Archive for the ‘France: politics 2016-21’ Category

[update below]

Second rounds of French elections often bring surprises, or results that were not predicted by otherwise alert observers. Such was not the case on Sunday, excepting perhaps the landslide margin of Renaud Muselier’s victory over Thierry Mariani in the PACA. And with the turnout rate increasing by a mere one point, to 34.3%, there was no sursaut of 1st round abstentionists deciding to exercise their civic duty and flock to the polls (as happened, e.g., in 2015). Pundits and politicos have continued to wring their hands over this crisis of democracy and propose various gimmicks to boost turnout—or which they think will achieve this—notably voting by Internet and allowing for absentee ballots, though French election rules and procedures work perfectly well as they are and, apart from simplifying the demarche for proxy voting (vote par procuration) and modifying the deadline for changing one’s registration address, require no changes. Having been an assesseur in a bureau de vote in some 25 election rounds over the past fourteen years, including these last two, I know of what I speak on this.

A good analysis of the mass indifference toward the election was offered by sociologist Albert Ogien in a tribune in yesterday’s Libération, “Régionales: le crépuscule des partis,” in which he underscored the thorough domination of political life in France by an omnipresent and omnipotent head of state—Emmanuel Macron—a state bureaucracy that is incapable of ceding any of its power or decision-making authority, and partisan political apparatuses whose singular obsession is preparing for and waging the campaign for the next presidential election. In such a climate, why, Ogien rhetorically asks, would most voters care a whit about an election to relatively powerless bodies composed of representatives little known to even those who follow politics closely, not to mention the larger public? As mentioned in last week’s post and by Ogien here, regional and departmental councils in France are dwarfs compared to their equivalents in Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the UK, among other European countries, in terms of their powers, budgets, and impact their decisions have on the voters they represent. Talking to an educated, professional under-30 member of my family yesterday, she said she had no idea what the Conseil Régional is or does. I am quite sure that it is likewise for the quasi totality of those she knows. And given the decline in partisan political activism—which has never been high in France to begin with; seriously, how people here personally know a card-carrying party militant?—the changing, technology-driven ways in which people inform themselves about public affairs (if/when they do), and the disappearance of electoral posters that used to plaster the walls of French cities and towns (which are now only seen on dedicated signposts in front of polling stations), it is hardly surprising that millions of citizens may only be dimly aware that a low stakes election is even happening.

And then there are the 13 new mega regions created from the previous 22, thanks to François Hollande’s cockamamie 2015 territorial reform, that only a committee of Parisian haut fonctionnaire énarques could concoct. The failings of the mega regions are well-expressed in a tribune (h/t Guillaume Duval) by Fabien Granier, a writer based in deepest rural France, in the online Reporterre: le quotidien de l’écologie, the thrust of which is summed up in the lede: “L’abstention record du premier tour des régionales révèle une catastrophe institutionnelle, selon l’auteur de cette tribune. Pourquoi voter pour des institutions auxquelles les citoyens n’ont plus accès depuis la nouvelle organisation du territoire en pôles régionaux?” Money quote:

Vers 2005, quand je suis arrivé dans le Bocage bourbonnais, au nord-ouest de l’Allier, il y avait une gare à sept minutes de chez moi, des médecins, des écoles… En plus de ses compétences obligatoires, notre département finançait des permis de conduire aux jeunes, soutenait les installations et pouvait se targuer d’une vraie politique culturelle. Notre capitale de Région, c’était Clermont-Ferrand, à une heure de chez nous. On avait un problème du ressort d’une de ces collectivités: on prenait rendez-vous et on y allait. On connaissait nos conseillers, on pouvait même les voir et les contacter. C’était pas dingue, le pays tournait déjà plutôt carré autour de ses archaïsmes jacobins, mais, au moins, on n’était pas abandonnés.

Quinze ans plus tard: plus d’interlocuteurs, plus de médecins, plus de trains, des écoles qui ferment, des mairies et un département à peine en mesure de couvrir leurs frais obligatoires (salaires, frais de gestion courante, etc.). Ajoutez à ça la disparition quasi complète des services anciennement dévolus aux sous-préfectures (cartes grises, associations, etc.), et peut-être alors commencerez-vous à comprendre pourquoi plus personne ne se rend aux urnes. Pourquoi voter pour des institutions auxquelles nous n’avons plus accès?

On Sunday’s results, see the spot-on instant analyses (in English) by John Lichfield in The Local and Arthur Goldhammer in Tocqueville 21. As for my take, here are a few brief comments on the four political blocs, moving from right to left.

Rassemblement National: That Marine Le Pen and the ex-Front National were big losers—winning not a single region and outright losing departmental council seats, netting a mere 28 (of 4,108)—is one of the big stories of the election. The RN’s calamitous scores do indeed cloud the picture for Marine LP next year, though one recalls the FN’s biting the dust in the 1999 European elections, which looked to be the end of the FN as a factor in French politics, only to be followed in the presidential three years later by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s stunning second place finish. And then there was JMLP’s distant fourth place finish in the 2007 presidential, with Nicolas Sarkozy siphoning off a significant number of his voters, and which I thought at the time signaled the end of the road for JMLP and his party. So much for that prediction. And the fact is, a disproportionate number of abstentionists in this present election were MLP/RN voters, most of whom are likely to cast a ballot next April. This said, one wonders how MLP can possibly hope to win a presidential election—in which all of France votes—when her party can not only not win the regional council in the PACA—the part of France where it is the strongest—but gets buried in a landslide to boot. And likewise in the RN’s next strongest region, the Hauts-de-France, where it was crushed by an even bigger landslide. MLP does indeed appear to have hit a glass ceiling, with a sizable number of conservative voters otherwise sympathetic to her message and rhetoric refusing to vote for her or her party (which is the subject of a reportage by Luc Bronner in Le Monde today).

The election also laid bare the limits of MLP’s strategy of poaching high-profile politicians from the parliamentary right to head the RN’s lists, notably Thierry Mariani in the PACA and Sébastien Chenu in the Hauts-de-France. Mariani, who issues from the RPR/UMP/LR’s FN-compatible hard right flank, is a well-known advocate for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, among other charming leaders of like-minded regimes (he’s also a fan of Narendra Modi, one learns in a lengthy portrait in Le Monde last week of Mariani and his liaisons dangereuses across the globe; among other things, he speaks Russian and has traveled there countless times). As he is a sure-fire pick for the Quai d’Orsay if Marine LP, par malheur, ends up in the Élysée, any setback he suffers is to be welcomed. As for Chenu, formerly of the PR/DL/UMP, qui a mangé à tous les râteliers—among the mainstream things he has done was to serve on Christine Lagarde’s staff when she was Minister of Foreign Trade in the government of Dominique de Villepin—he manifestly did not have the proper populist profile for RN voters in France’s industrial north. Tant mieux.

Les Républicains: They were the big winners, or presented as such, by merely keeping the seven regions they won in 2015 and vanquishing the challenges from the RN—and with the principal interest in this being the brilliant victories of putative presidential candidates Xavier Bertrand of the Hauts-de-France, Valérie Pécresse of the Île-de-France, and Laurent Wauquiez of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the first two having formally quit LR, in which they were longtime pillars, over the past four years. On the presidential ambition front, one may safely dismiss that of Wauquiez, who is too right-wing (and too nasty of an SOB to boot). If there are any significant policy differences between him and Marine Le Pen, I have not perceived them. I simply cannot imagine a scenario in which he emerges as the non-RN right’s standard-bearer.

Bertrand is manifestly the favorite, as not only do the polls have him as the best placed to break the Macron-Le Pen duopoly but he is also the right-wing candidate who is the most acceptable to centrist voters and least unacceptable to the left, while—for the moment at least—maintaining his credibility with the LR base. Bertrand has cultivated his moderate image as president of the Hauts-de-France regional council over the past six years, even flattering lefty sensibilities in certain domains, notably cultural policy. Inevitably though, he has engaged in the usual right-wing demagoguery on law-and-order issues and immigration, e.g. calling for minimum mandatory sentencing, minimum 50-year sentences for persons convicted of terrorism, lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 15, expelling undocumented foreigners manu militari, and the like—and knowing full well that some of what he proposes is unconstitutional or violates the European Charter on Human Rights. Such is the French right.

À propos, one notes that Bertrand and other LR personalities, such as Christian Jacob, continue to refer to Marine Le Pen’s party as the “Front National,” as if to make clear that they do not believe it has changed in any way, that they still consider it beyond the pale and will not deal with it. Except that on immigration, national identity, insécurité, and other such hot button issues, there is no longer any appreciable difference between LR and the FN/RN—Exhibit A being the tract below by the first-tier LR deputy from Nice, Éric Ciotti.

Whatever procedure LR ultimately adopts for selecting its candidate, Bertrand has made it clear that he won’t be bound by it, that his candidacy is all but definitive. Unless he somehow plunges in the polls, it is hard to see how LR can not se rendre à l’évidence and rally behind him, particularly if he continues to have the best chance of making it to the 2nd round. But if he somehow does plunge, Pécresse would be LR’s best alternative IMHO, as she’s conservative but not hard right (I had not bad things to say about her in an early AWAV post ten years ago). As for other LR presidential possibilities—e.g. Bruno Retailleau, Michel Barnier—I doubt it.

La République en Marche: What else to say about Emmanuel Macron’s party—the other big loser on Sunday—except to repeat myself and what everyone knows, which is that it is all but non-existent. President Macron, in effect, does not have a political party worthy of the name, which, after four years in office, is a complicated situation for an incumbent president to find himself in as he contemplates his reelection campaign. Macron’s poll numbers are acceptable for the moment (+40/-57 in the last IPSOS baromètre) but he still has to come up with a positive argument for his reelection, which is not readily apparent. And he has to initiate some kind of legislative action this fall and that will not cause his fragile approval rating to plummet. But even if he can pull that off, if the inevitable 4th wave of the coronavirus leads to yet another confinement or other sanitary restrictions, all bets will be off regarding Monsieur Macron. In short, it is not a totally sure thing that he will make it to next April.

If it looks like Macron may throw in the towel on running for reelection, we’re sure to start hearing a lot about Édouard Philippe.

La Gauche: Not a party but, for this election, we can consider the Parti Socialiste, Europe Écologie-Les Verts, La France Insoumise, and Parti Communiste as a bloc. The PS is satisfied with its showing, as it maintained its control of the five regions won in 2015 and held its own in the departmental councils, notably in the southwest. But one should not be deceived, as the overall performance of the left was rather less-than-impressive. E.g. in the Île-de-France, which the PS ran from 1999 to 2015, the united left list for the 2nd round—led by well-known personalities (Julien Bayou, Audrey Pulvar, Clémentine Autain)—managed to obtain only 33.7% of the vote. And in the Hauts-de-France, another erstwhile PS/PCF stronghold, the united left list, led by the écolo Karima Delli, netted a mere 22%. Pas fameux.

As for the presidential race, the election clarified nothing, and with the PS and EELV having yet to figure out how (or even if) they’re going to select a single candidate—not that anyone they could possibly propose to the French electorate has any credibility as Président de la République. Seriously, can one imagine Anne Hidalgo, Arnaud Montebourg, Yannick Jadot, or Éric Piolle in the Élysée palace? As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he will be lucky to even reach the double digits.

More on the crisis of the left another time.

UPDATE: See the analysis in Le Monde (July 2nd) by Florent Gougou of Sciences Po Grenoble, “‘La percée historique du RN en 2015 a été en partie effacée aux régionales et départementales 2021, mais seulement en partie’.” The lede: “Si la dynamique de recul est la plus forte de l’histoire du parti d’extrême droite entre deux scrutins de même type, elle mérite d’être nuancée, estime le chercheur en science politique, qui constate une ‘disparition de la surmobilisation’.” Noting that a fine-grained analysis of the vote at the cantonal level does not support the hypothesis that the high abstention rate was disproportionately prejudicial to the RN, Gougou concludes:

Finalement, le bilan de ces élections régionales et départementales est très mauvais pour le RN. Son réseau d’élus locaux a été fortement affaibli, avec une centaine de conseillers régionaux en moins (252 contre 356 en 2015). Mais surtout, il a perdu plus de la moitié de ses conseillers départementaux (26 contre 62 en 2015) dans un scrutin qui a très fortement favorisé les sortants. C’est un coup d’arrêt dans la dynamique d’implantation locale de la droite radicale en France.

The same issue of Le Monde has a lengthy enquête by Franck Johannès on the RN’s chaotic campaign in the Hauts-de-France, which laid bare a number of problems of the party at the national level: “Amateurisme et ombres identitaires, la drôle de campagne de Sébastien Chenu.”

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[update below]

A couple of comments on yesterday’s vote for the regional and departmental councils, about which I will have more to say after next Sunday’s 2nd round. First, the historically high abstention rate for a nationwide election—topped only by that of the 2000 constitutional referendum—which is leading all commentaries and analyses. Polls and analysts were predicting this but none had it as high as two-thirds of the electorate. By way of contrast, the participation rate for the previous elections to these two bodies—in March and December 2015—was 50%, seen then as disappointing.

The endless pandemic and long second confinement—which we’re thankfully coming out of—certainly had some effect, as partisan politics are not on everyone’s mind these days, and particularly younger voters—the abstention rate for the 18-24 cohort reaching 87%, according to one poll—and those from the couches populaires. I can personally affirm, via private conversations, that more than a few under-30 voters were barely aware that the elections—originally scheduled for March but postponed due to the pandemic and confinement—were even happening. The limited responsibilities and prerogatives of the regional and departmental councils—to which the great majority of voters pay little attention—also contributed to the relative disinterest. French administrative regions are not akin to Germany’s Länder, Italy’s provinces, or Spain’s autonomous communities in their powers, size of budgets, or as the wellspring of identity for their denizens—and the latter all the less so since President Hollande’s half-baked law that created 13 mega regions of the previous 22—which, six years after the fact, hasn’t worked out extremely well.

But the overriding factor explaining the unprecedented abstention rate is, as friend Guillaume Duval of Alternatives Économiques put it in an instant analysis on Facebook, the magnitude and severity of the crisis afflicting French democracy. The political climate in France, to put it tersely, has become insufferable, with a hysterization of political debate—if one can call the demagoguery, invective, and trolling one gets on the all-“news” stations and social media a debate—that is as bad as anything I’ve witnessed in three decades of living in this country—and which is being driven by the extreme right, with the heretofore mainstream right—followed by Emmanuel Macron and his allies—jumping on the bandwagon. A rematch between a right-lurching Macron and Marine Le Pen, which hardly anyone wishes for, has been presented as an inevitability by pundits and politicos alike. As Le Monde editorialized earlier this month, “un vent mauvais souffle sur la démocratie [française].”

This aspect of France’s current political state merits a lengthier treatment than I can give it right now—but which I will come back to—so in the meantime let me recommend three first-rate commentaries that have appeared in English over the past month, by the excellent Rokhaya Diallo in The Washington Post, “How France’s far right is now dictating the terms of public debate;” Cole Stangler in The New York Times, “France is becoming more like America: It’s terrible;” and Harrison Stetler in The New Republic, “The year that broke Emmanuel Macron’s republican front: The French president is facing a far right that has gained the upper hand in the country’s insidious culture wars. And he has only himself to blame.”

The second comment on yesterday’s vote is on the counter-performance of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN), the debacle of Macron’s La République en Marche (REM), the good showing of the Republicans (LR), and the relatively not too bad one of the Socialists. It was taken almost for granted that the RN would finish in first place in five or six of the regions, and with the prospect of winning at least three in the 2nd round, if not more. But with the RN plunging almost 9 points compared to the FN’s 2015 result (from 28% to 19% nationally), which was a genuine surprise, it now only has a chance to win one region, the PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)—where the 2nd round square-off with LR will be hard-fought now that the list of the left has thrown in the towel (regrettably IMO). As three-quarters of Marine LP’s 2017 voters abstained yesterday, we’ll see if the RN benefits from the kind of 2nd round sursaut as did the non-FN parties in 2015. But whatever happens to the RN next Sunday, it will likely not alter the dynamics for 2022 in regard to MLP and her prospects of making it to the 2nd round in that one.

