The Philippe government

Gérard Collomb, Jean-Yves Le Drian, François Bayrou,
Bruno Le Maire, Laura Flessel, Nicolas Hulot (credit: Forbes)

[update below]

Voilà my à chaud reaction to PM Édouard Philippe’s first government (there will presumably be a second, after the June legislative elections, and assuming Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche wins a majority or substantial plurality, i.e. is not forced into a cohabitation with LR). First, there are a handful of political heavyweights—several well past the legal retirement age—but eleven of the twenty-two ministers and secretaries of state issue from civil society or the fonction publique and have never run for elective office. Which is to say, they are unknown to the public, as well as to me. But then, Macron made it clear through the campaign that this would be the case. Le renouvellement. Second, the economic side of the government tilts markedly to the neoliberal right, which, though probably not a surprise, is too bad. In point of fact, it’s not good at all. Third, the turmoil in LR will no doubt deepen on account of the government’s libéral tilt and Macron’s prises de guerre (see below). If LR does not formally split after the June election there will possibly be two LR-UDI parliamentary groups, with one supporting the government, which will insure an overall majority for PM Philippe even if La République en Marche falls short of this.

The members of the government, in order of protocol:

Gérard Collomb – Ministre d’État, Ministre de l’Intérieur: After forty years in politics, Monsieur Collomb finally lands a ministerial post—and in a ministère régalien, which is both normal given his stature and inevitable in view of his early support of Macron’s candidacy. He’s been a national figure in the PS—on its right flank—since 2001, when he was first elected as (the first-ever Socialist) mayor of Lyon. He’s clearly appreciated there but has been no one’s idea of a possible prime minister. Personally I find him dull. Boring. And I know I’m not alone in my sentiment. It may be the quality of his voice. But he’s solid and certainly has what it takes for this post.

Nicolas Hulot – Ministre d’État, Ministre de la Transition Écologique et Solidaire: He no doubt has the highest name recognition of any member of the government, and has long been one of France’s more popular personalities in the various palmarès. I am certainly among the tiny minority in France who never once watched his television show. He’ll certainly be outspoken on the good environmental cause and push the government in an ecology-friendly (and anti-nuclear) direction. The interesting question will be how long he lasts in the post.

François Bayrou – Ministre d’État, Garde des Sceaux: I wasn’t expecting him to be in the government at all, let alone at the Place Vendôme. He likely insisted on this, so as to personally write the law on the moralization of public life and that will carry his name.

Sylvie Goulard – Ministre des Armées: She was certain to figure in the government but at the Quai d’Orsay or as minister of European affairs, not defense. Curious. I saw her up close for the first time in 2004, at a small round-table discussion around her then new book that argued against admitting Turkey to the European Union. No one in France these days believes such a thing should happen—not for the foreseeable future, at least—but back then there was a vigorous debate on the question, with many—mainly on the left, but also the Chiraquien right—advocating eventual Turkish entry. Goulard’s argument was by far the most thoughtful and compelling of those opposed to Turkey in the EU. She smart and 100% pro-Europe. Her political roots are in MoDem.

Jean-Yves Le Drian – Ministre de l’Europe et des Affaires Étrangères: PS heavyweight, évidemment. I have yet to read the explanations as to why he left defense—his domain—for the Quai d’Orsay. Probably wanted a change of pace (though it will involve even more travel for him).

Richard Ferrand – Ministre de la Cohésion des Territoires: From the PS (second tier, not known outside Brittany until this campaign). He’s been one of Macron’s highest profile spokespersons of late and was obviously going to be in the government. Is well-spoken.

Agnès Buzyn – Ministre des Solidarités et de la Santé: Don’t know her. She’s a prominent personality in the medical profession (as a practitioner and professor).

Françoise Nyssen – Ministre de la Culture: She’s the director of Actes Sud, a high-quality, cutting-edge publishing house based in Arles, which publishes, entre autres, a lot of non-French literature (and is the Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud’s French publisher). Libération has a profile of her here. An interesting choice.

Bruno Le Maire – Ministre de l’Économie: Macron’s big prise de guerre from LR. If Le Maire was going to enter the government, it would have been vastly preferable to give him defense or the Quai d’Orsay. On economics, he is decidedly libéral (in the French sense, not American). Dismaying that he gets Bercy. It looks like Macron really is determined to push through his reform of the Code du Travail 😦 Whatever happened to Anne-Marie Idrac?

Muriel Penicaud – Ministre du Travail: Don’t know her. She comes out of the private sector but also the public, and with experience in ministerial cabinets, including in this domain. She knows the dossier but will she have the political weight to go head-to-head with the syndicats?

Jean-Michel Blanquer – Ministre de l’Education Nationale: Don’t know him. He’s a jurist and with high-level administrative experience in higher education. This is a big ministry and with powerful syndicats. Fera-t-il le poids?

Jacques Mézard – Ministre de l’Agriculture: From the PRG. Is a leading figure in the Senate, but as hardly anyone in France knows what happens in that body, hardly anyone knows about him. As he’s from the Cantal, he is certainly acquainted with the dossier.

Gérald Darmanin – Ministre de l’Action et des Comptes Publics: Another prise de guerre from LR. Rightist, is/was close to (gulp) Sarkozy. Not good.

