Summer 2020 will not be a summer like other summers.
This morning, life took a further step back to semi-normal (sort of).
The Macron Show (part 5) nearly lived up to expectations.
With the distractingly beautiful backdrop of Elysée Palace lawns, trees and bushes (all deep symbolic green), evening sunshine, plus endlessly-playing middle-distance garden fountain, it was time for Manager Macron (not entirely at ease, I felt, with a slightly thin bonhomie) to try to garner personal kudos by announcing good news.
Until now, Prime Minister Philippe had announced all post-Lockdown good news. Time for the Real Man in Charge to let us know what he’d made happen.
President Macron started his brisk 19 minute address with positivity. This was his 4th ‘solemn address’ (not counting him outdoors, on the Eastern front, draped in a deep black coat, military field hospital behind). It was a far less sober address than its predecessors. And this time there were congratulations for the nation, as well as all involved. Indeed, he said, ‘we can be proud of what we’ve done’.
Within 40 seconds, mainland France was turned 100% Green Zone. The pleas of business (and of Greater Paris’s politicians) had been heard. We’re good to go. Back to work. Back inside those Paris cafés.
Macron went on (doubtless some will have tuned this out): ‘That doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared. We cannot drop our guard. We’re going to have to live with it for a long time. We’ll have to respect physical distancing rules. Summer 2020 will not be a summer like other summers. We will need to see how the epidemic develops and be prepared in case it returns with renewed strength.’
Perhaps left-wing daily Libération best summed up the speech:
The President announced that, from today, we can:
- Drink coffees and eat meals inside Paris cafés, not be stuck on the pavement (so the recent post-Lockdown weather – with Parisians sat out in the cold and wind – will doubtless change soon)
- Visit care and nursing homes
- Prepare for every child to return (next Monday) to kindergarten, primary, and middle school, which (said Macron) means EVERY child. School’s obligatory again. What’s happening in practice? Unknown. The Education Ministry will produce plans to last 10 days (when summer hols start)
- Enjoy the Presidential reassurance of (Watch his lips): ‘No Tax Increases’. Why? Because ‘France is already too heavily taxed’. The Never-had-it-so-good Rich can breathe easily. What of the unprecedented €500bn invested by the French Government’s during the worst economic downturn since [insert preferred historic reference point]? Well. It’s all going to be sorted by constructing a (so far undefined) ‘stronger more durable economic model’ and by ‘working and producing more so we do not have to rely on others’. Wow. Sounded soooooo easy when he said it quickly.
- The possibly most centralising Government in recent French history has learnt its lesson. The President admitted the pandemic had exposed ‘flaws and fragilities. Our dependence on other continents for purchasing certain products, our cumbersome organisation, our social and geographical inequalities’. Presidential Conclusion: ‘Not everything should be decided so often in Paris.’ ! [That exclamation mark is mine alone. Cherish that previous phrase.] He went on: ‘Let us free up this country’s creativity and energy. That’s why I want to open a new page for our country. We will give new freedoms and responsibilities … to our hospitals, our universities, our entrepreneurs, our Mayors and many other essential stakeholders.’ Doesn’t that all sound good, if unlikely to be realised some time soon.
Two special Presidential ‘Words of the Day’ emerged during Macron’s speech.
Firstly, ‘reconstruction’ was said six times. Reconstruction will variously be ‘economic’, ‘ecological’, ‘social and standing together’ and ‘European’, and sometimes several of the foregoing. Everyone can easily buy into that cliché.
But the second special word is definitely odder: ‘independence’. Macron referred to it 5 times in the context of what France is now presumably aiming at (plus there was an additional reference to ‘independent Europe’). The right loves that sort of image. In one glorious moment during the address he synthesised those two magic words: ‘This economic, ecological and united reconstruction is the key to our independence.’
