusations of torture ‘feed resentment and hinder the integration of those coming from the former colonies’. Macron’s opening up of the archives concerning all of the Algerian War’s ‘disappeared’, accompanied by his call for witnesses to testify, should enable further steps to be effected in bringing out the truths of the past.
‘Do more for those who have less’
This was the slogan on the President’s lectern for the Government’s long-awaited anti-poverty measures (postponed twice, once because of a World Cup clash). This plan has such significance that it was unveiled by the President – his presence highlighting the importance he personally attaches to the programme. Will this help quell those voices that have successfully attached the ‘President of the Rich’ label to him?
Macron’s caring side was revealed in a series of 21 measures (programmed to cost some €8 billion over 4 years) focussing on early childhood, intended to take 3 million children out of poverty. At long last we were going to be allowed to see that part of Candidate Macron’s programme which dealt with the ‘Protection’ of the French people. The Government will entre autres
- train 600,000 professionals to work with young people
- create 300 extra nurseries/30,000 extra crèche places by 2020 – and it’s not to be just for the middle classes, at present 5% of ‘underprivileged’ children get a crèche place, while 22% of ‘privileged’ children do
- require training for all young people up to 18 years of age
- make free breakfasts available in primary schools in designated disadvantaged areas, and control prices for school lunches depending on parental income.
It all sounds hopefully impressive. Especially so when contrasted with the Government’s previous mean €5 cut in monthly housing benefit coupled with the generous cutting out of the wealth tax (and its replacement by a mansion tax).
Even if the proposed ‘simplification’ of the merger of several different benefits into a single allocation seems to have elements of a possible disaster. One cannot but think of the British Conservative Government’s disastrous ‘Universal Credit’ programme, which replaced six benefits/tax credits. That UK programme was mendaciously christened ‘Welfare that works’ (sic! sick!).
‘I believe in . . . creating activities to create jobs’, said Macron. ‘If there are no jobs there is no chance of solving the problem of poverty . . . If there is no production there is no chance of redistribution, or it is done at the expense of the few who produce.’
The Not-Entirely-Disappearing Exit Tax
Four months ago, President Macron gave an exclusive interview to America’s foremost capitalist Bible, Forbes (motto ‘The Capitalist Tool’). He revealed the suppression of the so-called exit tax, originally introduced by Sarkozy, and then tightened by Hollande. This taxes capital gains made by investors (holding at least €800k financial assets), and those owning 50% of companies, up to 15 years after leaving France.
‘FRANCE (FINALLY) EMBRACES ENTREPRENEURSHIP’ hurrahed Forbes on their front page. The announcement was perfectly-timed for Forbes’ May Day issue. The President said ‘I want to suppress [the exit tax] … The exit tax sends a negative message to entrepreneurs in France … I don’t want any exit tax, it doesn’t make sense.’
However, on maturer reflection, as revealed by business daily Les Echos, Macron has decided not to suppress the exit tax entirely, but rather replace it with an ‘anti-abuse tax’ on financial assets sold within 2 years of leaving France. A small step for the not-so-rich.
Men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony (attributed to Macchavelli)
The head of President Macron’s En Marche Party, Castaner, ended one of the most progressive weeks in the Government’s life by announcing that the way the tax system treated inheritance was ‘a fundamental inequality’. He told the press that a root and branch re-examination of inheritance was essential: this would attack inequality, and better reflect the way in which society and family life have evolved.
In the old days, but a humble Minister, Macron was in favour of taxing inheritance more heavily rather than wealth. However Candidate/President Macron found this to be a semi-taboo subject, even among the far-less-than-wealthy. So the President of the ‘start-up nation’ who always wanted to turn the old world upside-down decided that this was not a privilege to be attacked. Do Castaner’s remarks hint at a change to come?
Lay down your gardening trowel and bulb planter, and pick up your apron (tho’ your spade may be useful on a building site)
We barely had time to absorb these multiple signals that President Macron had been re-born as, once again, The Man Of Both Left And Right. He had sloughed off his tight, uncomfortable liberal, right-wing skin. When back came The Man Who Thrills At Telling The Workers What To Do (episode 41). Those who didn’t see earlier episodes will have missed such gems as ‘slackers’, ‘the best way to afford a suit is to get a job’ (when Macron was wearing a €1600 suit), ‘people who are nothing’, ‘illiterates’.
The President was At Home. It was European Heritage Day. He wandered happily about, flesh-squeezing those who may have waited 8 hours to get in the Elysée. Perhaps he even sold a souvenir or three. When who should the President encounter but a young man who said he was an unemployed gardener and couldn’t find a job: foolheartedly, he raised the subject directly with the President.