Frédérique Vidal – Ministre de l’Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche et de l’Innovation: A biochemist, has been president of the university of Nice for the past five years. Can’t say much more about her than that.

Annick Girardin – Ministre des Outre-mer: From the PRG. She’s an élu from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (population 6,000), probably the first ever from there to accede to a ministerial post.

Laura Flessel – Ministre des Sports: Everyone remembers her gold medals (fencing) at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A moment of national pride. She hails from Guadeloupe.

Élisabeth Borne – Ministre Déléguée de la Transition Écologique chargée des Transports: A polytechnicienne, was head of the RATP (Paris metro) until today.

Marielle de Sarnez – Ministre Déléguée chargée des Questions Européennes: François Bayrou’s right-hand woman and MoDem nº 2 for the past decade. Logical that she’s in the government.

Christophe Castaner – Porte parole du gouvernement, Secrétaire d’État en charge des Relations avec le Parlement: PS deputy from the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Macron campaign spokesman. This is an important post, so he is clearly both well-spoken and is considered to have good political and people skills.

Marlène Schiappa – Secrétaire d’État chargée de l’Égalité des Femmes et des Hommes: A local PS politico in Le Mans and author of numerous books on questions related to gender, parenting, and children. Seems like a natural for this post.

Sophie Cluzel – Secrétaire d’État chargée des Personnes Handicapées: Founder of several NGOs on handicapped persons, and particularly children.

Mounir Mahjoubi – Secrétaire d’État chargé du Numérique: That’s digital technology. He was the Macron campaign’s whiz-kid IT geek. Is brilliant, so they say. Hails from a working-class family of Moroccan immigrants. Will be running against Jean-Christophe Cambadélis in Paris’s 19th arrondissement next month. One wishes him well.

UPDATE: With the exception of the Bercy appointments (Le Maire, Darmanin), there is little to object to in the composition of the government for anyone who is not a supporter of La France Insoumise (or on the right, of course; though on AWAV we don’t care what they think). Ideologically speaking, the government is 100% Blairist-Clintonian (which may or not be a positive or negative thing, but is what it is). By my count, the partisan breakdown is 5 PS, 3 MoDem, 3 PRG, 2 LR, 9 civil society or fonction publique (and 2 énarques—Le Maire and Goulard—plus PM Philippe and president Macron, of course). The latter 9 are exceptionally qualified for their posts: top specialists in their fields and with high-level administrative experience. The contrast with the current US regime could not be greater. Some tidbits on few of these ministers:

Muriel Penicaud: Martine Aubry—whose ministerial cabinet she was in back in the early ’90s—has had positive things to say about her, as have most of the major unions (including CFDT and FO). That augurs well for the concertation between the government and syndicats over the reform of the Code du Travail.

Marlène Schiappa: She’s been the subject of a mini polemic—initiated by the petit connard Malik Boutih—over her apparent lack of commitment to laïcité, and on account of a tribune—thoughtful, IMO—she authored in Huffpost in July 2014, “Non, cher Manuel Valls, les quartiers populaires ne sont pas antisémites.” Insofar as she needed to clarify her thoughts on the matter—which I don’t think she needed to do—she did so in Elle. Case closed.

Françoise Nyssen: Jean-Luc Mélenchon accused her of being “more or less linked to cults (sectes),” on account of an alternative school she launched in Arles and with an unorthodox pedagogical approach. The refutations of JLM were swift, by, entre autres, blogger Romain Blachier and Juliette Gramaglia of Arrêt sur Image.

Laura Flessel: Arthur Asseraf of All Souls College, Oxford, felt her nomination smacked on tokenism, writing on Facebook:

Laura Flessel, embauchée dans un ministère potiche pour être le visage de la ‘diversité’ dans un gouvernement blanc = très progressiste, vraiment on chamboule les vieilles habitudes.


Plantu_Le Monde_18 mai 2017

Édouard Philippe (credit: lehavre.fr)

[update below] [2nd update below]

So France now has a president of the republic and prime minister who were both unknown to the larger public four years ago. Édouard Philippe’s appointment to Matignon was pretty much expected over the past week, though I saw no mention of him as a possible prime minister before Emmanuel Macron’s victory the Sunday before last. When pundits started to advance Philippe’s name the day after the election, I pronounced him an excellent choice. As one likely knows, he’s 46, is (now was) the deputy-mayor of Le Havre, a member of LR—probably the most centrist one can get in that party—and ally of Alain Juppé, was a card-carrying PS rocardien in his student days (at Sciences Po Paris, naturally), and is, along with Macron, an énarque—and like Macron, finished near the top of his class (with Philippe going to the Conseil d’État, Macron to the Inspection Générale des Finances). A Fifth Republic classic.

I first learned of Philippe’s existence in November 2015, while listening to an extended interview with him on France Inter. I was sufficiently impressed with him that I listened to the end and made sure to note his name (as a smart, moderate politician on the right whom I could eventually vote for if presented with the choice). The interview, which goes for 90 minutes, may be listened to here. The first part is also with philosopher Yves-Charles Zarka—definitely worth the listen—but from the 52nd minute it’s exclusively Philippe.