We also got one bit of wholly unabashed Europhilia, coupled with a bit of a pat on his own back. Macron described the franco-german agreement around mutual debt, with the investment plan to help Europe’s economies, as an ‘historic turning point … In borrowing jointly with Germany, for the first time, we are inviting other member states to say ‘we’ rather than ‘I’.’
Those expecting some words of support for the young demonstrating about Black Lives Matter found surprisingly few positive messages. Macron went through a semi-ritual ‘uncompromising’ rejection of ‘racism and anti-semisemitism’ (‘the fight against all forms of discrimination must be intensified’), but there was far sterner condemnation of those who might seek separatism or communautarism [separate community development]. Macron acknowledged openly that a person’s ‘name, address or colour of skin all too often reduces the equal opportunities everyone must have’. He called for a fight to ensure everyone ‘finds their place’ regardless of ethnic origin or religion.
But then Macron made clear that fighting racism must not lead to a ‘hateful’ re-writing of history. He insisted France will not take down any statues of controversial, colonial-era figures: ‘The Republic will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history.’
French Black Lives Matter
On 2 June 20,000 people (according to the Paris Préfet de Police … 60K said the organisers) joined a largely peaceful demonstration at the Central Paris Court (despite the COVID-related ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and despite the demo only being announced 4 days earlier). It was a protest against police violence and the July 2016 death during arrest of Adama Traoré. ‘I can’t breathe’ was written on demonstrators’ masks, and ‘BLM’ on posters, showing an (often rare) awareness of anti-racism movements beyond France.
Within days a giant fresco – a tribute to Traoré and Floyd – was created by street artist JR and cinema director Ladj Ly (winner of last year’s Cannes Jury Prize for Les Misérables, a condemnation of police violence in its portrayal of les banlieues) and placed on a Paris building. Government is said to fear rapidly escalating anger accentuated by the months of lockdown, but it didn’t make much concrete impact on the President’s speech last night.
The President reacted last weekend to the Traoré demo, calling on Interior Minister Castaner to ‘speed up’ the response to a report on police behaviour. The latter had been launched after the death of scooter delivery man, Cédric Chouviat, violently arrested in Paris in early January, who subsequently died. And then matters cascaded:
- Castaner (8 June) was further spurred into action by the ‘outing’ of racist, sexist and homophobic police, all thanks to StreetPress. First a closed Facebook group of 8,000 police officers followed quickly by a 2nd Facebook group of 9,000 which is not exclusive to the police. Even those with no French will be able to get a feel for the obnoxious racist, homophobic, and sexist language. In what may have been terra incognita for Interior Minister Castaner, he said ‘Racism has no place in our society. It has no place in our Republic.’ So far so banal. Then the zinger: ‘I want zero tolerance against racism … when you wear a blue [police] uniform you never put yourself above the law. I want zero tolerance against racism among the police … No racist is worthy of wearing the uniform of a police officer or gendarme … There will be automatic suspension for any officer where there is substantiated suspicion of racist behaviour or language.’ [Castaner’s use of ‘substantiated suspicion’ as a criterion was rejected by barrack-room police officers]
- Castaner also announced increased use of police body cameras and banned various methods of arrest (including certain strangleholds)
- Police unions pronounced themselves ‘disgusted’ that the police ‘are once again the scapegoat of our politicians, our intellectuals, our learned guides, our artists, all of whom were utterly silent during the recent various crises and reforms: Covid 19, gilets jaunes, pension reform, labour law reform’.
Since when there have been several further police demonstrations. Dramatic scenes of police officers placing their handcuffs symbolically on the ground whilst singing the national anthem. On Saturday night some 150 police rushed in their police cars to the Arc de Triomphe – complete with accompanying son et lumière police car effects – to complain they’d been abandoned by their Minister. And they just hate being told they cannot use their ‘favourite’ stranglehold arrest technique.
President Macron will be back on our screens in early July (post-28 June municipal elections and pre-14 July) to let us know his proposals for re-invention, plus who’s going to spend more time with their families.