As for Macron’s REM, the abject failure of its lists across the board confirmed what was revealed in last year’s municipal elections, which is that the REM is, as I wrote then, an empty vessel of political non-entities, existing solely to anchor Macron’s personal ambitions (now his reelection in 2022) and with the Great Helmsman making the REM’s every last decision. If Macron should win reelection next May—which, if his opponent is MLP, we will ardently hope he does—it is highly possible that he will not win a majority in the legislative elections that follow in June.

On Macron’s reelection prospects, these could be complicated by the strong performance of Xavier Bertrand in the Hauts-de-France, which all but guarantees him victory next Sunday—and with that, the formal launching of his presidential campaign. Whatever the scores of Laurent Wauquiez or Valérie Pécresse, it is hard to see how LR can seriously come up with a candidate of its own in the face of Bertrand’s fait accompli—unless they want to see a Macron-Le Pen rematch. And particularly if polls show Bertrand within striking distance of those two.

The left: regardless of how the PS and écolos do on Sunday, the left is out of the national picture for the foreseeable future. Sad but true.

À suivre la semaine prochaine.

UPDATE: Le Monde editorialist Françoise Fressoz has a noteworthy analysis, in the June 23rd issue, of the high abstention, “Quand la politique tourne à vide.”

Arun at polling station 38

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And against freedom-killing laws. I went into Paris yesterday afternoon, my first time in the city in almost a month, to attend this all-important demo. The Paris Prefecture of Police had initially banned it—ostensibly for sanitary reasons, France being under lockdown (confinement) since October 30th, though which has been “lightened up” (allégé) beginning this weekend—but with an administrative court annulling the interdiction late Friday. Given the explosive political context, though, the demo would have happened anyway, banning or not. The context is the government’s proposed law (Proposition de loi relative à la sécurité globale), currently under debate in the parliament, that would further reinforce the surveillance powers of the police (notably via drones) and, in the bill’s now infamous article 24, criminalize the Internet posting of photos and videos taken—by journalists or ordinary citizens—of the police going about their work—even when that work involves brutalizing people just for the hell of it. This is seemingly the umpteenth initiative by the right-lurching Emmanuel Macron—who we were led to believe was an American-style liberal during his presidential election run—to further constrict civil liberties—and with his Minister of Interior, the unambiguously right-wing Gérald Darmanin, playing the Top Cop with particular zealousness. Darmanin, an early defector from the LR party to Macron’s République en Marche and whom Macron appointed to the Place Beauvau in July, was/is a protégé of Nicolas Sarkozy, in both political orientation and personal ambition, which is as much as one needs to know about his views on the police and law-and-order. The proposed law (and its article 24) is his œuvre (and Macron’s obviously).

On the matter of civil liberties—of their being undermined—this is the law too many. If it passes, it will confirm that France is on a truly alarming political trajectory (for an elaboration on this in English, see James McAuley in The Washington Post, Adam Nossiter in The New York Times, Mira Kamdar in The Atlantic, and Art Goldhammer in Tocqueville 21. [UPDATE: Also see Cole Stangler in Jacobin and Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books]). In an interview in Le Monde dated Nov. 26th, the prominent Paris lawyer Patrice Spinosi—who pleads before the Conseil d’État and Cour de Cassation—asserted that, with this proposed law on sécurité globale, a future “Trump à la française“—who could possibly be elected President of the Republic in 2022 (and we know who she would be)—would have the legal framework already in place to impose major restrictions on civil liberties and political opposition.

Journalists and media organs across the political spectrum—and that includes the right—have been up in arms over the proposed law, with rallies organized in front of the National Assembly on Nov. 17th and at Trocadéro on Nov. 21st. Then last Monday night there was the brutal police action against the migrant camp that had been set up that day at the Place de la République—of desperate refugees and asylum-seekers (Afghans and Eritreans the largest contingents) who have been wandering the streets without shelter for months, and for whom the authorities are doing nothing—which even minister Darmanin claimed to find “shocking.” If it hadn’t been for the videos of the police action posted on the Internet, of course, there wouldn’t have been a story. And then there was the beating of Michel Zecler—of the gratuitous violence of the police and with racism thrown in, and their brazen lies to their hierarchical superiors about it—that was revealed on Twitter last Thursday, and which was the nº 1 story on the news for two days running. Again, if it hadn’t been for videos posted on social media (if one hasn’t seen them, go here and here) there would not only have been no story but Michel Zecler is the one who would have found himself in trouble—on a trumped-up charge of outrage à agent public—and not the four police functionaries, who will most certainly be severely sanctioned. With Macron, Darmanin, and just about everyone in the political class saying how revulsed and shocked they are—shocked, I tell you!—by the violence visited upon Michel Zecler—as if the French police haven’t been doing this kind of thing often and since forever—they will thus want the four flics to be held out to dry pour l’exemple. And the flics are indeed in very hot water.

I don’t participate in demos much but decided yesterday morning that I would this one. The last one I went to—to observe but finally participate in—was the November 10, 2019, march against Islamophobia, the turnout for which was some 15,000 (deemed a success; I posted pics of it on Facebook at the time, which may be viewed here if one is interested). According to the Ministry of Interior, some 46,000 attended yesterday’s march—which means it was likely more than that—making it a big success, particularly in view of the pandemic and ongoing limitations on movement linked to the confinement. It was the lead story on the evening news, which is not common for demos in Paris (demos being a banal occurrence in this city).

The rendez-vous for the demo was Place de la République at 2:00 PM, with the destination Place de la Bastille. A classic route for marches of the left (I doubt the right has ever, even once in history, had a manif in this part of the city). I went straight to Bastille, arriving around 3:30, to meet the head of the march as it proceeded down Avenue Beaumarchais. Here are pics I took, with commentary.

The people heading toward the march from this direction were clearly not at the République and, so it appeared, had their own motives for wanting to meet up with it.

Something is on fire up ahead, with billows of black smoke and periodic explosions. I couldn’t see what it was but figured it was a car or motorcycle that had been torched. The demonstration up ahead, that was heading down the avenue, was clearly blocked. There was no movement for at least 15 minutes.

The explosions continued but I couldn’t see what they were or where they were coming from.


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Municipal elections 2020. Second round. (source: Le Monde)

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

The second round of the French municipal elections happened on Sunday, if one didn’t know—which was the case with the near-totality of persons outside France (and no doubt a few inside France as well). E.g. I spoke on Sunday with a friend in the US, who is geopolitically well-informed and knows France well; he had no idea about the elections. Some background. The elections in the country’s 36,000-odd communes—85% of which have a population of less than 2,000—were scheduled for March 15th (first ballot) and March 22nd (runoff). Municipal elections, which happen every six years, are considered France’s most important after the presidential and legislative, generating a high level of interest and with a normally high participation rate (as mayors are the elected officials in closest proximity to citizens and, according to the polls, are the most appreciated). The elections are always a big deal. This one was going to be, entre autres, a particular test for the party Emmanuel Macron created ex nihilo in 2016, La République en Marche (REM), to show that it could sink roots at the local level, which it has entirely lacked. But then the pandemic hit and which dominated the news and public attention during the two week official campaign that preceded the first round, with the government exhorting citizens to wear masks and practice social distancing. The wisdom of even holding the election was called into question and with the government seriously considering postponement, but, receiving the green light from its science and health advisers, decided to go ahead with the first round, mandating mask-wearing and hand-washing in polling stations.

I worked a local polling station that whole day as an assesseur (titulaire), which I’ve done some twenty-five times since becoming a French citizen fifteen years ago. But this time I really had to do it, pandemic or not, as I was a candidate on the united list of the left in my (very right-wing) commune, led by the Parti Socialiste (PS) and with six other left formations (ballot below)—though I had no chance, let alone desire, of being elected to the city council (I also did this in 2008, in my capacity as a member of la société civile, to get an idea from the inside of the dynamics of local elections in France and compare them to my US experiences, and also as I’m friendly with the local Socialists).

Ballot, first round, 15 March 2020.

As it happens, we didn’t break the 10% threshold to qualify outright for the second round (for the first time ever, I believe) and, as negotiations to merge with the ecologists’ list, which qualified by a wide margin, for the second round didn’t work out (not their fault; see below for an explanation of the peculiar electoral system), I was not an assesseur on Sunday. I went to vote, mask and all, c’est tout.

Back to the March 15th first round, the abstention rate hit a historic high at 55% (the previous record, in 2014, was 38%). Not surprisingly, a lot of voters, particularly elderly ones, prudently stayed home on account of the pandemic. How much the low turnout skewed the results can only be speculated on, though it stands to reason that there was some effect. As always happens, the election outcome was settled outright in the first round in the vast majority of communes—86% of them, to be precise—with the winning list surpassing 50%, leaving the remaining 5,000 or so—accounting for some 35% of the electorate, most in the larger municipalities (and almost all the major cities)—to be settled in the second round.

(source: Le Monde)

As the nation was preoccupied with the pandemic, the first round results were an afterthought the next day, mentioned in passing on the news and relegated to the back pages of the papers; when President Macron announced that evening that the confinement, or lockdown, would begin at noon the following day, that obviously meant that the second round could not take place the next Sunday, so it was postponed sine die—though which posed a tricky legal issue, as, according to election law, if the second round is postponed, this annuls the results of the first, meaning the whole thing would have to be done over. The Conseil d’État ultimately ruled that if the second round were held before the end of June, then the results of the first could stand, so it was thus scheduled for June 28th—which looked to be the right thing to do in view of the success (so far) of the deconfinement and flattening of the curve of SARS-CoV-2 infections. The sanitary conditions for the polling stations were even stricter than for the first round, with mandatory masks, only three voters at a time, screens separating the assesseurs, etc. Things went smoothly, so it was okay.

There are three big takeaways from Sunday’s result. The first is the abstention rate, which set another new record. Of the 16.5 million voters eligible for the second round, 59% didn’t turn out—and particularly in cities. The pandemic was clearly a factor but not the only one. The interest was not there for many voters—and despite the uncertain outcomes and high stakes in many races—on account of the disruption to peoples’ lives by the pandemic and the long fifteen weeks separating the first round—which relatively few paid attention to to begin with—but also an increasing alienation from electoral politics. Rising abstention has been a secular trend over the past three decades. As this disproportionately concerns the couches populaires—the lower classes—and young people, it necessarily shaped the outcome on Sunday.

The second was the stunning success of the lists led by Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV), and in some of France’s largest cities: Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Grenoble (won in 2014), Tours, Annecy, Besançon, Poitiers, Colombes, plus others; the écolos likewise participated in left victories in other cities, including Paris and Montpellier (the outcome in Marseille is presently uncertain), and came within a hair of winning Lille. The victories in Lyon and Bordeaux were particularly amazing. In Lyon, where the EELV annihilated the REM, the result was a humiliating repudiation of mayor Gérard Collomb, an erstwhile PS centrist-turned-macroniste, who ran the city hegemonically since 2001, and had, moreover, entered into a post first round pact with the hard-right regional council president, Laurent Wauquiez, of the hard-right lurching Republican party (LR), to block an ecologist victory. Major fail. The result in Bordeaux was closer, with the EELV-led left-wing list edging out the LR-REM alliance, giving the city its first mayor of the left since 1947.

A few remarks about the écolo “green wave.” 1. The newly-elected EELV mayors—some of them newcomers to politics—were unknowns outside their cities before Sunday. The EELV has almost completely renewed its leading personnel, with the high media profile écolo politicians of 15-20 years ago now out of politics. This is not common with French political parties. 2. Yannick Jadot, who led the EELV’s successful campaign in last year’s European election—and has presidential dreams for 2022—has been avoiding the “left” label—seeking to transcend the left-right cleavage—but the winning EELV lists on Sunday all situated themselves decidedly on the left, and most in alliance with the PS and other left formations. There is no ambiguity about where the EELV situates itself on the political spectrum. But it is also clear that the party is decidedly closer to the PS (moderate left) than to the gauche radicale (La France Insoumise et al). The fact that the EELV is now responsible for governing some of France’s largest (and most prosperous) cities will necessarily impose a certain pragmatism. Looking ahead to 2021 (regional and departmental elections) and 2022 (presidential and legislative), there will almost certainly be an EELV-PS alliance, but with the former no longer playing junior partner to the latter. 3. The EELV’s “green wave” will indeed reshape the left in the coming period but its importance should not be exaggerated. Prior to Sunday, the écolos governed four of France’s 270 cities with a population of 30,000 and over. Now they will govern fifteen. The fact is, the EELV is still pretty small and, when it comes to local power, nowhere near the still convalescing PS. And the écolos have a history of performing well in intermediate elections but biting the dust in the presidential and legislative. Polls for 2022 presently have Yannick Jadot in the single digits and there is no a priori reason to believe he will go higher. Moreover, the high abstention rate on Sunday did facilitate the “green wave,” as the ecologists’ Millennial and Gen-Z CSP+ voters (educated, professional, urban) turned out in higher numbers than did the couches populaires.

The third big takeaway of the election was the abject failure of the REM, which won practically nothing. The only mayor of a commune with a population of 30K+ elected under the sole REM label was LR-defector Gérald Darmanin in Tourcoing. All the other centrist victories were by Emmanuel Macron’s MoDem and UDI allies, e.g. François Bayrou in Pau. PM Édouard Philippe may have won a landslide reelection in Le Havre but while having quit LR, he has not joined the REM. The REM is an empty vessel, existing solely to anchor Macron’s personal ambitions (now his reelection in 2022) and with the Great Helmsman making his party’s every last decision. The party has no autonomy whatever from the Élysée. It would be one thing if Macron were a brilliant political strategist, but he demonstrated yet again in this electoral episode his pathetic political skills, the showcase being his imposing the arrogant, imperious Benjamin Griveaux—who manifestly has more enemies than friends—as the REM candidate for mayor of Paris—which Macron really believed he could win—and when Griveaux got caught up in the miserable sextape affair, replacing him with non-politician Agnès Buzyn, who quit her post as minister of health as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic was making its way to France—and who later admitted that she knew as early as January that the pandemic would indeed hit France and with a fury, was worried sick about it, informed Macron, but publicly revealed nothing. The Buzyn fiasco was epitomized by the fact that she failed to even win a seat for herself in the Paris city council. Also contributing to the REM’s rout was its/Macron’s decision to ally the party with LR, i.e. the right, in a number of cities in the second round, with the express purpose of trying to block the ecologists. Not only did the strategy fail but it definitively confirmed that the REM, a centrist formation at its foundation—and with a significant center-left flank—is now solidly anchored on the center-right. And it’s not going back; e.g. one learns that now ex-REM left-leaning deputies, led by Aurélien Taché (who’s taken good positions on issues, notably immigration), will be forming a new center-left party, #NousDemain. Whatever the REM’s future as a center-right party—the center-right political space already being crowded and with plenty of political pros not in the REM—it definitely has none without Emmanuel Macron.

A quick rundown of the results of the other parties.

The Socialists: The 2014 elections being a historic catastrophe for the PS—which I detailed at the time here, here, and here, if anyone’s interested—it was hard to see it losing even more ground. Sunday’s bilan was not bad at all, with the party easily holding on to its major cities, including Paris, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Clermont-Ferrand, Avignon, and Rouen, though Martine Aubry in Lille won the narrowest of victories (vs. EELV). The PS also picked up Montpellier, Nancy (a longtime center-right bastion), and Saint-Denis, and may yet Marseille—which would be huge—but given the specific electoral system for the three largest cities (Paris-Lyon-Marseille), that won’t be known until the newly-elected city council meets on Friday (as no list there has a majority of seats). Paris was the big one, of course, with Anne Hidalgo—allied with EELV in the second round—easily defeating her main rival, LR’s Rachida Dati. Hidalgo has not been overly popular—though several of my Parisian friends love her—but she’s redoutable. I’m not enamoured with her myself—as a banlieuesard, I have issues with her anti-automobile measures—and find her to be a dull, plodding speaker—I’ve seen her more than once—but she’s solid. And she is, at this given moment, the PS’s preeminent political figure. And as the PS has no obvious candidate for 2022—First Secretary Olivier Faure is a good man but it can’t be him, and Bernard Cazeneuve is nowhere to be seen—eyes will inevitably start to turn toward Hidalgo. She says she’s not interested and I can’t see it myself, but who knows? As Ségolène Royal is intimating that she may jump in the 2022 race—which will dismay, if not alarm, many on the left—the pressure on Hidalgo may consequently become intense. On verra.