France Culture also had an extended interview with Philippe, in December 2014, that may be heard here (scroll to video at the end).

See the portraits of Philippe in Mediapart and Challenges. From January 18th to May 3rd, Philippe had a weekly column on the campaign in Libération, archived here.

One learns in Le Monde that Philippe has a “fierce hatred” of Nicolas Sarkozy, so much so that the two men almost came to blows some fifteen years back. Awesome. Monsieur Philippe, you’re my man!

The composition of the government will be announced tomorrow morning. Will be looking forward to that.

UPDATE: Some money quotes from the Mediapart article linked to above

Quand ses collègues se crispent sur les questions identitaires et sociétales, [Philippe] se refuse à sombrer dans la surenchère.

And this

Ainsi fait-il partie des rares députés UMP à s’être abstenus sur la loi sur le mariage pour tous. « Soyons clairs : nous pensons qu’un enfant peut être élevé, et bien élevé, par un couple homosexuel », affirme-t-il en 2013, dans une tribune cosignée avec Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, expliquant son abstention par la crainte d’ouvrir le champ à la PMA et à la GPA.

And this

…son entrée à Matignon sonne bel et bien comme une revanche pour cette droite qui ne s’est jamais reconnue dans le discours identitaire et réactionnaire porté tour à tour par Nicolas Sarkozy et François Fillon. Cette droite qui s’est très tôt désolidarisée de la campagne de ce dernier, organisée entre démagogie et mensonges.

One may also mention that Philippe opposed François Hollande on the déchéance de nationalité.

Conclusion: on issues particularly important to me—my personal litmus tests, in effect—Édouard Philippe passes with flying colors.

2nd UPDATE: During the burkini brouhaha last August, Philippe was taken to task by a Front National municipal counselor in La Havre, who reproached Monsieur le Maire for his tolerant, live and let live attitude on the matter. Philippe indeed criticized other mayors for their refusal to respect the Conseil d’État’s August 26th ruling that invalidated municipal ordinances proscribing the burkini. Très bien, Monsieur le Maire.

[update below]

There have been the expected slew of documentaries and reportages since last Sunday on the new president of the republic, which, taken together, offer a more than positive image of him. The one on TF1 Monday night, “Emmanuel Macron: les coulisses d’une victoire,” is really worth seeing. TF1’s description:

De secrétaire général adjoint à l’Elysée à candidat à la présidence de la République, le novice en politique est passé de l’ombre à la lumière en très peu de temps. Durant 200 jours, nos caméras l’ont suivi dans les coulisses de sa campagne et dans son ascension exceptionnelle. Durant huit mois, nous avons été les seuls à être autorisés à suivre le candidat Emmanuel Macron avec notre caméra dans les coulisses de cette campagne exceptionnelle. De l’annonce de sa candidature jusqu’à son élection le 7 mai, nous vous proposons un documentaire exclusif vous permettant de vivre de l’intérieur la campagne d’Emmanuel Macron à la manière d’un thriller politique.

Seeing Emmanuel Macron behind the scenes, one cannot help but like him. He’s always smiling, in a buoyant, positive mood—avenant is the word in French—and that clearly rubs off on those around him. Contrast this with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with his perpetual tête des mauvais jours, always scowling and trash-talking (and his spokespersons—Alexis Corbière, Éric Coquerel et al—are no different). Thank god that S.O.B. didn’t make the 2nd round.

France 3 also aired a most interesting documentary Monday night, “Ainsi soit Macron.” The description:

La trajectoire fulgurante d’Emmanuel Macron l’a fait passer en trois ans du quasi anonymat à la présidence de la République. Et pourtant, même si les médias l’ont suivi jour après jour durant sa campagne, personne ne le connaît vraiment. Le politique s’est exprimé, progressiste, social et libéral en même temps, mais l’homme reste une énigme. Derrière le story-telling officiel, quelle est la véritable personnalité de celui qui va diriger la France ? Quelles sont ses forces, ses faiblesses ? Grâce à des images inédites et des témoignages exclusifs, dont celui de son épouse Brigitte, ce film raconte les moments charnières de la trajectoire du nouveau Président et révèle les motivations profondes qui l’animent. Enquête sur un météore devenu Président.

And France 2’s Envoyé Spécial on Thursday had the inevitable reportage, “En marche vers l’Elysée.”

Qui pouvait imaginer qu’en créant son mouvement En marche ! en avril 2016, Emmanuel Macron deviendrait président de la République ? Ce pari, longtemps moqué par le sérail politique et médiatique, est l’objet de ce film. Grâce aux interviews exclusives du candidat et à l’accès aux séances de travail dans les coulisses de son QG, ce document raconte la stratégie de campagne mise en place par Emmanuel Macron pour conquérir l’Elysée.

For some reading—not watching—see this interview with Macron on his apprenticeship in philosophy. C’est une tête celui-là.

UPDATE: For more reading on Macron’s “tête,” see the lengthy piece in Mediapart by Joseph Confavreux and Mathieu Magnaudeix, “Dans la tête d’Emmanuel Macron.”