Nearly 40 years ago, a (little-loved) British Minister, Tebbitt, told the Conservative Party Conference of his own unemployed father who had ‘got on his bike and looked for work and he kept looking till he found it’. That phrase stuck.
BFMTV filmed Macron telling the 25-year-old job-seeker to go one street away, in Montparnasse, and walk around all the cafés and restaurants: ‘I’m sure half of them are currently recruiting. Get out there.’ There was an awful lot of helpful, and seriously detailed, Presidential job-seeking advice. ‘If you’re willing and motivated there are jobs in hotels, cafés, restaurants. And in construction. Wherever I go they say they’re looking for people.’ It’s apparently all so easy. Especially for a President.
And the phrase which will linger longer: ‘I can find you a job just by crossing a road’.
Who will buy this wonderful T-shirt? Who will buy this elegant watch?
Yes. Since 14 September it’s been possible to purchase no less than FIFTY SIX, high-class items, made in France, from the President’s very own on-line Elysée Palace Store. Direct from the epicentre of France’s Presidency, get your postcards, watches, bags, brooches (some items already at discounted prices) … plus a World Cup Two-Star-Bearing T-shirt featuring the double silhouette of France’s President leaping from his seat at a WORLD-CUP-WINNING-GOOOOAAAALLLLL.
Buy, buy, buy. T-shirt €55. Gold ‘Liberty’, ‘Fraternity’ or even (might this seem less likely?) ‘Equality’ bracelet – a snip at €250. 3 drinking glasses €12. All ideally made available for sale on the Day of The Announcement of The Great Anti-Poverty Programme. And uniquely on sale in the Elysée’s own pop-up shop for European Heritage Day ONLY with Super-Salesman President Macron on hand to lend a hand.
No less than 12% (YES: TWELVE PER CENT) of the sales value is said to be destined to help restore the Elysée Palace’s crumbling fabric.
Can we perhaps hope that it will soon be possible to buy an Elysée brick and have our very own name put on it?
Who will buy this wonderful T-shirt?
I’m so high I swear I could fly
Me, oh my! I don’t want to lose it
So what am I to do?
To keep a sky so blue?
There must be someone who will buy…
But it’s not all bread and circuses: back to FakeJobsGate
Investigating judges have spent twenty months enquiring into ex-Presidential candidate Fillon’s doubtful employment practices. This week’s Le Journal de Dimanche claims exclusively that ‘The threat of a trial is getting closer … judges have accumulated evidence, documents and witness statements which could lead to the former Prime Minister’s appearance in Court arising from his wife’s disputed employment’.
JDD reports that the police have interviewed dozens of Fillon’s former colleagues in his Parliamentary Constituency and Paris/local politicians and public servants/regional journalists. Seemingly, hardly anyone knew that his wife, Penelope Fillon, was ever Fillon’s Parliamentary assistant or, later, had the same job working for Fillon’s replacement as Deputy, once he’d become Sarkozy’s Prime Minister.
And why did ever-elegant François Fillon get nominated as one of GQ‘s 20 best dressed men of 2017? It wasn’t just those suits which Fillon’s learned friend Bourgi gifted him. Fillon received €13K for two made-to-measure suits from Arnys (the shop for rather posh boys who are also rather large boys) AND got a third suit given him by LVMH, the owners of Arnys. Helpful. Might Celio be persuaded to do the same for the right person? On top of it all JDD reveals there were gift-shirts for Fillon as well – 3 shirts worth nearly €5K. O Lucky Man.
A final style note
Jupiter? Tush. So out of date. You really must try harder to keep up.
Today, it’s General de Gaulle whose symbolism is being prayed in aid by France’s always symbol-conscious President. De Gaulle’s famous Cross of Lorraine – adopted by the Free French forces during WW2 to represent the Resistance – has been not-so-subliminally adopted to be part of today’s updated Presidential logo.
Radio station France Info highlighted this change. It first appeared on the President’s lectern for his poverty plan presentation. Alongside the heart-warming ‘Do more for those who have less’, was the Presidential logo … with added Cross of Lorraine.
An Elysée spokesperson pointed out that the current incumbent was hardly the first to have done a bit of logo-personalising. Hollande made it blue and Sarkozy silver. Macron’s addition of de Gaulle’s Croix de Lorraine symbol merely confirms what we all know: ‘since the beginning of his term of office, the President has shown his Gaullist features.’ Ultra-rightist, Dupont-Aignan, leader of barely-existent ultra-right party Debout la France (France Arise) commented, with leaden unoriginality, that de Gaulle ‘must be turning in his grave’.