The Communists: The PCF took a big hit in 2014, losing many of its longtime bastions in Paris’s famous “red belt” (working class banlieues—now heavily immigrant—ringing the city to the north, east, and south), to both the PS and the right. The party won back a few—notably Bobigny, Noisy-le-Sec, and Villejuif, and picked up Corbeil-Essonnes—but lost even more, including Saint-Denis—its last city of over 100K inhabitants, and which had been Communist since 1944—Aubervilliers, Champigny-sur-Marne (where Georges Marchais lived), Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, Valenton, and Choisy-le-Roi; and down south, Arles and Gardanne. The PCF continues its slow descent to oblivion.

As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, it won practically nothing, mainly because it contested practically nothing (though even if it had, it still would have won practically nothing). LFI is little more than a vehicle for JLM’s megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur. JLM must have had a tough time swallowing the specter of Philippe Poutou, chef de file of the historically Trotskyist Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, winning an impressive 9.3% in Bordeaux (of all places). LFI didn’t attain that score anywhere outside a few left-leaning communes in the Île-de-France. It is even being said that the mere fact that LFI was part of the left-wing coalition in Toulouse caused defections of some voters there to the incumbent LR-led right-wing list, which won a narrow victory.

Les Républicains: LR were the big winners in 2014, controlling the mairies in over half the communes with populations of 30K+. There was no significant change this year. The heir of neo-Gaullism won a few (Metz, Orléans, Auxerre, Biarritz, Lorient) but also saw some big ones slip through its hands. And losing Bordeaux—where Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Alain Juppé reigned for almost all of the past 75 years—was tough; if Marseille—ruled by Jean-Claude Gaudin since 1995—is lost in the “third round” on Friday, that will be tougher still.

Rassemblement National: Last but not least. The ex-Front National’s breakthrough on the municipal level was in 2014, when it won eleven mairies, which was a big deal for the FN but, in the larger scheme of things, not that much of one. In view of Marine Le Pen’s trajectory since then, one could expect her renamed RN make further gains this time, but such did not happen at all. The party of the extreme right continues to experience great difficulty in recruiting competent activists and sympathizers to fill its lists at the local level, and then to retain those it does who are eventually elected to municipal councils. The drop-out rate—of counselors who stop showing up—is significant. In 2014, the FN managed to run lists in 369 communes with populations of 10,000 and over. This year the RN managed to do so in only 262. And whereas the FN broke 10% of the vote in 317 of those 362 lists in 2014—thus qualifying for the second round—on this March 15th, such only happened in 136 communes (source here). That said, the RN won outright first round victories in six of its 2014 communes, including Hénin-Beaumont (Steeve Briois), Fréjus (David Rachline), and Béziers (mayor Robert Ménard is informally allied with the RN, though is distancing himself from the party and Marine LP). On Sunday the RN lost three mairies, including Mantes-la-Ville (in the Île-de-France) and the 7th sector of Marseille, but picked up three new ones: Moissac, Bruay-la-Buissière, and, above all, Perpignan, the first city of over 100,000 won by the FN/RN since Toulon in 1995. Perpignan’s new mayor, Louis Aliot (Marine LP’s ex), is a first-tier RN personality and has been working that city for many years. He also downplayed the RN label during the campaign, to the point where it didn’t even appear on the candidate’s posters. Perpignan, with its large population of rapatriés from Algeria—there’s even a pro-OAS stele in a cemetery there—is ready-made terrain for the RN, so Aliot’s victory was hardly a surprise.

Conclusion: in local politics in France, the long-established parties—LR, successor constituents of the ex-UDF, PS, PCF—continue to dominate.

I mentioned above that I would have a description of the electoral system (mode de scrutin) for municipal elections. I’ll add that later as an update, so if anyone is interested, please revisit this post tomorrow.

UPDATE: Here’s the electoral system for municipal elections (adapted from an official website, translated, and edited):

The lists must be composed of as many women as men, with compulsory alternation between women and men or vice versa.

In the first round, the list which obtains the absolute majority of the votes cast receives a number of seats equal to half of the seats to be filled. The other seats are distributed by proportional representation (highest average) among all the lists having obtained more than 5% of the votes cast, according to the number of votes obtained.

In an eventual second round, only the lists having obtained in the first round at least 10% of the votes cast are allowed to remain. They may be subject to modifications, in particular by merging with other lists, which may be maintained or merged. Indeed, the lists having obtained at least 5% of the votes cast may merge with a list having obtained more than 10%. The distribution of seats is then as in the first round.

In Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, lists are constituted at the level of the arrondissement (in Marseille, in sectors grouping two arrondissements), each with their own mayor and council, with designated counselors in the latter being seated in the city-wide council. A ‘third round’ vote of the newly elected city council selects the city’s mayor.

The number of seats in the municipal councils—and thus the size of the lists—depends on their population, ranging from 15 for communes of 1,000 to 1,499 inhabitants to 69 for those over 300K.

Commentary: no one in France sees anything problematic with this mixed majoritarian-proportional electoral system. I have never come across a single critique of it. But it is a terrible system IMHO. First, it gives a super majority to the winning list, including those that win with a narrow plurality in a triangulaire or even quadrangulaire (three or four-way race) in a second round run-off. Lists that finish behind the winner get a symbolic handful of seats but are reduced to impotent opposition. A fundamental principle of proportional representation—the necessity of forming coalitions, as a single party almost never wins an outright majority—is rendered inoperative. Second, the municipal councils are way too big. They’re bloated. E.g. there are 49 members of the one in my commune, which has a population of some 75,000. Except for the counselors (in my commune, a third of the 49) who have a délégation (i.e. are in charge of a particular file, e.g. sanitation, street maintenance, pre-school education, culture) assigned by the mayor—and who thus become deputy mayors (adjoints au maire)—they are mostly useless (and don’t get paid, so it’s not even a part-time job). Third, the mayor—the n° 1 on the list—has too much power and almost no political checks on it (unless the elected counselors on his/her list split into dissident factions, which does happen). Fourth, the lists being voted at-large means that, excepting highly politicized citizens and local actors (business and other) who closely follow local politics, most people do not know their local elected representatives apart from the mayor.

The six-year term is also way too long. For local elections, the term should be four years maximum.

A correct reform of the system—proposed by no one other than myself—would be to elect mayors and municipal counselors separately (both in two rounds), the former running under partisan labels and the latter sans etiquette, at-large in the smaller communes and with the larger ones (say, over 20,000 inhabitants) divided into single-member circonscriptions, and with the size of the council divided by three (each circonscription encompassing three bureaux de vote), so that each counselor would receive a délégation (assigned by the mayor). The structure of elected city government in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, with their arrondissements, would be more complex, though with the mayor nonetheless elected citywide under her/his name (and not indirectly, as is presently the case).

2nd UPDATE: The well-known, very smart political scientist Jean-François Bayart has a must-read post on his Mediapart blog that is sharply critical of Anne Hidalgo’s action as mayor of Paris. Among other things, he slams the pedestrian malling of the city’s central arrondissements, of turning Paris into a playground for tourists and the youthful CSP+ crowd. He also rightly deplores Paris’s organizing the 2024 Olympics, which Hidalgo led the campaign for. It is well worth the read for anyone who lives in Paris or spends time in the city.

3rd UPDATE: The newly-elected Marseille city council selected Michèle Rubirola, who led the broad left-wing coalition, as mayor (July 4th), in circumstances that may only be described as rocambolesque. Big win for the left, big loss for LR.

Read Full Post »

[update below] [2nd update below]

In 2014 it was a disaster, as I wrote back then. This time it wasn’t. Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National may have finished in first place but this was pretty much expected. And there were some bright spots—from my standpoint at least—in the scores for all the principal lists. I’m not going to give a full-blown analysis here, just flesh out some instant thoughts I posted on social media on Sunday night.

  • First, the marked increase in the participation rate, which broke 50%, the highest for a European election since 1994. Late polling indicated that turnout would be up compared to last time, but it wasn’t expected to this extent. I was an assesseur titulaire in my bureau de vote on Sunday, so could observe this throughout the day. Salutary this sursaut citoyen, even if the veritable impetus had less to do with Europe than national considerations (to sanction Emmanuel Macron or deny first place to Marine Le Pen). That said, the increased turnout—and in other EU states as well—signals in increasing interest in the European  Union—and for many, a support for the European project.
  • The RN may have come in first place but, at 23.3%, its score was lower than in 2014 (24.9%). And as it will have two fewer seats (22) in the European Parliament, this cannot be seen as a hands-down victory for Le Pen. The RN drew votes from Gilets Jaunes—up to 44% of GJs voted RN, according to one poll—but they were likely RN/FN voters anyway. The RN has consecrated its status as one of the major poles in French politics but this result does not, in itself, point to RN gains in next year’s municipal elections (as for 2022, that’s a ways away). So long as the RN remains in its ghetto, with no major party willing to ally with it, it will not be able win a national election. And in the European Parliament, one may be sure that it won’t do a thing—i.e. its MEPs won’t participate in the work of the parliamentary committees (where they’re congenital no shows)—and will only undermine the influence of France in EU institutions.
  • I wrote on Sunday night that Macron took a hit (and a well-deserved one) with the République en Marche-MoDem list finishing in second place, though think I need to attenuate that. It would have obviously been preferable from Macron’s standpoint to finish first, but the close second—and with 22.4%—should not be viewed as a setback, all things considered. E.g. with Macron’s unpopularity—he’s at 27% approval/68% disapproval in the latest IPSOS baromètre—and the endless weekend GJ manifs, it could have been worse for him, cf. the more marked votes de sanction against the party in the Élysée in almost all past European elections (2009 a notable recent exception). Exit polling has shown that the REM benefited yesterday from the defection of moderate right LR voters in its direction, confirming that Macron will most surely govern from the center-right for the rest of his term. This will be majorly consequential for the ongoing recomposition of the French political spectrum heading toward 2022.
  • Europe Écologie-Les Verts’ 13.5% is quite simply stunning, as no one expected it, Yannick Jadot’s list polling at 9% tops. Given the momentum of Green parties in Germany and elsewhere, and the increasing importance attached by voters to climate change and other environmental issues, such electoral progress can only warm the heart. And the increased size of the European Greens political group in the European Parliament can only be welcomed. This said, EELV’s excellent score does not augur anything for the future, as we’ve seen this before. E.g. in the 1999 European elections, Les Verts, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, reached almost 10%, but which did not send the écolos into orbit nationally, nor did its amazing 16.4% in the 2009 Euro elections (close on the heels of the PS, led by Martine Aubry at the time). The écolo spikes in past elections have been sans lendemain, with European election Verts voters returning to other left or centrist parties/candidates in national elections. And this will likely remain the case, with almost all parties outside the hard right having integrated environmental themes into their programs, The fact is, EELV remains a small formation, permanently rent by factional infighting, and with, at present, almost no high-profile elected representatives. And if it tries to go it alone electorally—presenting candidates on its own, outside of any alliance or pact with the PS or anyone else—which has been its reflex in recent years, it will bite the dust, as it always has in two-round elections when it does its cavalier seul act. So despite EELV’s brilliant score yesterday, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to become the leading force on the French left.
  • The catastrophic 8.5% of Les Républicains, which not a single poll came anywhere close to predicting—LR was seen going as high as 15%, if not more—is the big story of this election. No one could have ever foreseen the longtime standard-bearer of neo-Gaullism and la droite parlementaire sinking into the single digits, and despite the party’s increasingly hard right turn over the past decade (recalling the rightward progression of a certain conservative party outre-Atlantique). The cerebral tête de liste François-Xavier Bellamy seemed to be catching on with the LR base, and despite—or perhaps because of—his very conservative, Catholic views on questions de société, and came across as friendly and open-minded to boot (quite unlike the cynical, insufferably arrogant LR secy-gen Laurent Wauquiez). E.g. even Benoît Hamon, among other lefties, enjoys conversations with Bellamy, so one reads. But this finally didn’t matter to LR voters, particularly the more moderate among them, who found Bellamy too conservative—and Wauquiez’s identitarian rhetoric too extreme—so defected to the REM and Macron. And on LR’s right flank, réac voters decided to go for the real thing—Marine LP and the RN—rather than the wannabe. As for where LR goes from here, it would be nice if this calamitous result brings moderate rightists like Valérie Pécresse or Xavier Bertrand back to the fore, but I’m not optimistic. The core of the LR base remains the “Trocadéro right,” and despite the REM having realized some its best scores in Paris’s most upscale arrondissements (6th, 7th, 8th, 16th), plus wealthy western banlieues (Neuilly-sur-Seine et al)—which have been fiefs of the right since the dawn of time—finishing way ahead in first place and with 45-48% of the vote. With the REM now occupying the center-right and the RN formally abandoning its pledge to quit the EU, the space for a significant conservative party between these two is narrow indeed.
  • The paltry 6.3% of La France Insoumise list was the most gratifying surprise of the election. This catastrophic, utterly unforeseen result for LFI was not a failure of tête de liste Manon Aubry, who is sympathique and acquitted herself well in the campaign, so I thought, but of LFI caudillo Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was aiming for the double-digits and to consecrate LFI as the uncontested nº 1 force on the left, but instead barely avoided being overtaken by the convalescing PS, which would have been the supreme humiliation for him. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. With this score, JLM is K.O., both politically and personally, the latter because his trash-talking, scowling personality is not wearing well, including among his voters. I personally know people who are otherwise supportive of LFI’s line but simply cannot stand JLM (the televised spectacle of him blowing his fuses with the judicial police last October turned off more than a few). And within LFI, there is increasing exasperation at JLM’s authoritarian style and of his solo leadership—in informal tandem with his significant other—of the party. On the political level, LFI’s counter-performance signifies the limits of JLM’s populist discourse, of trying to appeal to categories of the electorate who don’t necessarily have the same world-view, e.g. the couches populaires—of the Gilets Jaunes variety—and urban, educated left-wing millennials. Both may share an allergy to neoliberalism but they sharply differ on other matters (e.g. immigration, identity). The couches populaires are attached to the nation and are reflexively suspicious of the European Union; with educated millennials, it’s the reverse. With the latter, JLM’s nationalism and Euroscepticism—when it comes to the EU, he is fundamentally not so different from Marine Le Pen—will not fly. There is a bitter truth that a lot of lefties over a certain age have a hard time accepting, which is that the working class unmoored from trade unions leans much more to the right than the left. JLM knows this—I’ve heard him say it up close, that it’s a myth that the WC has always monolithically voted for the left—but he underestimates the numbers. Left-wing parties can craft an appropriate economic message—that’s what makes them left-wing—but insofar as identity and nationalism trump economics for atomized WC voters, the latter are out of reach for the left. And a party of the left that tries to address the cultural anxieties of WC voters will not only fail in the effort but lose sizable numbers of its educated supporters. There is a space on the political spectrum for an LFI-type party but in the single digits. If LFI were to become the leading party of the left—which is now not too likely—it would consign the French left to permanent opposition in the same way the PCF’s domination did in the three decades following the end of WWII. Hopefully JLM will wake up, smell the coffee, and abandon his ambitions for 2022. As for who could take his place as the porte-drapeau of the radical left, I have my ideas.
  • The Parti Socialiste-Place Publique’s 6.2% was cause for satisfaction, as, according to the final polls, the list was in danger of falling under 5%, and thus sending no deputies to the European Parliament. As I wrote in the previous post, such a result would have likely meant the end of the PS. That the PS came close to matching its calamitous score in the 2017 presidential election is hardly a cause for rejoicing—which Raphaël Glucksmann made clear on Sunday night—but at least we know that the Socialists have touched bottom and can only go up, particularly in view of LFI’s failure. If Benoît Hamon had responded favorably to Glucksmann’s unity initiative and not run a list of his irrelevant micro-party, Génération.s—which received a predictable 3.3%—the “Envie d’Europe” list could have gone as high as 9%. So now that the PS has sauvé les meubles, it can now look to rebuild, as the positioning of Macron and the REM on the center-right has created a wide open space on the center-left that cannot and will not be filled by EELV alone. Or even primarily. The PS still has an infrastructure of militants and élus—which is rather larger than EELV’s—and, with the next elections being the municipals in March 2020, can realistically aim to recover some of the ground it lost in the 2014 debacle, particularly if it can forge single slates with EELV. Also, the REM controls not a single mairie—the party not existing in the last municipal elections—and most of its eager beaver marcheurs of the 2017 campaign have fallen by the wayside. If Macron remains unpopular into next year—which is likely—the REM will not be entering the municipal election campaign with a head of steam. Likewise with LR, in view of its current state. So things may indeed be looking up for a rejuvenated PS after next March. In this respect, some history: (a) In the 1969 presidential election, as everyone remembers, the Socialists hit rock bottom with Gaston Deferre’s 5%. Two years later was the Epinay congress and François Mitterrand, followed by the Union de la Gauche and the cliffhanger 49.2% loss in 1974; and then there was 1981… (b) After the victories of 1981 the PS suffered one major electoral setback after another and by 1986 the right looked to be in the drivers seat; but Mitterrand recovered and was easily reelected in 1988;  (c) The catastrophic 1993 legislative elections saw the PS lose 218 of its 275 incumbent deputies, followed by the rout of Michel Rocard’s list in the 1994 European elections; the PS looked to be out of it for the foreseeable future; four months before the 1st round of the 1995 presidential election, the party didn’t even have a candidate, but then Lionel Jospin rose from the ashes, losing to Jacques Chirac with a respectable 47.4% in the 2nd round; and then there was the 1997 early legislatives and the brilliant victory of the PS-led Gauche Plurielle; and if it hadn’t been for the accident of the 21 avril, Jospin would have likely defeated Chirac in the 2002 presidential election. (d) After its miserable result in the 2009 European elections, the future of the PS looked somber, and with the high-profile pundit BHL proclaiming in a banner headline in a Sunday newspaper that the party would soon be “dead.” But it came back in the 2010 regionals and, by mid 2012, was the dominant party in France (okay, that didn’t last long but still). The lesson: when it comes to the French Socialist Party, it ain’t over till it’s over…