Macron’s victory

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

C’était une belle victoire. And with a wider margin than anyone expected. No poll or anyone I know predicted that Emmanuel Macron would win with 66% of the vote. Fabulous. A salutary slap in the face for Marine Le Pen and her wretched party. I had a number of things to say about the outcome but all sorts of top-notch Anglophone analysts and commentators have beaten me to it since last night, e.g. Arthur Goldhammer, who had a hot take in Foreign Affairs and several posts on his French Politics blog; James Traub, in a good piece in Foreign Policy; University of Cambridge professor Hugo Drochon in The New Statesman; the University of Edinburgh’s Emile Chabal in The Hindu; and the always interesting Zaki Laïdi of Sciences Po in Huffpost. Arthur Asseraf of All Souls College, Oxford, also has a worthwhile commentary on his Facebook page. The University of Houston’s Robert Zaretsky posted an essay yesterday in the Los Angeles Review of Books on what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur—with whom Emmanuel Macron collaborated in his student days—can teach us about the French election. And don’t miss Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle’s à chaud dispatch, in which I am quoted.

Haaretz’s Dov Aflon has a particularly interesting analysis, enumerating—with his own country clearly in mind—the five “lessons Macron can teach politicians everywhere.” One of the lessons: stop talking about terrorism.

In a moment of levity, Art Goldhammer drew a parallel between the French election and Batman and Robin. But the prize for second degree humor goes to New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis, who, in a delicious dispatch entitled “Deep in Macron Country,” solemnly submits that “We must now confront an uncomfortable question. Why did so many French people vote for Emmanuel Macron? Was it a lack of economic anxiety, or a lack of racism?” Money quote

Finally, in the bookshop, I do find someone who is angry. “We are tired of our traditional culture being mocked and derided,” says Pierre, angrily setting aside his Proust omnibus. “Does Marine Le Pen not understand that being French is all about being insouciant, not shouting endlessly about how terrible it is when women wear veils? The only article of clothing a Frenchman should be against is the sock with the sandal.” He shudders. “We are not . . . Germans.”

The encounter with the “rare Le Pen voter” is equally priceless.

As for my own take, a few brief comments.

  • Certain pundits have been relativizing Macron’s 66% score by pointing out the abstention rate (25.4%), historically high number of blank and nullified ballots (11.5%), and the IPSOS exit poll revealing that fully 43% of those who voted for Macron did so more to block Marine Le Pen than out of adherence to his program or him personally—the suggestion being that Macron’s victory is thus “fragile” and does not confer upon him a mandate (to use an Americanism). Maybe, maybe not, but so what? One can say the same about Hollande in 2012—for whom many voted simply to eject Sarkozy—and Chirac in 2002, who would have probably lost that election had it not been for the accident of the 21 avril. As for Sarkozy in 2007, he indeed enjoyed a strong base at election time but quickly started to lose it soon after he took office. The fact is, Macron defeated Marine LP in a spectacular landslide. That’s all that matters.
  • On Marine LP and the Front National, various pundits and academic specialists, including Sheri Berman of Barnard College, have been warning that the FN, despite its drubbing yesterday, remains a long-term threat. Radical right-wing populism may be down but it’s not out. I’m not so sure. The FN will certainly be around for a long time to come but, at 10.6 million votes, I really do think it hit the glass ceiling yesterday. There is simply no potential majority for the FN—politically or demographically—in its current form. If the FN formally drops its position on Europe—thus aligning fully with the souverainisme of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s Debout la France—the core of its economic program is rendered null and void. The party loses its raison d’être—and a hefty portion of its base in the northeastern part of the country. It would transform into a run-of-the-mill reactionary, Midi-based party speaking for maybe 12% of the electorate max. But if the position on Europe does not change, then the glass ceiling remains and with no possibility of an alliance with any significant force on the right beyond the diminutive DLF. And with no mainstream conservative allies, the FN cannot win a national election.
  • The aforementioned IPSOS exit poll revealed that 61% of voters do not wish for Macron’s En Marche!—soon to be renamed La République en Marche—to win an outright majority in June’s legislative elections. This should not, however, be interpreted as a repudiation of Macron but rather as a desire of voters for an institutional reinforcing of the National Assembly and at the expense of the president of the republic. If En Marche! receives an outright majority, disproportionate power will continue to be concentrated in the hands of the president of the republic. The fact is, increasing numbers of voters are fed up with the Bonapartist character the presidency has taken on with the quinquennat. On this, see the tribune by Patrick Weil in Le Monde last week. If En Marche! falls short of an absolute majority and is therefore obliged to seek circumstantial alliances with other parliamentary groups, that will be good and salutary.
  • Speculation has naturally begun on who Macron will name as his prime minister a week from today. Unlike Hollande in 2012 and Sarkozy in 2007—who were widely expected to make the appointments they ended up making (Jean-Marc Ayrault and François Fillon)—no one has any idea what Macron will do. Certain pundits today did, however, say that the PM will very likely come from the ranks of the right. In terms of electoral calculus, this would seem to make sense, as the LR party is set to gain many more seats than the PS or La France Insoumise. So if a PM from the right can peel off voters from LR-UDI, that would clearly be good for Macron. As for the names advanced, the one heading the pundit list is Édouard Philippe, the juppéiste LR mayor of Le Havre. He would, IMO, be an excellent choice. I first heard Philippe in an extended interview on France Inter or France Culture in 2015 or early ’16 and was highly impressed with him. He’s moderate and sensible; as centrist as one can get in LR. We’ll see next Monday.
  • I am simply amazed at Macron’s triumph, at the feat he’s pulled off: 39-years-old, never before run for office, whom no one had heard of even four years ago, no political party… And a pro-Europe centrist and in a country like France. Hat’s off to him. His stunning rise is akin to Barack Obama’s from 2004 to ’08. Two exceptional personalities in the right place at the right time—but who also benefited from incredible luck, with their most important rivals serendipitously falling by the wayside or immolating themselves in scandal at precisely the right moment.

