Wednesday, 31 August 2016

FRANCE: Macron's resignation-Analysis

Emmanuel Macron, France's economy minister resigned from the government yesterday. Macron, a 38 year old politician who helped Mr Hollande to rise to power in 2012 and became of of the Socialist president's closest advisers at the ''Elysées'', broke away from his mentor.

Coming less than eight months before the presidential election, Macron's resignation is widely interpreted as part of a carefully orchestrated plan to run against his mentor. While Macron was once Hollande's protégé, he now represents a political threat to the president.

Since the launch in April of his political movement ''En Marche!!'', which means ''Forward'', many observers now believe he will seek to run in 2017 in a bid to become president at age 39. Macron has potential as new standard bearer, His youth is a sensation in a country that has been governed for decades by a group of politicians who all seem to look alike, with the same faces, the same names and the same résumés. He succeeds over and over in striking the right tone.He can sound conciliatory, but also brash and demanding. But he always remains polite and never raises his voice.

On Monday, Mr Hollande tried unsuccessfully to persuade Macron not to resign, and to back his attempt to seek re-election. But Macron refused. In 2012, Hollande made the former investment banker his economic adviser and brought him into the presidential palace after his election victory. Prior to his resignation, Macron enjoyed privileged access to the president. It was Macron, for example, who warned Hollande against the controversial ''supertax'' of the 75 percent on high earnings, saying that it would make France into a ''Cuba without the sun''. Shortly after he took office, Hollande introduced the tax anyway---and promptly withdrew it again. It was en embarrassment.

Then in August 2014, Hollande appointed Macron as minister. It was a coup for the president. Macron was young, smart and a fresh face. At the time, he appeared to be Hollande's last wildcard. Now, everyone is asking who has benefited from whom. Macron's movement ''En Marche!!''reportedly has some 50,000 members and 12,000 volunteers are said to work for him. He has hired the same specialists who designed the 2012 election campaign for Hollande.

It is odd. Even as the government he served continues almost every week to sink to record new lows in opinion polls, Macron is riding a growing wave of popularity. Approval ratings for the most unpopular president of the French Republic, Francois Hollande, fluctuate between 11 and 13 percent, whereas roughly half of the French electorate thinks that Macron would make a good head of state.

Macron is an exceptional phenomenon in times of nationwide discord. He stood out starkly from the cabinet of overridingly  colorless ministers, who often act just as haplessly as their president. Even the once-popular Prime Minister Manuel Valls is no longer particularly appreciated by the French and is widely seen as sullen and authoritarian. By contrast, Macron can say what he wants and people still like him. He can rave about Europe, which he views as major accomplishment, not obsolete concept. And he can praise German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her refugee policy and explain why France cannot remain the way it is: paralyzed, stuck and depressed.

Indeed, this is yet another reason why his colleagues in the Socialist Party cannot stand him. Some see him as too imposing and ambitious because he commented on issues that were outside his portfolio. For others, he is a ''wolf in sheep's clothing'', a neoliberal in disguise who is determined to undermine the French welfare states.

Macron does not feel that he should exercise restrain in expressing his opinion, but is there anything he has that he regretted afterwards? '' What I regret is that I have been unable to implement some of my ideas because of the political conditions for them were too difficult. He had not even been in office for five days when he came out in favor of abolishing the 35-hour week, which is considered sacrosanct in France. He also likes to criticize the privileged French civil servant status, which no longer has anything to do with reality, as he says, and urges young people to aspire to become billionaires. During a panel discussion he said that liberalism was a left-wing value. And he said that the life of an entrepreneur was harder than that of an ordinary employee.

Statements that would elsewhere at most sound banal have the potential to ignite a scandal in France. A left-wing economics minister in a pinstriped suit who skewers the doctrines of the left---and reaps applause for his actions from the right---violate a taboo in a country in which political life remains subject to a rigid right left paradigm.

To Macron's credit, he has jolted the French awake and striven to rouse the country from its state of stupefaction. Instead of seeking to appease the public, he sees it as his mission to galvanize the French into action. Moreover, this is coupled with a tremendous sense of self-confidence that consistently shines through and makes you wonder where in the world it comes from.

Indeed, Macron means business. He says that he wants to reinvent politics, that he wants a new deal for Europe, a new social contract for France. But he has never had to stand for election. His role models are the great socialist European politician Jacques Delors, and former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, a pragmatic reformer. Sometimes it seems as if Macron sees France as Sleeping Beauty and himself as the Prince.

It is balancing act. Macron, who portrays himself as ''antisystéme'' (non-conformist), has been the target of an increasing number of attacks--both in and outside the government. It is easy to overlook this nonconformism.

In accordance with the French caste system, Macron attended the best schools in the country, including the '' École nationale d'administration'' or ENA for short. But he has added a number of original notes to this rather traditional career path. Before he even reached the age of 30, he teamed up with philosopher Paul Ricoeur to write essays for the intellectual literary magazine ''Esprit''.

But there is one area in which he defies all conventions. Since 2007, Macron has been married to a woman who is 24 years his senior. Their romantic relationship goes back over two decades. Brigitte Trogneux was Macron's teacher at the Jesuit High School that he attended in his hometown of Amiens, where he grew up as the son of two physicians. The teacher and her pupil met every Friday, rewrote theatrical plays together and fell in love with each other. Macron was eventually sent by his parents to Paris, where he was to complete his high school education. But what they really expected is that he would forget the teacher. At the time, he vowed to her: '' Whatever you do, I will marry you'.

Macron is very popular among right-wing, older professional voters, has the opportunity now to expand his support base, isolating his once upon a time mentor Francois Hollande. Would that be enough to take Hollande's job next year? Do not panic, I will answer this question next year.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Getty Images -photo: Emmanuel Macron