There’s a lot more to say but that’s it for now.

UPDATE: The image below illustrates the point made above about the REM doing particularly well in Paris’s beaux quartiers on Sunday (h/t Angelo Pardi via Guillaume Duval).

2nd UPDATE: Libération editor-in-chief Laurent Joffrin’s “lettre politique” of May 28th, on LFI and JLM, is absolutely worth reading. He totally nails it.

28 mai 2019
La lettre politique de Laurent Joffrin

La France insoumise a «un problème»

Clémentine Autain est sortie du bois la première. Il y a, dit-elle, «un problème de ligne et de profil politique» à La France insoumise, qui a trop misé sur «le ressentiment, la haine, ou le clash permanent». Nostra culpa : «Sans doute avons-nous pris trop de distance avec un discours de gauche.»

«Problème» il y a, de toute évidence. Sur une ligne dégagiste, LFI a divisé par trois en deux ans le score de Jean-Luc Mélenchon à la présidentielle (de 18% à 6%). C’est l’effet des innombrables sorties de route volontaires des insoumis, toutes justifiées par la culture de l’anathème : agressivité permanente, dénigrement constant du reste de la gauche, procès en sorcellerie contre Jadot, «haine» assumée contre les journalistes de tous bords, vociférations grand-guignolesques contre une perquisition judiciaire, invocation rituelle d’un «raz-de-marée» populaire qui n’a jamais eu lieu, sauf avec le mouvement des gilets jaunes, parti tout seul, quand LFI n’appelait à rien ; déification compensatoire de certains leaders gilets jaunes aux options pour le moins ambiguës, discours européen incompréhensible consistant à prévoir une «sortie des traités» qui ne serait pas une sortie de l’Union, alors que l’Union est justement bâtie sur un traité, etc. A force de considérer que l’enfer, c’est les autres, tous traîtres, soumis ou vendus, on reste seul avec ses certitudes.

Problème plus large, d’ailleurs : le recul de la gauche radicale est général en Europe. La débâcle la plus spectaculaire a frappé le parti dégagiste Podemos, miné par les divisions, tombé à 10% en Espagne, après avoir perdu la plupart des villes conquises dans la foulée du mouvement des «indignés», dont Madrid et Barcelone, excusez du peu. Il n’est pas le seul. Au total, le groupe d’extrême gauche au Parlement européen est passé de plus de 50 sièges à moins de 40, représentant tout au plus 5% de l’électorat. Gauche radicale, gauche marginale. A force de dire non à tout, les énergies militantes se lassent et passent chez ceux qui disent oui à quelque chose. Elles ont gonflé le mouvement écologiste, qui se bat sur un programme positif de réformes immédiates et, au lieu de dénoncer mécaniquement tous les compromis, cherche des alliances européennes pour y parvenir.

C’est l’essence même du dégagisme qui est en cause. Le peuple d’un côté, les élites de l’autre : sommaire et faux. Les élites ne sont pas toujours réactionnaires ni le peuple progressiste. C’est en bâtissant une coalition «interclasses» qu’on réunit une majorité ou, à tout le moins, qu’on impose des réformes de progrès. C’est avec des civils qu’on fait des militaires, et donc avec des gens qui ne pensent pas comme soi qu’on élargit son influence. Sans quoi on reste au balcon à distribuer les excommunications. Le dégagisme a marché un temps. Il est usé, ou alors il profite aux nationalistes. LFI en avait fait un dogme, un leitmotiv, un ADN. Effectivement, il y a «un problème».

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Photo credit: Guy Bop/Sud Ouest

[updates below]

Today is Act XIII—designated in Roman numerals—of the Gilets Jaunes, a,k.a. Yellow Jackets (or Vests), which is to say, this is the 13th Saturday in a row that the movement has held demos in Paris and around France. It’s become routine (with the weekly numbers albeit steadily dropping). The GJ movement is fairly well understood outside France by now, in terms of who they are—lower middle class small town/non-farming rural folk—and what issues initially drove the protests (gasoline taxes, a new speed limit law, cost of living; which have since been superseded by others). The English-language reporting has been quite good on the whole, not to mention analyses from France specialists, a few of which I linked to in December. One of the best Anglophone journalists on the GJ beat, whose reports have been first-rate, is John Lichfield, formerly Paris correspondent of The Independent, now of The Local. Lichfield knows France comme sa poche and his analyses are invariably spot-on. One of his latest on the GJs is a talk he gave in Brussels on January 31st, sponsored by a group called BEERG and which published a transcript on its BEERG Brexit Blog dated February 2nd, which I have copied-and-pasted below (and taken the liberty of correcting a few spelling errors). As I almost entirely subscribe to Lichfield’s analysis, this has spared me from having to elaborate my own. The transcript is lengthy (some 4,400 words) but well worth the read.

I’m sort of glad I didn’t offer my views on AWAV last month, as I posted more than one comment on Facebook expressing my exasperation, indeed fed-upness, with the GJs (here, here, and here), which I pronounced to be—or to have objectively become—a movement of the extreme right, on account of the violence of a significant number of GJs—the Saturday casseurs were not only neofascists, black blocs, and loubards from the banlieues—the proliferation of conspiracy theories among the GJs and which have been rife on their Facebook pages—N.B. without Facebook, the GJ movement would not exist—overt expressions of antisemitism at GJ-occupied ronds-points and gatherings (e.g. here, here, and here), and their hatred of the media, and particularly the all-news TV stations, with only the Russian RT France meeting with approval (this has been widely reported)—though without the saturation coverage of BFM, CNews, and LCI, the GJ movement would have never attained the proportions it has. And to this GJ hatred may be added that of politicians, indeed of the institutions of representative democracy, a.k.a. the Republic. A case in point: the incessant, insistant demand that Emmanuel Macron resign. However one feels about Macron—I am personally not a fan—he was legitimately elected president of the republic for a five-year term. Who do these people think they are to imperiously demand that he pack his bags and quit the Elysée, tail between his legs? To throw the institutions of French democracy into grave crisis and with no clue as to what would come out of it? The verbal violence against Macron was indeed attaining a virulence never witnessed against a major political figure, let alone a president of the republic, since the Second World War. Macron has a number of issues, as it were, and bears some responsibility for the emergence of the GJs—more on this another time—but a lynch mob atmosphere around his person by GJs quickly developed. If Macron had tried to dialogue with a critical mass of GJs on a Saturday in December—of working men and women in their 30s and 40s, indeed older—he would have likely not made it out alive. His physical integrity was indeed in danger.

But it hasn’t only been Macron. GJs who accepted the invitation to meet with PM Édouard Philippe at the Matignon on December 4th renounced after receiving death threats. One of the more moderate public faces of the GJs, the 51-year-old Bretonne hypnotherapist Jacline Mouraud, told Le Figaro (December 7th) that she and her family had received death threats on account of her televised appearances as an informal GJ spokesperson. The climate of intimidation in the movement was palpable.

None of this is acceptable, regardless of the difficult economic situation individual GJs find themselves in. Barely being able to make ends meet—which is the case for the majority of GJs—does not give one the right to smash stuff and threaten people with violence. The abject political inculture of the GJs is breathtaking. A number of intellectuals and high-profile journalists, e.g. Libération’s Jean Quatremer, have been denouncing the GJs for all this since November, drawing historical parallels with the fascist factieux of February 1934 or the Poujadist movement of the mid 1950s, which started out as a non-political anti-tax reaction of shopkeepers and artisans but veered to the extreme right. I didn’t accept the views of the said intellos and journalists at first but then started to get on board. And then my friend Claire Berlinski published a lengthy (6,700 words), somewhat incendiary piece on the GJs in The American Interest on January 21st, expressing her dim view, to put it mildly, of the movement and how it was playing out, and with which I agreed.

But now I have to pull back. J’allais un peu vite en besogne, i.e. I was getting ahead of myself. It was not right to pigeonhole the GJ movement as extreme right tout court. Some of it clearly is but a lot of it is not. The operative word is hétéroclite: politically-speaking, the GJs are made up of men and women who vote for the left and right, or don’t vote at all, in more or less equal proportions. The grab bag of GJ revindications include as many that may be seen as left-wing—particularly the denunciations of the filthy rich and demands for greater redistribution—as right-wing. What is noteworthy, though—and why the GJs cannot be classified as extreme-right—is the absence of immigration and identity in GJ rhetoric. Individual GJs interviewed in the media will say that immigration is a problem—as do the majority of Frenchmen and women—when the question is posed to them—the classes populaires tend not to be cosmopolitan, après tout—but it simply has not been an issue for the movement. Moreover, the quiet, under-the-radar effort by Marine Le Pen and her renamed Rassemblement National to co-opt the GJ movement at the ronds-points appears not to be bearing fruit (and with some RN strongholds, such as the Hauts-de-France region, not having witnessed significant GJ activity). The GJs are allergic to the established political parties, including the RN. If the GJs manage to structure themselves into a lasting movement that contests elections—which is doubtful—it will surely resemble the Italian M5S, i.e. politically unclassifiable.

It is commonplace to refer to the GJ movement as inédit, i.e. unprecedented. There’s never been anything like it in France: a mass social movement in which the urban population is all but absent. There have been plenty of rural movements and protests in the course of history but of farmers and who are concerned solely with farmer-related issues (and who care about nothing else). The GJs are not peasants, as we know. They are the union of non-urban “petits-moyens,” in the words of sociologist Isabelle Coutant, or the “société des petits,” dixit Pierre Rosanvallon, and with a large participation of women (a few of whom have taken part in the violence). The inter-generational character of the GJs is equally noteworthy, forged in the fraternization on the ronds-points (the latter was the subject of a remarkable reportage by Florence Aubenas in Le Monde dated December 16th-17th). The movement has also evolved since November. The GJs were initially over-represented in the “diagonale du vide“—the swath of central France that has suffered population decline and economic stagnation—but the locus has shifted to the southwest and Mediterranean rim. The central role played by local leaders has also been observed, with GJ activity in a given locality dropping significantly with the arrest or departure of the charismatic personality.

I’ll no doubt come back to all this, particularly as teams of social scientists are studying the GJs—whose early findings have been extensively reported in Le Monde—and with edited collections of essays by academics and intellectuals already hitting the bookstores. And then there’s the Emmanuel Macron part of the equation, which I’ll take up soon, as well as some of the institutional revindications of the GJs, such as the citizens’ initiative referendum (to which I am hostile). In the meantime, here’s John Lichfield’s January 31st Brussels talk:

I’m here to explain the Gilets Jaunes. It might be easier to explain black holes. I’ll do my best. But there is no simple explanation of the Gilets Jaunes, no monolithic, single-minded movement, no leadership structure, no single, accepted programme of demands. That’s what makes them fascinating. And baffling. And worrying. I will give you a brief narrative of the story so far. Then I will offer some clues on how to understand the movement. And what may happen next.

Are the Gilets Jaunes just another example of the French being French? Is it all Macron’s fault? Or Putin’s fault? Or is it an internet phenomenon – Facebook populism – which could have happened anywhere? What are the similarities with other populist movements (more…)

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Credit: Sipa

And Emmanuel Macron. Everyone who’s anyone who habitually writes about France in English is publishing analyses and/or reportages on the Gilets Jaunes, and with friends and AWAV fans asking me when I’m going to offer my own brilliant thoughts. As a lifelong procrastinator I’m taking my time, but will soon. Promis juré. And hopefully before the GJ movement has fizzled out—which it will—and we’ve moved on to other things. In the meantime, I have to post three terrific articles that have gone up in the past twenty-four hours by A-list Anglophone France observers.

The first is Arthur Goldhammer in Foreign Affairs, “The Yellow Vest protests and the tragedy of Emmanuel Macron: How the Gilets Jaunes brought the French president low.” After reading Art’s piece I thought, ‘Zut, now that he’s said 85% of what I have to say—reading my mind, as is often the case—what’s left for me?’.

Then there’s David A. Bell in The Nation, whose knowledge of French history is deeper than mine will ever be—and who totally nails it on Emmanuel Macron: “For Emmanuel Macron, how did things get so bad, so fast? The fault lies with both the French president himself and the political and cultural elite that formed him.”

And finally there’s Paris-based freelance journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky in The New Yorker, who was on the ground in the quartiers chauds last Saturday: “The complicated politics of the Gilets Jaunes movement.”

À bientôt.


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Mantes-la-Jolie, 6 December 2018

It’s complicated. There is mass indignation over the images and video of the manner in which the police detained demonstrating high school (lycée) students yesterday in Mantes-la-Jolie, a city some 50 km west of Paris. Lycée students have joined the social movement launched by the Gilets Jaunes last month, protesting reforms in secondary education, notably regarding the baccalaureate. It happens often in France: one category of the work force or general population will launch a social movement over an issue or issues, and other, entirely different categories will then enter the fray and with their own revindications. What the police did with the students in Mantes-la-Jolie was inexcusable, though they (the police) have their own explanation of what happened, of students—or youths who were not students—torching cars, smashing, and seeking confrontation with them. And it does indeed seem that up to 150 casseurs infiltrated the student demos—which can hardly be a surprise, as half of Mantes-la-Jolie’s 42K inhabitants live in the one of the largest public housing complexes (cités) in France.