À la prochaine.

UPDATE: John Judis has a comment in TPM on “Macron’s rout of Le Pen show[ing] how Trump is hurting rightwing populists.” Claire Berlinksi, who’s been on a tear lately, writes in NR that “Macron survived Russia’s dirty tricks, but even bigger challenges wait.” And mention must be made of Roger Cohen’s fine, heartfelt NYT column yesterday on “Macron and the revival of Europe.”

2nd UPDATE: Yale University’s excellent political science prof, Stathis Kalyvas, had a piece in The Atlantic last week that does not once mention France but is nonetheless pertinent, “What democracies can learn from Greece’s failed populist experiment.”

3rd UPDATE: The Washington Post’s James McAuley has an excellent analysis on “why the populists didn’t win France’s presidential election.”

The campaign formally ended at midnight yesterday. So no rallies today, no polls, no leafleting in the markets, no wall-to-wall TV coverage of the latest stink bomb thrown at the Macron campaign (which looks to have come from the American alt-right; it won’t alter a single vote, don’t worry). Emmanuel Macron did something last night that I consider to be amazing, which was to give a sit-down interview with Mediapart and streamed live on its website, YouTube, Dailymotion, and Facebook. Instead of holding one last rally in Strasbourg, Montpellier, or wherever—and basking in the adulation of his fans and those watching live on BFMTV—Macron opted to spend the final hours of the campaign having his feet held to the fire by some of France’s most redoubtable left-wing journalists—Edwy Plenel and his team—who have been exhorting everyone to vote for Macron tomorrow but only to block Marine Le Pen. No one outdoes Edwy Plenel & Co when it comes to anti-fascism and opposing the Front National. But Mediapart has shown no indulgence toward Macron during the campaign; it has been deeply skeptical of him politically and offered unsparing coverage of his campaign (as Mediapart does with all those in power or who aspire to it). Macron, who was interviewed by Mediapart last November, knew what awaited him.

The interview—announced Thursday night on the Mediapart website—was supposed to go for an hour-and-a-half, from 8 p.m. to 9:30, but Macron arrived twenty minutes late. He stayed until 10:40, i.e. 2 hours 20 minutes, covering the gamut: economic and social policy, the environment, foreign policy, institutions, his own eventual conflicts of interest… Now I have had qualms and reservations over aspects of Macron’s program—expressed in my previous post—but have to say that I was deeply impressed by him last night, for the mere fact that he was doing the interview in the first place—on the final night of the campaign; directly addressing skeptical voters of the left, in effect—but also what he had to say.

We already knew that Macron is smart and knows policy; énarques in politics invariably fit this bill. But he showed last night both the depth of his knowledge and the seriousness with which he has thought through what he proposes to do as president of the French republic. It was a tour de force. E.g. he was cross-examined on social policy—pensions, unemployment insurance, the labor code—by veteran economics journalist Laurent Mauduit, who has been inveighing against neoliberalism since the 1990s. It was an excellent exchange and in which Macron clarified (for me, at least) his thinking on some of these issues. And the final exchange, with Mediapart journalist Carine Fouteau, on issues related to immigration and multiculturalism: responding to a question on the contrôle au faciès (ethnic-racial profiling) by the police—which is a very big problem in France—Macron gave an interesting and original response. And in discussing the general question, he mentioned, in passing, “Taylor.” The vast majority of those watching likely did not pick up on it but I knew exactly who he was referring to: Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher, whose writings on communitarianism and multiculturalism are well-known to anyone with a passing knowledge of the subject—though not so much in France. Pas mal.

Before the Mediapart interview I had a generally positive but tepid attitude toward Macron, with the qualms and reservations. After the interview my view is much more enthusiastic. He convinced me—for now at least. Bravo, Emmanuel Macron!

The interview, conveniently split into five YouTubes and by theme, may be watched on the Mediapart website here. I highly recommend it.

One article that has been making the rounds over the past week is Christopher Caldwell’s in the spring 2017 issue of City Journal, “The French, coming apart: A social thinker illuminates his country’s populist divide.” The thinker in question is the well-known geographer Christophe Guilluy, who has been writing for the past several years on “la France périphérique”—the France outside the dynamic metropolitan areas that are embedded in the global economy: the France that has been losing out with globalization—and how this explains in good part the rise of Marine Le Pen and the Front National. Now I will admit to not having read Guilluy’s books, though have plenty of tribunes by, interviews with, and articles and reviews about him. I have issues with some of his analyses—which I’ll maybe get into at a later date—but, generally speaking, don’t find his depictions of “la France périphérique” to be extremely original. Anyone who has followed the highbrow press (Le Monde, Libération et al) and kept up with the major journals—and maybe read a book or two on the subject—over the past two-odd decades will be familiar with what Guilluy is talking about. À propos, I had a blog post, “Marine’s voters,” on the precise subject five years ago almost to the day, and which makes for relevant reading today (the Envoyé Spécial reportage I link to has unfortunately vanished from the internet).