As it happens, I witnessed a confrontation between police and faux students this morning devant chez moi: in front of my apartment building in my otherwise peaceful banlieue, where nothing newsworthy ever happens. Not that the incident today made the news: it was no big deal, though could have been. At around 8:30 AM we heard lots of chanting, shouting, and general noise from the street. Looking out the window, it was immediately clear that students at the high school down the block had congregated, as part of the national protest movement. At the intersection up the street were eight or so cops with riot equipment, who had blocked traffic—it’s a through street—going toward the lycée.

As for the lycée, I know it well, as not only can we see it from our balcony but our daughter went there (graduating six years ago). And during her years at the lycée, there was a student mobilization, in 2010, during the national trade union-led movement against the Sarkozy-Fillon government’s pension reforms. Not that the reform had a thing to do with high school students but, this being France, they got involved anyway, blocking the entrance to schools, striking (i.e. forcing the cancellation of classes), and demonstrating.

It was frankly preposterous. The movement at the lycée was led by a tiny handful students with advanced political consciousness—one being a girl in my daughter’s class, who got straight As and was aiming to go to Sciences Po, so I learned—who manned the barricade, so no one could enter the school, and chanted slogans with bullhorns. As my daughter said at the time, the near totality of the students (herself included) had no opinion whatever on the pension reforms, let alone knowledge (“hey, we’re 16-years-old, what do we know about politics, or anything?”). But within two weeks, lots of kids were supporting the strike and expressing resolute opposition to Sarkozy’s policies (my daughter included, though she said later that they were all just happy not to have to go to class).

So this morning, seeing the gathering of students at the lycée gate, I figured it was the same thing as in 2010, except I have no memory of a significant police presence then. The presence of the police out in force does change the dynamic. And so a pack of some thirty kids this morning started to march past our building toward the police barricade, yelling and chanting slogans, e.g. ‘Macron démission!’.

And the police responded by firing smoke grenades.

The police then suddenly got in their cars and left, so the youths, exuberant and chanting, headed back to the intersection and, seeing a flat-bed truck—that just happened to be there, waiting to turn left—piled in the back. I noted from the bedroom window that while there were a few girls, almost all the youths were boys (mid-late teens).

They were whooping it up and having a fine time but I found the ambiance unsettling. The boys got off the truck at the lycée, started to drag empty garbage containers into the middle of the street, and then set fire to them, throwing other combustible material in (including a fire extinguisher). I decided to go down to the street, at 10:00, and get a closer look.

I tried to ask a couple of boys why the hell they were doing this but no one even looked at me. It was pretty clear that they were not, in fact, students at the lycée. I know the profile of kids at that school—which is a lycée général et technologique, tracking students to higher education—and these were not it. They were manifestly from the nearby cité, with its sizable population of families of North and sub-Saharan African origin (but also others, including regular “white” French). Des renois et rebeus, et des petits blancs. Et tous des petits cons. Une bande des branleurs dans toutes ses couleurs. A mob in the making, with zero political consciousness and who don’t know anything about anything. I was afraid that one of the wankers would have the brilliant idea to torch a car, which would lead others to do likewise. It does happen. That’s how mobs work.

The fact is this: student movements—university and particularly lycée—are always infiltrated by casseurs and/or black blocs, who couldn’t care less about the political or social questions behind the movement, who come to loot, pillage, smash, commit arson, and clash with the police—and also to rob from legitimate student demonstrators. Ils n’en ont rien à foutre. It never fails to happen (and, pour l’info, this was equally the case in May ’68, when there was serious degradation inside the Sorbonne committed by hordes of non-students).

I went to the intersection, where a few municipal cops were watching the scene from a distance, to ask when the sapeurs-pompiers (firemen) were going to arrive. When I told one of the cops that the youths were certainly not students at the lycée, he agreed, saying that they were déscolarisé (school drop-outs). I also asked when the regular police were going to come back and deal with the situation—even though their initial presence may have made the situation that much more tense in the first place. The relationship between the police and youths of post-colonial immigrant origin is toxic, as one knows, and with the behavior of the police hugely to blame (I’ve written about it at some length here).

The pompiers finally arrived, and not a minute too soon.

And the police too, with flash balls and other riot equipment (but no firearms visible; France is not the United States ٱلْـحَـمْـدُ للهِ‎). And as the pompiers put out the fire they slowly advanced on the chanting mob (who numbered maybe fifty or sixty).

And the mob dispersed, without the police resorting to tear gas or cracking skulls. Ouf. By 10:45 it was over.

It was finally no big deal. Nothing to write home about. But it could have been far worse. Holding my breath for tomorrow.

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Rochefort, 24 November 2018 (credit: Xavier Leoty/AFP)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below] [11th update below]

I’ve been closely following the Gilets Jaunes movement over the past two-three weeks, reading analyses—several very good, by social scientists and historians—in the press and various websites, and trying to understand it. I intend to write something on the subject, by next weekend inshallah. In the meantime, stateside friends, family members, and relatives, who have seen dramatic televised images, have been asking me about it. In lieu of my own take, which will come, here are some good reports in English that I came across today.

One is the latest dispatch by The Washington Post’s invariably excellent Paris correspondent, James McAuley, “In France, the pain behind the ‘yellow vest’ protests is felt mostly outside Paris.”

Another is by veteran Paris correspondent John Lichfield, who writes in The Local that “The savage violence which erupted in Paris on Saturday was not a protest, it was an insurrection.”

The images of the violence and destruction in Paris yesterday were shocking indeed, not to mention outrageous. Whatever the legitimacy of the revindications of the Gilets Jaunes, these cannot be served by rioting, arson, and destruction.

As for who was responsible for this, Lichfield writes

I was on the avenues and streets surrounding the Arc de Triomphe most of the day. The “casseurs” (thugs) were, actively or by consent, the overwhelming majority of the 10,000 gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in the capital.

At least 70 per cent, by my reckoning, were not urban guerrillas from the ultra-right or from the anarchist left. They were amateur provincial guerrillas. They came from the radical parts of the gilets jaunes movement in suffering areas of northern or western France or from the outer Paris suburbs. They were mostly men in their 20s and 30s but there were many older men and some women.

Lichfield may have been there—whereas I was chez moi in my banlieue flat, catching up in the evening via reports on the télé—but I do not believe, until definitive proof to the contrary, that the majority of casseurs were bona fide Gilets Jaunes. The televised images after the fact showed many of the casseurs to be the usual hooligans who profit from such movements to loot, pillage, and torch cars. As for casseurs who were wearing a gilet jaune (yellow vest), any wanker can put one on. Hell, I could put one on myself—I have a gilet jaune in the trunk of my car, as does every car owner in France (it’s the law), and they can be purchased in any supermarket—but that would not ipso facto make me a #GiletJaune.

There were certainly radicalized elements from the provinces who came to Paris to raise hell—we know this, as quite a few were arrested yesterday—but I will wager that they did not participate in the first big Gilet Jaune demos on November 17th, or even the 24th. Those in the image up top were far more representative. And they are not the rioting, smashing types. There has certainly been a bandwagon effect over the past two weeks. And it is incontestable that ultra-left and ultra-right groupuscules played an important part in yesterday’s rioting (antifa and alt-right joining forces, if you will).

And then there were faux Gilets Jaunes, e.g. this well-known hard-right activist—from the 2013 anti-gay marriage movement—who slipped on a yellow vest and was interviewed as a legitimate Gilet Jaune by Russia Today (whose reporter wore a helmet, as if in a war zone):

Don’t miss Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post on the Tocqueville 21 blog, “‘Ce peuple est encore dangereux’.” Also the highly informative and interesting interview with Gérard Noiriel, just up on the Libération website, “Pour Macron, les classes populaires n’existent pas.”

Geographer Aurélien Delpirou has a short piece (and with link to English translation) in La Vie des Idées, “La couleur des gilets jaunes.”

À bientôt.

UPDATE: Mediapart editor-publisher Edwy Plenel has an excellent commentary, which has been translated into English, “The ‘gilets jaunes’ protests: the battle for equality.” Hopefully Mediapart will lift the subscriber wall for it.

2nd UPDATE: See Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post (December 4th), “Did Macron’s Tax Reforms Spark the Riots?,” which is based on this piece in the FT.

3rd UPDATE: Emile Chabal—a Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh—has an op-ed in The Hindu (December 6th), “United colours of the ‘yellow vests’,” that is one of the best analyses of the Gilets Jaunes I’ve seen so far in English.

Also see Adam Nossiter’s report (December 5th) in the NYT, “How France’s ‘yellow vests’ differ from populist movements elsewhere.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde editorial director Sylvie Kauffmann writes in the NYT (December 6th) on “Macron’s moment of truth.” The lede: “Weeks of violent protest by France’s angry working poor are testing a president who promised the people reform but has failed to govern with them, rather than over them.”

5th UPDATE: Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler, who leans to the left, has a good piece (December 7th) in The Nation, “What’s really behind France’s Yellow Vest protest?” The lede: “It’s not just about the fuel tax; it’s about anger at ever-increasing burdens on the working class.”

6th UPDATE: Hudson Institute fellow Benjamin Haddad, a onetime UMP activist who strongly supported Emmanuel Macron from the outset of his presidential campaign, weighs in (December 7th) on “Macron’s moment of reckoning” in Politico.eu. The lede: “Protests are part of France’s DNA. These are different.”

7th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, who’s a friend, has a piece (December 7th) in the right-leaning City Journal, “Riots in Paris: The police underestimated the madness of the crowd.” N.B. Contrary to what Claire writes, the regular army has not been deployed and there are no tanks on the streets of Paris.

8th UPDATE: Adam Gopnik, who knows France well, has his take (December 6th) in The New Yorker, “The Yellow Vests and why there are so many street protests in France.” He errs on a couple of historical details but gets the big picture right.

9th UPDATE: The Financial Times has a ‘Big Read’ article (December 7th) by reporters Harriet Agnew and Ben Hall, “‘Look at me, I exist’: French protesters send message to Macron.” The lede: “‘Gilets jaunes’ demonstrations have become a rallying point for a legion of disaffected workers.”

And the FT’s Paris correspondent, Simon Kuper, had a tweet storm (December 8th) with his “quick thoughts on what’s happening in France.”

10th UPDATE: See the 3-minute WSJ YouTube video, “What is France’s ‘Gilets Jaunes’ or ‘Yellow Vests’ protest movement?”

Better yet is the 5-minute interview (December 8th) with Arthur Goldhammer on France 24, “‘Yellow vest’ protests: What can Emmanuel Macron say to turn things around?”

11th UPDATE: I’ve copied-and-pasted in the comments thread below a lengthy take (December 11th) on the Gilets Jaunes by anthropologist Hannah Davis Taïeb.

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This post began as a Facebook exchange between me and my friend Claire Berlinski over Emmanuel Macron’s 2 hour 38 minute BFM-Mediapart-RMC interview Sunday night—excellently analyzed by Arthur Goldhammer here—that I’m shifting to AWAV. Claire, who caught snippets of the interview on RMC—I watched pretty much the whole thing on BFM—heard from her father—who lives in Paris, as does she—that the interviewers, Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel, had behaved rudely toward President Macron. After an exchange on this, she wrote

I didn’t watch, but my guess would be that they felt comfortable being mouthy with him *not* because all decency and respect for the office of the presidency has broken down and we’re turning and turning in the widening gyre, but simply because Macron is so young. True, “They wouldn’t have dared to speak like that to CDG or VGE or my God even Hollande,” as my appalled father said, but one look at photos of all France’s postwar presidents, side-by-side, suggests why. It just isn’t instinctive to look at someone young enough to be your kid (as opposed to old enough to be your father) and think, “That’s an authority figure, you must show him deference.”

That Macron’s managed to become president of a country like France — where so much unconscious association is made between the presidency and the monarchy; where so much respect is naturally afforded to a certain kind of formal, older man of culture and good breeding—shows that even though Macron’s a centrist politically, and obviously an intelligent and cultured kid, the French were in a truly revolutionary mood when they put him in office. As indeed they were, given that they pretty much destroyed the ancien régime at the same time.

In some ways, if American voters said, en masse, “We’re going to show the establishment that we have so little respect for them that we’d literally rather give Bozo the Clown the suitcase than reward one of them,” the French did something psychologically very similar — although it seems much less radical to *our* minds, first because we’re Americans, so we’re more used to having younger presidents in office, and now, even religious and racial minorities; second, because Macron is so much more respectable, politically, and stable, emotionally, that we don’t see him as in any way a Trump analogue.

But I suspect, for France, putting what looks to them like a *child* in that office was a similar act of contempt and rebellion. (Although it’s a rebellion much more likely, in the end, to get them what they want: a better country to live in, with more opportunity, a higher standard of living, and more global power. Our rebellion is obviously going to achieve none of those things; quite to the contrary.)

The other thing that would have usually made him totally unelectable, but this time made him electable *precisely* because voters wanted to say, “And screw you all” to the establishment, was Brigitte. “So, these assholes all think they’re entitled to screw beautiful young mistresses while they screw the country, too? To hell with them all. Let’s replace them with a guy who barely looks old enough to shave — and who sure won’t be using our votes — or our taxpayer money — to bang Carla Bruni or Julie Gayet in the Elysée Palace, because that woman would kill him, literally.” I think that was a much bigger act of defiance, of “épater le bourgeois,” than generally appreciated.

My response to Claire:

I think you’re over-analyzing here. First, on the interviewers Bourdin and Plenel being “mouthy” with Macron and behaving rudely, I don’t think his relative youth was a factor. That’s simply the interviewing style of the two journalists in question, which is precisely why Macron specifically selected them for the event. He knew what he was getting into. He was eager to joust. If he had wanted to be treated with kid gloves and lobbed softball questions, he could have chosen any number of high profile TV news personalities known for their deference to the powerful, e.g. David Pujadas or Anne-Sophie Lapix (who interviewed François Hollande last Tuesday on France 2). And if you caught Macron’s TF1 interview last Thursday with Jean-Pierre Pernaut, you won’t have noted any mouthiness.

N.B. On the president of the republic deciding who is going to interview him on national television, in no other advanced democracy would such a thing happen. In the Western world, only in France does the president/prime minister select the journalists for such an interview. In this respect—as in almost all others—Macron has not broken with the practice of his predecessors.

On Macron’s youth—having turned 40 last December—everyone knows it, of course, but it actually hasn’t been an issue or subject of public or media discussion. And it’s not as if France hasn’t had relatively youthful presidents and PMs in recent times (e.g. Giscard d’Estaing, Laurent Fabius). Moreover, while Macron may be youthful in both age and looks, he has impeccably, almost effortlessly, slid into the role as president of France’s monarchical republic. Not even his fiercest critics would deny that he has taken on the stature, that it fits him like a glove—and far more so than his two predecessors, Sarkozy and Hollande, whose personal behavior and style (for different reasons) debased the presidency in the eyes of so many. Macron acts like a president of the republic. And, importantly, he is exceptionally bright, well-spoken, and cultivated, and with an intellectual culture—taken very seriously here, by elites and masses alike—that is head and shoulders above that of his two predecessors. As an énarque—and inspecteur de finance to boot—one would hardly expect less. He moved into the Élysée palace last May knowing exactly what to do and with a intimate knowledge of how the French state works and who is who. So on the level of form, he cuts the figure. And, to repeat, everyone knows it. So his age is simply not an issue.

As for the French people having been in a “truly revolutionary mood” in electing Macron, well, I would put it differently. The French electorate was indeed in an ornery state last year, but which was expressed not by supporting Macron’s unlikely candidacy but in giving 21.3% of the 1st round vote to Marine Le Pen and—of equal importance—an amazing 19.6% to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. If one adds the lesser candidates on the extremes, the total vote garnered by populist/extremist/anti-system candidates in the presidential 1st round was 49.6%. That is to say, fully half of the French electorate—and the turnout, at 78%, was high—cast a “fuck you” vote last April. And none of that went to Emmanuel Macron, who so utterly epitomized the “establishment,” even though he was indeed an insurgent candidate. The state of mind of the French electorate was, ergo, not so different from that of other European polities witnessing a populist surge. What was different in France was the configuration of the party and, above all, electoral systems, the latter of which could have yielded a catastrophic result but thankfully did not.

In point of fact, Macron’s victory—and I’ve written this before—was the product of a perfect storm, or of the stars perfectly aligning (choose your metaphor). It took a crazy series of serendipitous happenings over a three month period—from late November 2016 to February 2017—for Macron to be transformed from a candidate no one took seriously into a veritable homme providentiel. To recap: 1. There was the primary of the right and center in late November ’16, that Alain Juppé—the incarnation of moderate conservatism—was supposed to win handily, thus rendering him the prohibitive favorite to win the presidency the following May. But in a coup de théâtre—that no one saw coming until the very closing stretch—he was eliminated by the more right-wing François Fillon, who then became the favorite, though whose victory left a gaping hole on the center-right of the political spectrum. 2. On December 1st, François Hollande announced that he would not seek reelection. Had he done so, he and Macron would have battled for the same voters. Whatever the outcome of their mano a mano, it is unlikely that either would have made it to the 2nd round. 3. Le Canard Enchaîné, in its January 25th issue, broke the “Penelope Gate” story, which mired Fillon in inextricable scandal, all but wrecked his candidacy, and with center-right voters looking for an alternative. 4. The Socialist Party, largely discredited after five years of failure in power and bitterly divided, held its primary in late January, with the leftist Benoît Hamon pummeling the centrist (and much loathed on the left) Manuel Valls. Valls’s elimination opened more space in the center and center-left, with his voters—who either despised Hamon or deemed that he had no chance of making it to the 2nd round—largely defecting to Macron. 5. On February 22nd, the centrist, perennial presidential candidate François Bayrou announced that he wouldn’t be running a fourth time and proposed an alliance with Macron.

The upshot: A wide space on the political spectrum, from center-left to center-right, was freed up by the five above-mentioned serendipitous happenings, to be  occupied by Macron alone. And with the collapse of Hamon’s base—with leftist PS voters defecting to Mélenchon and more centrist ones to Macron—this made it so that Macron was the only acceptable 2nd round candidate to voters not on the hard left or hard/extreme right. His brand of social liberalism was a breath of fresh air to many of his voters but it is clear that a sizable portion of them supported him mainly to prevent a Le Pen-Fillon 2nd round. And his 2nd round vote was, of course, largely anti-Le Pen. As for Macron’s bilan after a year in office, I’ll address that in due course.

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It was a ‘marche blanche’: a silent march—with no chanting or shouting of slogans—yesterday evening, in homage of Mireille Knoll, who, as one knows by now, was the 85-year-old Jewish woman who was atrociously murdered in her Paris apartment—an HLM in the 11th arrondissement—last Friday, by two men who have been arrested for the act. While their identities or motives have not yet been revealed, the police are treating it as an antisemitic hate crime. Everyone with half a conscience has been profoundly shocked: by the particulars of the crime, Mme Knoll’s age—both recalling the equally horrific murder of Sarah Halimi a year ago, and in the same part of the city—and her having narrowly escaped the Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv as a child (and whose husband was a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau).

Some twenty to thirty thousand showed up for the march—a good turnout for a weekday—which went in a loop from Place de la Nation up Boulevard Voltaire, right on Rue de Charonne, down Avenue Philippe Auguste past Mme Knoll’s building and back to Nation. I took some photos, which one may see in the album here (and with commentary; click on the first photo and advance with the arrow). The majority of the marchers were Jews, though one sensed that there were proportionally more non-Jews present than at the big march for Ilan Halimi on February 26, 2006 (which I participated in). The relative absence of non-Jews at the latter was disappointing—French Jews felt let down by the seeming lack of solidarity from the larger society, particularly in view of the horrific nature of the Ilan Halimi assassination (I discuss it here and here)—so it was symbolically important that it be different this time. And it was.

The march was initiated by the CRIF, in a tweet on Monday, in memory and support of Mme Knoll’s family, and to “express the compassion of all Frenchmen and women.” Politicians from across the spectrum were present (I didn’t see them myself), including a slew of government ministers—Gérard Collomb, Jean-Michel Blanquer, Marlène Schiappa, Nicolas Hulot, and Françoise Nyssen—and representatives of parties, e.g. Christophe Castaner (REM), Laurent Wauquiez (LR), Gérard Larcher (LR), Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo (PS), and Pierre Laurent (PCF). CRIF president Francis Kalifat provoked a pointless, unfortunate polemic, however, in declaring beforehand that Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon were not welcome at the march, nor any representatives of their respective parties. Requesting that Marine Le Pen not come could be comprehended—in view of her father’s and party’s history in regard to antisemitism, and which MLP has not disavowed or apologized for—but it was unacceptable in the case of Mélenchon and others in his party, La France Insoumise. The ostensible reason was the support for BDS by Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche—the principal constituent of La France Insoumise—except that this issue has nothing whatever to do with an antisemitic crime committed in France. Kalifat was injecting politics into what was supposed to be a non-political march that united Frenchmen and women across the board. Moreover, no one has ever suggested that Mélenchon or anyone in the leadership of FI is antisemitic or has a problem with Jews. If anyone were to publicly make such an accusation, s/he could be sued for libel—and be deservedly convicted. Whatever one thinks of Mélenchon—and as AWAV readers know, I am not a fan of his—his words on Mireille Knoll have been unimpeachable, as was his powerful homage to Arnaud Beltrame in the National Assembly on Tuesday, which was roundly applauded from left to right. Kalifat’s dissing of JLM was a political error.

Libération’s invariably excellent Laurent Joffrin nailed it in a commentary yesterday, entitled La boulette du CRIF:

Pas très malin, le CRIF… Au moment où l’opinion s’émeut, tous partis confondus, du meurtre de Mireille Knoll, sans doute crapuleux mais dont la justice estime à ce stade qu’il est aussi marqué du sceau de l’antisémitisme, voilà que le Conseil déclenche une polémique subalterne et malvenue. Le cas du Front national est certes épineux quand on connaît son passé en la matière, même si Marine Le Pen se garde de toute allusion antisémite. Mais celui de Jean-Luc Mélenchon touche au grotesque. Quand le leader de La France insoumise aurait-il cédé à une mauvaise pente ? Jamais, que l’on sache. A moins d’amalgamer toute critique du gouvernement israélien à de l’antisémitisme, vieille ficelle propagandiste. Diviser quand il faut réunir : on ne saurait être plus maladroit. L’organisation communautaire a d’ailleurs été désavouée aussitôt par le fils de Mireille Knoll, plus avisé et plus généreux que ses défenseurs institutionnels. Cet homme meurtri fait plus contre le communautarisme que bien d’autres.

L’incident ne saurait détourner de l’essentiel. Les agressions contre les Français juifs sont une injure intolérable contre la République et contre l’humanité. Ce qui est intolérable doit être combattu avec la dernière énergie. Les participants à la marche blanche de mercredi le comprennent ainsi. Sursaut salutaire, alors que les Français juifs avaient jusque-là le sentiment que souvent ces agressions se déroulaient dans une relative indifférence. A l’antisémitisme de l’extrême droite, qu’on avait fait reculer, s’ajoute maintenant, comme le souligne Michel Wieviorka, un antisémitisme issu de milieux musulmans, qui tient pour beaucoup à l’obsession antijuive des courants islamistes, mais aussi à la résurgence de préjugés ancestraux, même si la grande majorité des Français musulmans s’en tiennent à l’écart. Dans ces circonstances, les Français juifs doivent savoir qu’ils peuvent compter sur la solidarité indéfectible de tous les républicains.

Watch here the declaration of Mireille Knoll’s son, Daniel, rejecting the position of the CRIF on Mélenchon et al, saying that everyone was welcome at the march.

As it happens, both MLP and JLM did show up at the march, the latter accompanied by several top FI personalities (Éric Coquerel, Clémentine Autain, Adrien Quatennens, Alexis Corbière, Raquel Garrido). JLM and his entourage had to be quickly exfiltrated by the police after being showered with insults and threats from a gang of bully boys from the LDJ (French JDL). But MLP and her contingent—which included Gilbert Collard, Louis Aliot, Bruno Bilde, and Wallerand de Saint Just—were protected by the very same LDJ militants, who want to make common cause with the FN over their mutual Muslimophobia. Incredible but true. The frontistes got booed—by marchers—were escorted onto a side street by police, to reappear in front of Mme Knoll’s building before making their getaway.

Not too many Muslims were in evidence at the march—not that one can easily tell who is who—which is hardly surprising given that it was sponsored by the CRIF. Muslims in France, be they religious or not, have a bee in their collective bonnet about the CRIF, which gets under their collective skin (I know this from extensive observations on social media over the past decade, so please don’t tell me I’m wrong, because I’m not). The explanation offered for the hang-up about the CRIF is its support of Israel—as if the peak association of a Jewish community anywhere would not identify with the Jewish state—but does not convince. It goes well beyond that. Un autre sujet.

One Muslim who was at the march—whom I saw at the end—was Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, of the mosque in Drancy. He’s controversial among French Muslims and sectors of the left—for, entre autres, his close identification with the laïcard camp (Caroline Fourest, Alain Finkielkraut et al)—but is greatly appreciated by Jews, to whom he has reached out over the past dozen years. He was applauded yesterday, with people coming up to talk with him and take selfies. C’est bien.

UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Paris-based writer, Rachel Donadio, has a piece up (March 29th) on “The meaning of France’s march against anti-Semitism.” The lede: “The murder of a Holocaust survivor is forcing the country to embrace a new, unfamiliar kind of religious and ethnic solidarity.”

2nd UPDATE: Le Monde dated March 30th, the headline of which is “Antisémitisme: la prise de conscience, et après?,” has two tribunes well worth reading. One is by Pierre Birnbaum, “Antisémitisme: il est grand temps de que l’Etat protège tous ses citoyens,” in which he says, entre autres, that antisemitism is, in fact, declining in French public opinion, while acts of violence against Jews increase. The other tribune, by Pierre-André Taguieff, carries the provocative title “Il faut penser et combattre la ‘judéophobie islamisée’.” Lots of people—including some I know—will reject Taguieff’s arguments and assertions. I will be interested to hear their refutations (though will not hold my breath waiting for them).

3rd UPDATE: Laurent Joffrin has another excellent ‘lettre politique’ (March 29th), “Pour les juifs”:

Il faut revenir sur la manifestation de mercredi qui a témoigné d’un sursaut de solidarité envers les Français juifs victimes d’agressions ou de crimes. Les incidents qui l’ont troublée ne doivent pas masquer le véritable enjeu, qui va au-delà du cas dramatique de Mireille Knoll. C’est un fait établi que les juifs français sont l’objet d’une résurgence de racisme et d’intolérance très particulière, qui pose de redoutables questions, non seulement à eux mais à tout républicain.

Onze d’entre eux en dix ans ont été tués pour la simple raison qu’ils étaient juifs. Quel groupe, quelle communauté, même si on n’aime pas le mot, a subi un sort comparable ? A notre connaissance, aucune. A cela s’ajoute le harcèlement quotidien dont sont souvent victimes ces familles, à l’école, dans la rue, dans les transports. Beaucoup d’entre elles retirent leurs enfants de l’école publique par crainte de les voir agressés ; depuis les crimes sanglants de Mohammed Merah, les écoles confessionnelles ont perdu leur statut de sanctuaire.

Marc Knobel, directeur des études du Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (Crif), évalue à 60 000 le nombre de juifs qui ont quitté la France en dix ans. C’est-à-dire environ 10 % des Français juifs, proportion considérable. On peut chipoter sur les chiffres ou remarquer qu’une partie d’entre eux ne s’exilent pas pour des raisons de sécurité mais pour effectuer leur alya, le retour vers la Terre promise. Cela ne change rien au fait qu’il est humiliant, angoissant, pour la République, de constater qu’une partie de ses enfants, qui en sont une composante depuis tant de générations, n’ont plus confiance en elle. On dresse parfois un parallèle entre les agressions dont sont victimes les juifs et celles qui visent les musulmans, tout aussi condamnables évidemment, et dont le nombre est comparable. Mais c’est un effet d’optique. Les Français juifs sont environ dix fois moins nombreux que les Français musulmans. Les premiers sont donc dix fois plus exposés que les seconds. A cela s’ajoute le fait qu’une grande partie des meurtres sont le fait de terroristes islamistes et qu’un antisémitisme nouveau, alimenté par les obsessions des intégristes musulmans et les réactions liées au conflit israélo-palestinien, se développe depuis de longues années. Il existe toujours un antisémitisme venu de l’extrême droite comme en témoigne le succès des vidéos postées régulièrement par Alain Soral, ou l’affluence qu’on observe aux spectacles de Dieudonné ou encore les dérapages de certains membres du Front national. Mais de toute évidence, nous sommes désormais sur deux fronts et non plus un seul.

Jusqu’à mercredi, les Français juifs avaient le sentiment de tout cela se déroulait dans une relative indifférence. Les choses commencent à changer. Il faudra aller nettement plus loin. Le 5 janvier 1895, assistant à la dégradation du capitaine Dreyfus – dans cette cour des Invalides où l’on rendait, mercredi, un hommage émouvant au colonel Beltrame – Theodor Herzl se dit que si, même en France, on pouvait assister à une telle iniquité, il ne pouvait y avoir de refuge nulle part pour les juifs, sinon dans un foyer national qui leur serait propre. Cette réflexion fut à l’origine du mouvement sioniste. Pourtant, dans les années 20 et 30, beaucoup de juifs d’Europe de l’est s’installèrent en France en se disant qu’un pays capable de se déchirer dix ans autour du sort d’un seul juif, Dreyfus, pour l’innocenter in fine et le réhabiliter solennellement, serait malgré tout une terre d’accueil. Il faut se souvenir de cette histoire. Il y a dans ce double rappel un motif de crainte mais aussi des raisons d’espérer.

4th UPDATE: Mediapart has an important two-part enquête (February 9th), by Joseph Confavreux, “Gauches et antisémitisme: la genèse d’une gêne.” The lede: “Certaines gauches en France sont régulièrement accusées de complaisance envers l’antisémitisme. Insulte infamante venant d’adversaires politiques et d’institutions juives droitisées, ou constat que ces gauches sont parfois mal équipées, voire peu motivées pour prendre en charge l’hostilité contemporaine envers les juifs?” The link to the second part, “Les gauches sont-elles aveugles à un ‘antisémitisme musulman’?,” is at the end. Definitely worth reading.

5th UPDATE: Lassana Bathily, the brave young Malian hero of the Hyper Cacher terrorist attack, attended the vigil for Mireille Knoll at the Tournelles synagogue on Wednesday. Heartwarming.

6th UPDATE: Time magazine’s Vivienne Walt has a good report (March 29th) on how “The brutal murder of a Holocaust survivor is raising anti-Semitism fears in France.”

Also see the report (March 29th) by Paris-based writer Vladislav Davidzon in Tablet, “In Paris, tens of thousands march to honor slain Holocaust survivor: Including, sadly, Marine Le Pen, who was heckled by protestors and quit the rally shortly after her arrival.”

7th UPDATE: France Inter’s Thomas Legrand had an excellent editorial on March 29th (which I missed that day), “La faute du président du CRIF,” that expresses precisely my position.

8th UPDATE: French journalist Sylvain Cypel—who was, entre autres, formerly Le Monde’s correspondent in New York—has an article in The Nation (April 6th), translated by me, “The murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll has exposed 2 toxic racisms in France.” The lede: “Along with the rise of anti-Semitism in Muslim and Arab communities, there’s growing hostility to France’s Muslims within the Jewish community, which draws its source in the defense of Israel.” Cypel, pour l’info, lived in Israel for a dozen years of his youth, attended the Hebrew University, and was a militant in the leftist Matzpen organization.