L’Obs has posted on its website (May 3rd) a redacted 1985 CIA report on Jean-Marie Le Pen. Interesting.

My prediction for tomorrow. Before Wednesday’s debate I would have said maybe 59-41 for Macron. But in view of Marine LP’s calamitous performance—and over which there is a near-total consensus—I’m going to go with the final IPSOS poll up top. So:

Macron: 63%
Le Pen: 37%
Nullified/blank ballots: 8%
Participation rate: 74%

Marine Le Pen will fall shy of 12 million votes (a good result for her).

À demain.

[update below]

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron had their debate last night, as one may be aware. It was terrible. Truly awful. The worst presidential debate in the history of the Fifth Republic. This was not, however, because both candidates were bad. One was good, the other not. No need to say which one was what.

In my previous post, I predicted that Macron would annihilate Le Pen in the debate. Now I did fear that he might commit a gaffe—which he has done more than twice in the course of the campaign—or lose his cool in the face of Madame Le Pen’s expected torrent of invective and taunts, but was nonetheless banking on a démolition en règle, that he would cut her into little pieces over her flip-flop on the euro and, more generally, the incoherence and absurdity of her entire economic program. Then there was the fact that Marine Le Pen had never before engaged in such an exercise, of a 2½ hour head-to-head exchange in which one is expected to demonstrate knowledge of policy—which, needless to say, she does not have.

I had a running commentary going on Facebook during the debate and with numerous persons weighing in, which I concluded by opining that Macron was good but that Marine “held her own.” I set the bar too low for her, subconsciously giving her a plus for her mere ability speak in complete sentences—which we’ve always known she can do (as can everyone in French public life)—that she was being an articulate, somewhat coherent Trump. And Trump-like she was, launching into demagoguery from the opening salvo and relentlessly attacking Macron to her closing statement. Now Nicolas Sarkozy did much the same against François Hollande in the 2012 debate but the violence of Marine’s vituperation was on another level altogether. And Sarkozy did not, so far as I recall, shout at Hollande or otherwise try to drown him out. On this score there was total failure by the moderators, Christophe Jakubyszyn and Nathalie Saint-Cricq, who were unable to rein her in or impose order. And it’s too bad there was no fact checking. Though Marine was clearly talking rubbish on just about everything—and that Macron continually pointed out—one had to wait for Le Monde’s “décodeurs” to document the extent of it (also Dominique Seux on France Inter this morning).

In short, Marine LP’s performance demonstrated for the umpteenth time that not only has the Front National not changed one iota since she took it over from her father but that the party utterly lacks the competence—politically and otherwise—to govern France. Even some of Marine’s sympathizers were disappointed by her performance, which, moreover, posed the question as to the utility of even trying to debate with her or others on the extreme right. An impossible debate, as Le Monde’s Vanessa Schneider put it. One wag on Facebook got it right

Debating Marine Le Pen is like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how good you are she’ll knock over all the pieces, shit on the board, and then proudly strut around as if she won.

The NYT’s Adam Nossiter also got it right in his post-debate analysis. The bottom line: Marine Le Pen, on account of her performance last night, disqualified herself from acceding to the highest elective office of the French republic.

As for Macron, he was solid throughout, parried MLP’s insults, didn’t let her get under his skin, and got in numerous digs himself, but also managed to do what he does best, which is to talk about policy. He did not, however, sufficiently take apart her bullshit on the euro and Europe. A missed opportunity, though she would have no doubt riposted by shouting back at him and raising her decibel level while she was at it. One regrets that François Fillon or Jean-Luc Mélenchon did not qualify for the 2nd round instead of Marine, as the French electorate would have been treated to a debate on another level altogether. Macron may be extremely intelligent and with some good ideas, but there are also some real problems in his program and discourse, which a more serious candidate—particularly one on the left—would have called him on.

One of the problems, as I see it at least, is Macron’s fixation on reforming the Code du Travail and in a business-friendly direction. Not that there may not be merit to some of his ideas on the matter but to make it a centerpiece of his program is odd. On the level of policy, it is simply not the case that supposed rigidities in the labor code are a principal cause of France’s high unemployment rate and slow growth. Such has not been convincingly demonstrated. As for the politics of what Macron proposes, who is he speaking to? What’s his constituency on this? If he’s trying woo patronspetits, moyens et/ou grands—he’s wasting his time, as they’re a core clientele of the mainstream right (today, the LR party)—since when has the bourgeoisie not been conservative?—and have no reason to defect to an upstart centrist formation of uncertain electoral prospects. And in terms of raw votes, immediate beneficiaries of a liberalization of the Code du Travail don’t amount to a hill of beans. But Macron does risk alienating the left—which he already has to a significant extent—with his fixation on this issue. And if he carries out his pledge to impose the reform by ordonnance, it will cause a firestorm. It’s really hard to see what such a course of action will yield a president Macron except pissing off a lot of people—many of whom could otherwise support him.