9th UPDATE: Le Monde’s Elise Vincent and Raphaëlle Bacqué have a lengthy report in the April 6th issue, “Dans l’immeuble de Mireille Knoll, les fantômes de la tranquillité perdue.” The lede: “Le 23 mars, le meurtre de la vieille dame juive a saisi d’effroi les habitants de cet ensemble paisible de 102 appartements du 11e arrondissement de Paris.”

10th UPDATE: Le Canard Enchaîné reports, on page 2 of the April 4th issue, that CRIF president Francis Kalifat had initially intended to ask only Marine Le Pen not to participate in the Marche Blanche, but then, on March 27th, two of Kalifat’s advisers, National Assembly deputy Meyer Habib and Knoll family lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel—both French-Israeli dual nationals—successfully lobbied him to also refuse Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s presence. Pour l’info, Habib—who represents the 8th constituency of French citizens abroad (which includes Israel)—is a well-known supporter of the Israeli right-wing. Goldnadel is equally right-wing, having argued, along with Habib, for a rapprochement between the French Jewish community and the Front National.

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Emmanuel Macron gave a powerful speech last Sunday, on the 75th anniversary of the Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv, in which—following François Hollande’s equally powerful speech of 2012—he reaffirmed the responsibility of the French state in one of the greatest crimes committed on French soil on a single day in the modern era. Macron’s words were, among other things, a pointed jab at Marine Le Pen, who, in the final phase of the presidential campaign, mouthed the now thoroughly discredited notion that the French state bore no responsibility for the roundup of Jews in France during the German occupation—and which was astonishingly repeated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon—and to his discredit—in an anti-Macron broadside after the event.

Macron’s otherwise excellent speech did, however, contain one sentence—a single word, in fact—that has caused a storm of indignation and polemics on social media—and biting critiques by gauchistes and other tiersmondistes—which was the equating of anti-Zionism with antisemitism: “Alors oui, nous ne céderons rien aux messages de haine, nous ne céderons rien à l’antisionisme car il est la forme réinventée de l’antisémitisme” [emphasis on the definite article “la”]. (N.B. The official English translation of Macron’s speech does not accurately translate the phrase in question.)

Now it is incontestable that “Zionist” has become a code word for “Jew” on the far right and the gauche rouge-brune, not to mention among Arabs, Muslims, and all sorts of other people, and that those who use it as such are indeed antisemites. Ça va de soi. À propos, the Irish Marxist writer-militant Richard Seymour had a well-informed essay in the très gauchiste Jacobin webzine, dated August 8th 2014, on “The anti-Zionism of fools,” in which he wrote that “[h]owever distorted and exaggerated, antisemitism [cloaked as anti-Zionism] is a real current in France that needs to be confronted.” But to assert—as Macron appeared to do—that everyone who calls him/herself an anti-Zionist is ipso facto a Jew-hater is not only empirically false but dangerous. It is also bullshit.

Zionism needs to be defined, of course, and what it means to be opposed to it. The fact is, many, if not most, people out there who casually say they’re anti-Zionist don’t actually know what Zionism is. If the question is put to them—and I have done so on numerous occasions over the years, particularly to Maghrebi friends—the response is usually framed as opposition to the occupation and all the bad things Israel does. The understanding of the term is, to put it mildly, not informed.

As for what Zionism does in fact mean, the Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua offered, in a 2013 tribune in Haaretz, a succinct definition

A Zionist is a person who [prior to 1948] desires or supports the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which in the future will become the state of the Jewish people. This is based on what Herzl said: “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.”

The key word in this definition is “state,” and its natural location is the Land of Israel because of the Jewish people’s historical link to it. (…)

A Zionist, therefore, is a Jew who supported the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, and not necessarily one who actually settled in the land. Herzl himself and many Zionist leaders never settled in the land, yet you wouldn’t hesitate to call them Zionists.

Yehoshua specifies

Zionism is not an ideology. If the definition of ideology, according to the Hebrew Encyclopedia, is as follows − “A cohesive, systematic combination of ideas, insights, principles and imperatives that finds expression in the particular worldview of a sect, a party or a social class” − then Zionism cannot be considered an ideology, but merely a very broad platform for various ideologies that may even contradict one another.

Ever since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the definition of “Zionist” has been revised, since we don’t need to establish another state. Therefore, its definition is as follows: A Zionist is a person who accepts the principle that the State of Israel doesn’t belong solely to its citizens, but to the entire Jewish people. The practical expression of this commitment is the Law of Return. (…)

According to Yehoshua’s definition of what it means to be a “Zionist” today—to which I have no particular objection—a certain number of Jews themselves—American, French, etc, who are, for the most part, on the left—would have to call themselves anti-Zionists, as they do not consider that Israel belongs to them—at least any more than it should to a diaspora Palestinian—that Israel should indeed belong only to its citizens, but which includes the 20% of the Israeli population that is not Jewish. The suggestion that a Jew—or, say, a Palestinian citizen of Israel—who feels strongly that Israel should be a state only for its actual citizens—with all enjoying exactly the same rights and duties, regardless of confession—is, ipso facto, an antisemite is not only preposterous but also libelous. This kind of demagogic accusation only discredits the person making it.

The journalist Sylvain Cypel—formerly of Le Monde and who lived in Israel for most of his formative years, including university—has a pointed response to Macron in the Orient XXI webzine, “Non, l’antisionisme n’est pas un antisémitisme réinventé.” The key passage:

Quant au fond, l’assimilation de l’antisionisme à une nouvelle mouture de l’antisémitisme est une erreur funeste. Cette assertion est l’une des clefs de voûte depuis des décennies de la hasbara, la communication israélienne. Et plus Israël s’enfonce dans la domination coloniale d’un autre peuple, les Palestiniens, plus l’assertion «antisionisme égal antisémitisme» est répétée pour stigmatiser quiconque critique cette domination.

En soi, la méthode consistant à délégitimer la critique en démonisant son auteur est vieille comme la politique. Ainsi Joseph Staline et ses émules assimilaient-ils toute critique du communisme soviétique à du «fascisme». Si les fascistes étaient viscéralement anticommunistes, cela ne faisait pas de tous les contempteurs du régime soviétique des fascistes. Mais les staliniens continuaient à vilipender leurs adversaires, sans distinction, sous ce vocable infamant. Aujourd’hui, un Robert Mugabe, au Zimbabwe, qualifie régulièrement ses adversaires de «défenseurs de l’apartheid». Que des racistes patentés figurent parmi les dénonciateurs de l’autocrate zimbabwéen est évident. Mais que tous soient des nostalgiques de la ségrégation raciale est une accusation délirante et dérisoire. On pourrait multiplier les exemples.

Il en va de même de l’idée selon laquelle l’antisionisme serait la version moderne de l’antisémitisme. D’abord parce que l’antisionisme n’est pas une idéologie très définie. Historiquement, il a consisté à récuser l’idée d’une solution nationaliste à la question juive. Aujourd’hui, il y a en Israël des gens qui se disent antisionistes par simple hostilité à une occupation des Palestiniens menée au nom même du sionisme. D’autres se disent «post-sionistes» parce qu’à leurs yeux, l’ambition du sionisme étant la constitution d’un État juif, son existence annule d’autorité la nécessité du sionisme. Je connais enfin des Israéliens tout à fait sionistes qui sont si révulsés par la politique de Nétanyahou qu’ils se disent honorés d’être traités d’«antisionistes» par un gouvernement d’extrême droite raciste et colonialiste. Ces derniers remplissent par exemple les rangs d’une ONG comme Breaking the Silence, qui regroupe des soldats dénonçant les crimes commis par leur armée contre des Palestiniens et dont plusieurs des dirigeants sont des officiers et aussi des juifs pieux. Ils ne sont pas antisémites. Ils sont même l’honneur d’Israël. Quant à moi, je considère le sionisme comme une question philosophiquement désuète. En revanche, si le sionisme, comme le prône Nétanyahou, consiste à exiger la reconnaissance d’Israël pour mieux empêcher le droit des Palestiniens à l’autodétermination, alors je suis antisioniste. Serais-je donc antisémite?

So if Netanyahu and others on the Israeli right define Zionism as giving Jews the right to settle anywhere in Eretz Israel—i.e. in Judea and Samaria—does this mean that those who oppose such settlement are antisemites?

The Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, in a “Lettre ouverte à M. le Président de la République française,” published in Mediapart, rhetorically asked if Macron, “[l]’ancien étudiant en philosophie, l’assistant de Paul Ricœur a-t-il si peu lu de livres d’histoire, au point d’ignorer que nombre de juifs, ou de descendants de filiation juive se sont toujours opposés au sionisme sans, pour autant, être antisémites?” My dear friend Adam Shatz, in a social media commentary on Sand’s letter, remarked

on the unfortunate and tendentious conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Macron’s otherwise admirable Vel d’Hiv address. Sand eviscerates Macron’s claims, but the pièce de résistance is his remark that thanks to Israel’s self-definition as the state of the Jewish people (not of the people – even the Jews! – who live in it), the state belongs far more to diaspora Jews like BHL and Alain Finkielkraut than it does to Sand’s Israeli-Palestinian students, whose Hebrew in some cases is better than his!

To oppose such ethno-racial exclusion inside Israel, as well as the apartheid in the Occupied Territories, is hardly to engage in anti-Semitic discrimination, much less call for the “destruction” of Israel or the Jews. (This is a well known Zionist canard, which curiously asks us to imagine that without such discrimination, the state itself would crumble: so much for the dream of “normalizing” the Jews in a modern nation-state.) Rather, to critique actually existing Zionism is to oppose discrimination, racism and oppression, which, outside Israel (and among a dwindling number of Israeli Jews), has been a venerable Jewish tradition. As Sand points out, some of the finest members of this dissenting tradition have been French: Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Maxime Rodinson, Esther Benbassa, Daniel Bensaïd, Rony Brauman. If the new French president, justly praised for his intellect, thinks anti-Zionism is simply the contemporary form of anti-Semitism (which is not to say it never is), and if he thinks he’s combating anti-Semitism by cozying up to the likes of Netanyahu (who is all too happy to cover for Hungarian Jew haters sympathetic to Israel), he still has a lot of learning to do.

An AWAV friend—a secular French Jew who would no doubt refer to himself as non- or anti-Zionist—pointed to one possible unintended consequence of Macron’s words, which is its implication for France’s hate speech laws, notably the 1972 Loi Pleven:

Puisque antisionisme = antisémitisme, il sera donc désormais illégal en France de critiquer publiquement le sionisme et tout particulièrement d’émettre des réserves sur les pratiques des défenseurs du sionisme tel que mis en œuvre actuellement en marge du droit international par l’état d’Israël, au hasard et par exemple le développement constant des colonies en Cisjordanie occupée. Critiquer cela équivaut peu ou prou à tenir des propos antisémites.

Then there was the very presence of Netanyahu at the Vel’ d’Hiv commemoration. I initially chalked this up to diplomacy and realpolitik, as an astute maneuver by Macron to cultivate a relationship with the Israeli PM (as he did with Putin and Trump). But the symbolism of Bibi at the ceremony was difficult to swallow for many—president Reuven Rivlin would have been more palatable—and particularly the place of honor of the Israeli flag. The Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv is a French (and German) story, not an Israeli one. It has nothing to do with Israel (which of course did not exist at the time). There was, objectively speaking, no good reason to invite any high Israeli dignitary to the event. Now Macron could have perhaps justified the Netanyahu invitation if this would eventually yield diplomatic dividends. But as we were reminded during his visit to Hungary last week, Netanyahu couldn’t care less about France or the European Union, both of which he disdains. The notion that France can exercise any influence over Israel when it comes to the “peace process” is the height of naïveté. So rolling out the red carpet for Bibi last Sunday was ill-advised on Macron’s part.

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

UPDATE: Emmanuel Macron, prior to the anti-Zionist/antisemitism brouhaha, got into hot water on social media for his words at the G20 press conference in Hamburg, on July 8th, in which he made a remark on the fertility rate in Africa that rubbed people the wrong way, including well-known specialists of the continent. Some on social media even went so far as call Macron a “racist” and with others comparing what he said in Hamburg with Nicolas Sarkozy’s notorious 2007 Dakar speech. As for the latter, it was precisely that: a text written by Sarkozy’s top political adviser and that Sarkozy presumably read over before delivering. What Macron said at the G20 was extemporaneous. He was responding to a question at a press conference from an Ivorian journalist about development aid to Africa and who mentioned the Marshall Plan, and with Macron responding as to why the Marshall Plan parallel is not an appropriate one for Africa today (watch it here, from 25:26). He would have no doubt rephrased what he said about African demography if he had had advance knowledge of the question—and perhaps not pronounced the word “civilisationnel“—but the fact of the matter is, nothing Macron said, substantively-speaking, was ill-considered or wrong. To call him “racist” is so ridiculous as to not merit a response. And what he said cannot be compared to Sarkozy’s Dakar speech. Case closed.

Watching Macron at the press conference, one is struck by how smart, knowledgeable, and well-spoken he is. The total, 180° opposite of his counterpart outre-Atlantique, ça va de soi.

2nd UPDATE: Jacobin magazine has published (August 2nd) an English translation of Shlomo Sand’s “open letter to Emmanuel Macron.”

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It’s over. Finally. Sunday’s election was the eighth round of voting over the past seven months (LR primary, PS primary, presidential election, legislative—all in two ballots, of course, and with me naturally voting in every one). No more elections until the European in May 2019. As Arthur Goldhammer has an instant analysis up on the Foreign Affairs website—incisive comme d’hab’, that I could have signed myself—I will make just a few comments on Sunday’s vote.

First, the size of La République en Marche’s victory was smaller than expected, surprisingly so in fact. Projections after the 1st round had REM/MoDem winning as many as 470 seats (over 80% of the total), with 400 on the low end. For a party of neophytes that won all of 32% of the 1st round vote—and with over half the electorate abstaining—even the low end would have been excessive. A newly elected president of the republic should be able to govern, but a super majority and with a marginalized opposition is not a good thing for a democracy: it bears out the perverse effects of the two-round, single-member constituency system and undermines the legitimacy of the action of the government if the latter’s poll numbers go negative.

With 350 seats, REM/MoDem has a comfortable, though not crushing, majority—and one sizable enough so that it—and Emmanuel Macron—will have no excuses for failure. And as all the other parties overperformed expectations (even the PS), everyone is reasonably content for the moment. Moreover, the fact that the combined left took some 70 seats—objectively speaking, a calamitous result—means that it will have the minimum number of deputies (60) required to refer a projet de loi to the Constitutional Council—so as to rule on its constitutionality—one possible example being the integration of key measures of the état d’urgence into ordinary legislation, which PM Édouard Philippe’s government—and with the Élysée remote-controlling—has intimated that it may propose. It was uncertain that there would even be 60 deputies of the left to do this, an eventuality that would have reduced it to total impotence. Fortunately that won’t be the case.

Second comment, on the record abstention rate (57%). This does not undermine the legitimacy of REM’s majority but does signify that President Macron does not have a mandate—a term thankfully not used here—to enact any piece of legislation he may fancy and with minimal debate or concertation with social actors, notably on reforming the Code du Travail. As this is a centerpiece of Macron’s program, reform will indeed happen and via ordonnance, as promised, but it will, politically speaking, necessitate the acquiescence of at least part of the trade union movement (the CFDT, CFTC, maybe FO; the CGT and SUD will surely oppose it no matter what). Not that the unions are more representative of the masses than is the National Assembly—they’re not—but when it comes to defending laws that offer employees some protection against being fired from their jobs for no good reason, they will have the support of public opinion (and including voters on the right). So if labor law reform happens in a context of conflict, the inevitable strikes and demonstrations will ensue and the government will descend into unpopularity, which will not be good for Macron or for France. So he will hopefully take the high abstention rate as a signal to proceed prudently and modestly on issues which are sure to generate intense opposition.

The fact is, a sizable number of the 8.9 million voters who cast ballots for REM/MoDem candidates Sunday—and which included me—did so as a pragmatic choice, though not with excessive enthusiasm. Among voters on the center-left to the center-right of the political spectrum, there is satisfaction and a general optimism—as reflected in public opinion polls but that I also hear from everyone with whom I talk who’s not on the radical left—but also some caution—as one may see in Macron’s own approval rating, which is positive though not hugely so.

Third comment, on the REM deputies, who will constitute the largest parliamentary group and with a majority in the National Assembly on their own: Going down the list of the 308, I recognized almost none of the names. In point of fact, not a single REM deputy has a national reputation. Not one is a household name. Three REM deputies who defected from EELV—François de Rugy, Barbara Pompili, Laurence Vichnievsky—are known by those who closely follow politics (Vichnievsky more as a magistrate who’s taken on high-profile cases) but have not figured in the top-tier of the political class. Richard Ferrand (who will probably head the parliamentary group) and Christophe Castaner were third-tier personalities in the PS—not known outside their constituencies—before they joined Macron. Few of the deputies know the National Assembly or have any experience crafting legislation. And they don’t know one another. It will be interesting to see how the REM parliamentary group is held together and discipline is imposed.

As for the 42 MoDem deputies, one in particular stands out: the énarque Jean-Louis Bourlanges, who is well-known in politics and in the intelligentsia, as he’s been a regular over the decades on highbrow talk-shows and the op-ed pages of the elite press. He won’t be a godillot, that’s for certain.

And who will be president of the National Assembly? This is the fourth-ranking position in the French state and that, in the Fifth Republic at least, has always been held by a senior politician. No one in REM fits the bill, nor, for that matter, in LR/UDI or the PS. Most LR heavyweights didn’t run for reelection—on account of the law on the non-cumul des mandats—or were defeated. Top LR/UDI deputies: Éric Woerth, Éric Ciotti, Christian Jacob, Thierry Solère (Macron-compatible, who may form an independent parliamentary group), Jean-Christophe Lagarde. Bof. As for the PS, it was a wipe-out. The best-known PS deputies still standing are Olivier Faure, Delphine Batho, and the Macron-compatible Stéphane Le Foll (as for Manuel Valls, he’s out of the party and has the distinction of being, in one poll at least, the most disliked politician in France, even more so than Marine Le Pen). Ça ne pisse pas loin. And how many EELV deputies are there? Not one. All gone.

The most outspoken opposition group will surely be Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, which, as one is likely aware, did well on Sunday, sending not only JLM to the Palais Bourbon (for the first time) but also other leading FI personalities (Alexis Corbière, Éric Coquerel, Clémentine Autain, François Ruffin…). If JLM deigns to admit the ten PCF deputies, this will make his parliamentary group, at 27, the radical left’s largest since the Georges Marchais era. I am no fan of JLM, as is well-known, but think it good that he and his associates will have a tribune in the National Assembly. And likewise for Marine Le Pen and the seven other frontiste deputies, though who are not sufficiently numerous to form a parliamentary group.

It’s too bad Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet lost. One is, however, gratified by the defeat of three of LR’s most pro-Putin, pro-Syrian Baathist deputies: Nicolas Dhuicq—who, if one remembers, was a conduit for anti-Macron Russian propaganda—Thierry Mariani, and Jacques Myard.

À suivre.

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Le Monde

Three percentages to note in regard to Sunday’s vote: 51, 32, 79. The first (51%) was the abstention rate. This is a record for a French legislative election: in the Fifth Republic and probably all of French history. The previous abstention record was in 2012—43 and 44% in the 1st and 2nd rounds, respectively—and the one prior to that was in the 2007 2nd round (40%). French voters used to take their parliamentary elections seriously, though now less and less. As for why, this is the perverse consequence of the quinquennat and electoral calendar. More on that in a minute.

The second number (32) is the percentage of the vote obtained by candidates of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (REM) and its MoDem ally. REM, as one may be aware, was created ex nihilo in the spring of 2016 and with its founder, Macron, unknown to the public three years ago today; and in Sunday’s vote, the great majority of REM’s candidates were likewise unknown to most of those casting ballots for them. As for MoDem—which would cease to exist in the absence of its founder-president, François Bayrou—it received precisely 1.77% of the national vote in the 2012 legislatives and sent all of two deputies (of 577) to the Palais Bourbon, one of whom later quit the party. In terms of vote power, MoDem has not been a heavyweight in the ten years of its existence. So REM/MoDem’s first place, 32% finish is impressive indeed—and unprecedented for formations that, in the previous election, did not exist or represented next to nothing.

The third number (79) is the percentage of seats in the National Assembly that REM/MoDem may end up with after next Sunday’s 2nd round run-offs. This is the high-end prediction, of REM/MoDem taking 455 seats of the 577, with the lower prediction 400 seats (a mere 69%). A blowout in either case.

Sunday’s result had been expected—the polls, as usual in France, got it right—but it’s stunning nonetheless, above all for the complete collapse of the Socialist Party (more on which below) and the outright replacement of the political class. Voters have been telling pollsters for years that they want a renouvellement of the political class; well, they’re now going to get it big time. The reason for the outsized majority REM is certain to obtain next Sunday is due to France’s two-round, single-member constituency system, which considerably—sometimes hugely—inflates the majority of the winning party or coalition—and correspondingly penalizes the losers. It’s a terrible mode de scrutin for this reason alone. E.g. in the 1993 legislative election the conservative RPR-UDF coalition took 43% of the 1st round vote and ended up with 83% of the seats after the 2nd. In no first-past-the-post system (e.g. UK, USA, Canada) would the result be so distorted. This perverse effect could be at least partially rectified by introducing a dose of proportionality into the system, which Macron pledged to do during the presidential campaign. On verra bien. If this does happen, it will probably be on the order of 20 or 25% of the seats, though 50% would be ideal.

On the high abstention rate, along with the near inevitability of Sunday’s result, this is, as mentioned above, a consequence of the quinquennat—introduced by constitutional amendment in 2000—and electoral calendar. Since 2002, when the presidential and legislative elections coincidentally happened in quick succession—on account of President Chirac’s dissolution of the National Assembly in 1997—this has become the new norm in French politics. Presidential elections happen every five years and with the legislative elections that ensue five weeks later being a mere formality, with the electorate reflexively giving the newly (re)elected president’s party an outright or working majority. This is in the logic of the Fifth Republic in any case, and is what has happened in the five previous occasions when there were back-to-back presidential and legislative elections. So the legislatives are now an afterthought. After the climax of the 2nd round of the presidential election—the preeminent contest in the French political system—politicians are figuratively out of gas and voters’ interest in electoral politics plummets, and despite the importance of the National Assembly. And the victor is all but known in advance.

This legislative campaign was particularly listless. There were few debates, either nationally or locally, not in my constituency at least. In the latter, the incumbent LR deputy, who is also the mayor of my banlieue, could not run for reelection—thanks to François Hollande’s law on the non cumul des mandats—so he installed a retired 79-year-old university professor and local pol as his anointed successor. Not exactly le renouvellement. The PS candidate—who finished in sixth place on Sunday—is a municipal councilor in a neighboring banlieue and distinctly lacks notoriety. And the REM candidate—who will almost certainly win next Sunday—is utterly unknown in the constituency (I can never remember his name myself). And there were relatively few REM militants (“fans,” or marcheurs, they’re called) in evidence in the markets and at the RER stations, where most leafleting and general contact with voters happens. There was also a dearth of assesseurs at the bureaux de vote, on Sunday as well as in the two rounds of the presidential, indicating a demobilization of the legacy parties and a relatively low level of organization of REM locally.

The collapse of the Socialists: It was expected but still. For the PS and its allies to receive 9.5% of the vote—and finish behind La France Insoumise and the Front National—is probably the final nail in the coffin. One does not shed tears for the PS as a party—or for the electoral repudiation of hacks like Jean-Christophe Cambadélis—but seeing Benoît Hamon and other worthy personalities humiliated in the 1st round was tough. And it is particularly so for the younger generation of future leaders, e.g. Matthias Fekl, who was eliminated, and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who will most certainly be next Sunday. It’s not fair mais c’est comme ça. The PS has been decapitated. It will henceforth not have a single deputy from the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, or Haute-Garonne—which would be akin to, e.g., the Democratic Party losing its entire congressional delegation in Massachusetts and New York state—and has lost decades-long bastions across the country (in the Seine-Maritime, Landes, across the southwest; and it risks losing all but one or two of its constituencies in the Île-de-France). The PS now has no leaders—present or potential—and, with its public money (linked to the number of elected officials) about to dry up, will soon be bereft of financial resources. The PS will likely have to sell or move out of its historic HQ on the Rue de Solférino, which will mark the symbolic, if not actual, death of the party. More importantly, the PS has no coherent message or anything to say to the electorate. Intellectually and programmatically, the Socialists are brain-dead. Merci, François Hollande. And most importantly of all, the party has lost its voters, most of them for good. A sizable portion have moved to REM and won’t be going back to any party that carries the PS label; and a smaller, though not insignificant, number has defected to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s FI. And they won’t be returning either. Parties do die, or, failing that, are reduced to rump factions in the low single digits that ally with larger parties but cannot wage elections on their own. This is no doubt what awaits the PS after next Sunday’s 2nd round.

It has been clear for a while now—and particularly since the primary of the “Belle Alliance Populaire”—that the PS’s two major factions—the social liberals (Hollande, Manuel Valls) and leftists (Hamon, Arnaud Montebourg etc)—can no longer coexist in the same party. This is likewise with the Republican party, which suffered a severe setback on Sunday—notably in its bastions in the Île-de-France and parts of the east—and is now divided more than ever between the hard-rightists (Laurent Wauquiez, sarkozyistes) and Macron-compatible moderate conservatives (juppéistes et al). I’ve been hearing off and on over the past five years from UMP/LR activist students and friends—particularly during the Fillon vs. Copé and Sarkozy vs. Juppé battles—that they could not stand the other faction—for political and programmatic reasons, not just personality—and doubted they could remain in the same party with it. With Macron’s REM set to dominate politics for the next five years, the formal split of LR will likely happen sooner rather than later.

And the Front National: There were visions less than two months ago—by frontistes and others—of the FN sending up to 100 deputies to the Palais Bourbon after June 18th. LOL. Marine Le Pen looks sure to be elected in Hénin-Beaumont but may well be the FN’s sole deputy. The FN will be lucky if four of its candidates win on Sunday. That will, of course, not prevent people from continuing to brandish the FN épouvantail and issue dark warnings of how Marine Le Pen will win the next presidential election if Macron does or does not do this or that. Ouf. Épargne moi. C’est fini, le Front National.

France Inter’s Thomas Legrand, in the conclusion to his political editorial yesterday, summed up well a principal lesson of the 1st round

S’il est important de s’intéresser à la mécanique démocratique qu’un tel résultat implique, il ne faut quand même pas oublier de lire le message des urnes. Il ne s’agit pas seulement de renouvellement désidéologisé mais bien d’une confiance accordée à un homme qui s’est dit pro-européen, social-libéral en économie, progressiste, prônant une société dite bienveillante et d’optimiste. Ces mots peuvent paraître creux, mais toujours est-il que celui qui les a prononcés a largement gagné hier soir. Il n’y a pas d’enthousiasme (le taux de participation en atteste) mais les déclinistes, les souverainistes, les nostalgiques de la France sépia dont on disait qu’ils avaient gagné la guerre culturelle, ne sont pas au rendez-vous. La vraie majorité silencieuse en France qui, finalement s’est exprimée hier (ou s’est abstenue et a donc laissé faire) n’est pas pour le repli et le conservatisme que l’on croyait ambiants… et ce n’est pas le moindre des enseignements d’hier soir.

When the Macron/REM tsunami was announced on Sunday night, I was unsettled by the specter of a National Assembly so dominated by political novices. Over half of the REM candidates have never held elective office and with most of these having never even run for office. We’re dealing here with a party heavily comprised of people who have no experience whatever in politics, at either the retail level or in crafting legislation. And then there have been stories of REM’s rank amateurishness—of both its candidates and marcheurs—that I had been reading and hearing. For the anecdote, a couple of weeks ago I was with friends who live in a tony town in an upscale constituency in Paris’s western banlieue—which contains one downscale municipality—and have been active marcheurs for Macron. As they told me, a well-known community activist and Macron supporter from the downscale part of the constituency proposed her candidacy to REM. She would have been great, so my friends said, in view of her dynamism and diversity profile: the ideal candidate to run against the eternal LR incumbent, who, in addition to being an outspoken member of an LR hard right caucus, is a Bashar al-Assad apologist and male chauvinist pig to boot. But the community activist was rejected by the REM national candidacy commission, in favor of a lawyer from the constituency’s toniest town, who enjoyed no local notoriety and had zero political skills. Her incompetence as a campaigner was such that my macroniste friends said that they could not support her. So why was she chosen? No doubt because she could more easily finance her campaign (all REM candidates having to commit a minimum of €30,000 of their own money up front, to be reimbursed with public funds after the election if they receive over 5% of the vote—which every last one has). As it happens, the lawyer-candidate is, despite her zero political skills, sure to win next Sunday.

Contributing to my initial qualms over the REM tsunami was the specter of a National Assembly comprised of godillots (foot soldiers), of political ingénus approving as one every bill sent down by the Élysée and without debate. And the qualms were multiplied in view of Macron’s monarchical style and post-election rightward tilt on key issues (notably the Code du Travail and state of emergency; more on this later). But I’m a little less concerned now. REM deputies who will be elected next Sunday may be political novices—many though not all—but they are highly educated, professionally accomplished outside the world of politics, and with no a priori reason to act as godillots and approve without substantive debate or critical spirit whatever bill Macron or PM Édouard Philippe submits to them. It’s hard to imagine an assembly comprised of legislators who are, in effect, free agents and with professional options outside politics behaving as a chambre d’enregistrement.

Another thing: the REM candidates come from the center-left, center, and center-right, with the first one in greater number. The majority of candidates with a prior partisan engagement—mainly on the local level, in municipal councils—were in the PS. The members of the REM parliamentary group will probably agree on most issues but there will inevitably be cleavages. The prospect of frondeurs in the REM group is not to be excluded.

On the profile of the REM deputies-to-be, an American friend in Paris posted this on Facebook on Sunday night

Our new legislative representative [will likely be] Alexandre Aïdara. Where I live, in the 6th district of Seine Saint-Denis, abstention was 55 %. If a candidate wins less than 12.5% of votes by registered voters, they fail to qualify. So, former Socialist Justice Minister and longtime Socialist heavy here, Elisabeth Guigou, as she placed third, cannot run next Sunday. Result: Alexandre Aïdara, a brilliant Senegalese man who came to France on a mathematics scholarship, then was motivated to get into politics to fight racial discrimination he experienced here, got into the prestigious ENA (École Nationale d’Administration) and then worked with Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, switched to Macron’s party and ran to represent this district, [finished in first place with] 27 % of the vote. We met him at the farmers’ market a week ago. Affable man… [Not being a citizen] I couldn’t [vote for him] but am very pleased [that he is poised to win next Sunday].

The ethnic diversity of the new National Assembly is likely to be historic. French politics is going to be interesting over the next five years.

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In lieu of my own thoughts on the eve of the election—and I have a few—I am linking to two good articles on the general subject. One is Arthur Goldhammer’s pre-election analysis in The Atlantic, just up today, “Macron’s divide and conquer strategy: Can he pull off another election victory?” As usual, I agree with 98.5% of what Art has to say.

The other is a smart enquête in the latest NYT Magazine by freelance journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky, “Can a new generation in the banlieues change French politics?

I’ll have more on the election tomorrow and in the following days.

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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

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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.

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[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.”

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[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.”

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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.

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