In short, one wonders about Macron’s political instincts, or the absence of. He often comes across as the énarque who graduated at the top of his class, the best and the brightest, and utterly self-confident—and full of himself. It’s a Fifth Republic technocrat/énarque syndrome, e.g. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Alain Juppé, Laurent Fabius, even François Hollande, entres autres, who ended up deeply unpopular by the end of their stints in the Élysée or Matignon. One sees this in Macron’s assertion that he considers his 8.7 million voters on April 23rd to be ipso facto supporters of the totality of his program—that a vote for him was necessarily a vote d’adhésion—when polls show—not to mention what so many in France know anecdotally—that many who voted for him in the 1st round did so strategically—in a vote utile—or faute de mieux (personally speaking, I considered voting utile for Macron through the entire 1st round campaign but finally went for Benoît Hamon). So one advises Emmanuel Macron to be a little more modest—if he can be—and make a concrete gesture or two to the left: not to Jean-Luc Mélenchon—who can go to hell—but to at least some of his voters.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire (pour le moment au moins).

UPDATE: Here are good analyses of the debate by France Inter’s Thomas Legrand, Le Point’s Sophie Coignard, and Stanford University professor Cécile Alduy.

Amiens, April 26th (photo credit: Reuters/Sipa)

Six days, actually. This promises to be a wild-and-crazy week but the only uncertainty over next Sunday’s outcome is the margin of Emmanuel Macron’s victory. Nervous Nellies—including certain journalist friends of mine—have been wringing their hands over a possible Marine Le Pen victory but this is not going to happen. As my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, in an open letter to his readers, trenchantly asserted last Friday: “Macron will be elected by a landslide. Make no mistake… He will win…” A victory is considered a landslide if the margin is 10 points or more. The average of the last ten polls have Macron winning 60-40. If the final outcome is even 55-45—i.e. a bona fide landslide—it will be viewed as almost a victory for Marine. And a margin of less than 10 points will definitely be viewed as a victory—moral and political—for her.

The big question marks are turnout and the transfer of votes from the 1st round runner-ups. The participation rate in the 1st round was 77.7% (it was 79.5 in 2012). Turnout in presidential 2nd round normally upticks by 1 to 3 points, so there may be some 1st round abstainers who will show up at the polls on May 7th—the majority of whom will likely vote Macron—but they will be more than offset by Mélenchon and Fillon voters who will not show up. The one presidential election that witnessed a drop in participation in the 2nd round was in 1969—77.6/68.8—subsequent to an explicit call by the PCF—representing a fifth of the electorate at the time, and whose voters followed party consignes—to stay home (Jacques Duclos’s famous “c’est blanc bonnet ou bonnet blanc” in regard to Poher and Pompidou). For Marine LP to have any chance next Sunday, participation will have to drop into the mid 50s. This would be unprecedented; in reality, it’s inconceivable. Everyone’s doing back-of-the-envelope calculations of hypothetical vote transfers. The most optimistic numbers I can come up with for MLP—of transfer to Macron-Le Pen-abstention/nullified ballots—are: Fillon 30-50-20, Mélenchon 40-20-40, Hamon 70-5-25, and Dupont-Aignan 5-80-15, which would yield a 52-48 Macron victory. If this is indeed the result, there will, needless to say, be no Sunday night party for Macron at La Rotonde, or anywhere else.

In point of fact, the transfers are more likely to be on the order of FF 45-35-20, JLM 50-10-40, BH 87-3-10, NDA 10-70-20 = Macron 59-41. As for Fillon’s voters, a good third—notably the Sens Commun crowd and diehard, identity-obsessed Sarkozystes—are sure to vote for Marine. More are likely to hold their noses and vote Macron, however, as (a) voters of the right tend to be legitimist and will thus follow the consignes of the party’s leaders (only the most réac among them—Laurent Wauquiez, Eric Ciotti et al—have declined to explicitly recommend a vote for Macron), and (b) the majority of LR voters, albeit conservative, reject the FN and what it represents, and notably its position on Europe. Fillon’s voters, pour mémoire, disproportionately hail from the bourgeoisie; they own property, have assets, and thus much to lose financially in the event of a Frexit—or simply from the instability, indeed chaos, that would inevitably follow an Marine LP victory.

As for Marine’s announcement this weekend that she would finally not seek to quit the euro, at least not right away, this was certainly taken with fence-sitting Fillon voters in mind (plus to accommodate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan; more on that below). But it almost defies belief that any person with half an intellect—and Fillon’s voters tend to be in the CSP+ category, thus educated—could be taken in by Marine’s revirement. This has to be the biggest flip-flop in French electoral history, if not in the entire Western world. Quitting Europe has been a cornerstone of FN doctrine—of its entire world-view—since the party’s inception. Marine, in one fell swoop, has caused the whole edifice to come crashing down. Her entire economic program is predicated on a Frexit. Without the latter, she will be unable to implement a single significant economic measure she proposes, not to mention measures in other domains, e.g. on restricting migration from other EU countries. Amazing. Polls later in the week will indicate if her gambit has helped her. I will be most surprised if it does.

Art Goldhammer thinks that Marine’s euro ploy is an act of desperation, perhaps taken in panicked reaction to bad internal polls. This is not my interpretation. The FN has known for a while that Europe and the euro are secondary issues for its hardcore base, not to mention redhibitory ones for conservative LR voters it needs to win over. Marine’s inner circle also privately admits—and this has been reported in the press—that she’s not going to win the election this year; the FN is playing the long game, with 2022 the objective. So the goal in this one is to make it to the mid 40s, which, as mentioned above, would be a huge symbolic victory for the FN and put it in good position to win dozens of seats in the legislative election. In the wake of the inevitable LR crack-up, the FN would become the dominant party on the right and pole of opposition to the banquier-president Macron (on the FN’s demonization of Macron-as-banker, see Renaud Dély’s spot on commentary in Marianne). And if Macron’s presidency fails—and the quinquennat is almost guaranteed to render the occupant of the Elysée unpopular—then the choice in ’22, from the FN’s standpoint, will be clear. So Marine’s about-face on the euro is less a Hail Mary pass than a long bomb (American football metaphor), to advance the FN’s field position.

On Nicolas Dupont-Aignan rallying to MLP, this is significant IMO, as it’s the first breach—along with Christine Boutin—since the mid 1980s in the mainstream right’s FN firewall. NDA’s Debout la France may not represent much—NDA is its only national elected official—but it’s still part of the paysage politique—no less so than EELV on the left in membership and veritable electoral weight—and has billed itself as the true heir of classic Gaullism. And NDA is smart and a very good speaker (I’ve seen him). As for Marine’s announcing that NDA will be her prime minister, this confirms what I predicted back in February, that if elected, Marine will appoint a non-FN politico to Matignon. Will NDA’s ralliement impress LR voters? Social media is being inundated with his past declarations trashing the FN and the Le Pen family, and how he would never enter into an alliance with the extreme right. The opportunism is admittedly a little brazen. La ficelle est un peu grosse…

On the transfer of votes from Jean-Luc Mélenchon: I have been bashing JLM almost daily on social media over the past week (e.g. herehere, and here), over his iniquitous refusal to explicitly call for a vote against Marine Le Pen, so am not going to do so here. Henri Weber advanced the most plausible explanation in the Huffpost the other day of JLM’s motives (it has to do with keeping his base intact for the legislative elections, which JLM essentially confirmed in his half-hour YouTube monologue with this fans). All I can say is that JLM is pissing off a lot of people on the left who otherwise don’t dislike him politically (as do I) and, in the view of more than a few, is compromising his credibility as a future leader of the opposition to a president Macron. On verra ça.

As for his voters on April 23rd, they are divided roughly into thirds: of PS voters who jumped on the JLM bandwagon as he surged in the polls, voters from the constituent components of the Front de Gauche (PCF, Ensemble etc), and the radical left. Hardly any of JLM’s voters will cast an affirmative ballot for Macron but the first two of these three cohorts will, in their great majority, vote for him to block Marine LP, as did the left in 2002 in the “front républicain” against her father. The PCF, Cégétistes, and other militants de gauche with a culture politique will do what they have to do to stop the Front National. The problem is la gauche radicale, of mainly younger voters without a culture politique or historical consciousness. This is the French equivalent of fanaticized Bernie Sanders supporters who equated Clinton and Trump and either voted for Jill Stein or abstained. There’s not a whole lot to be done about them. Unfortunately their numbers could involve a third, or even more, of JLM transfer votes.

If Macron is politically smart, he’ll make a concrete gesture toward the first two components of JLM’s voters—left-wing PS and Front de Gauche—between now and the weekend, e.g. in declaring that he will not have the Code du Travail modified by ordonnance, that this will happen solely via ordinary legislation. This would go a long way to attenuating the deep distrust toward him on the left. And Macron really does need the left, as more of his votes come from that side of the political spectrum than from the other (on this, see Jérôme Jaffré in Le Figaro last week). His performance in Amiens at the Whirlpool factory last Wednesday—and in countering MLP’s publicity stunt—ended up as a plus in his column (on this, see Thomas Legrand’s editorial on Thursday and this analysis—and with a great headline—from France 24).

I wrote about Macron’s Bercy rally two weeks ago and my reservations about him as a speaker. Last Thursday he was interviewed on TF1 for over an hour. In this format—in a tête-à-tête, talking about policy—he is quite simply excellent. He’s like Hillary Clinton but faster on his feet—if that’s possible—and talks at a faster clip. And he demonstrates complete command of the issues. But then, one would hardly expect less from an énarque/Inspecteur de Finance. On Wednesday night Macron and Le Pen will debate for two-and-a-half hours face-to-face. Prediction: Macron will demolish her. I don’t see how it will be otherwise. When MLP tries to explain her plan to reintroduce the franc as a parallel currency to the euro and proceed to implement the FN’s economic schemes, Macron will cut her into little pieces. The only way she will avoid total humiliation is if Macron commits a gaffe—which is not out of the question—or is perceived by the TV audience to be an overbearing jerk, which is also possible. But I’m banking on an annihilation. On verra mercredi soir.

%d bloggers like this: