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Did Emmanuel Macron break France? – POLITICS

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Expressed by artificial intelligence.

John Lichfield is a former foreign editor of the Independent and was the newspaper’s correspondent in Paris for 20 years.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron promised a new consensual policy. He would be, he said, a revolutionary in costume, dismantling vested interests and breaking down the barriers that restricted opportunity and stifled French prosperity.

As recently as last June, Macron spoke of “a new mode of governance”. The French were, he told French regional newspapers, “tired of the reforms that come from above”.

Nine months later, riots broke out in several French cities. There are blocked highways, transport and energy strikes, and mountains of uncollected waste in the French capital as Macron used his special constitutional power to impose a pension reform hated by 70% of French adults .

Far from being a “revolutionary in costume”, Macron has become a traditional French leader faced with the immobilization of the French. Like Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande before him, he is trying to reform France against his will.

And yet, there is something hysterical about the current political mood in France that goes beyond the protests facing Macron’s predecessors.

This is partly Macron’s fault. He promised a consensual and bottom-up approach, removing vested interests and the fixed thinking of political parties and unions.

He ended up imposing, almost by edict, a fairly modest pension reform that was rejected by the vast majority of voters and distorted (successfully) by the unions and opposition parties he hoped to marginalize.

Macron has left almost all the selling of the pension reform to his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, and the rest of his government. They have done a rough job to sell the confused but sensible reform of a system in permanent deficit and which will struggle to survive if the legal retirement age is not raised gradually.

But is this a “brutal” and “violent” reform, as even moderate union leaders claim? Barely.

The official retirement age in France will gradually increase from 62 to 64 by 2030. In other words, the French will still retire earlier in seven years than most Europeans currently do.

The hysteria in the pension debate reflects a turbulent political landscape. Since the old left-right system collapsed a decade ago (which Macron himself encouraged and took advantage of), politics in France have become nastier and more polarized.

Like his predecessors, President Emmanuel Macron is trying to reform France against his will | Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images

The left is more emphatically on the left. The right drifted to the extreme right. Macron never properly institutionalized or channeled his “new center”.

He is accused on the left as on the right of “trashing” or “breaking” France. In the 15 months following his first electoral victory in 2021, he faced an unprecedented popular rebellion against petrol and diesel taxes in the French countryside and suburbs by the yellow vest movement.

In the 11 months following his re-election in April last year, he now faces the biggest union protests in two decades, which threaten to turn into an outright insurgency.

But did Macron “break” France?

Unemployment under his leadership fell from 9.4% to 7.2%. Youth unemployment fell even more dramatically. Macron’s labor law changes and payroll tax cuts – disputed at the time – may claim some of the credit.

Public health service spending has risen significantly for the first time this century (but hospitals are struggling and doctors are complaining about their low pay). The French have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s spike in energy prices reasonably well thanks to extensive government spending programs.

The failure of Macron and his people to communicate their case is often baffling – a mixture of arrogance and resignation.

The pension dispute is a good example. Most of the most militant workers – in the railways, the Paris metro, in power plants – defend special pension schemes that allow them to retire in their 50s.

These schemes are permanently in the red: 3 billion euros per year for railway workers alone. The deficit is covered by the State, that is to say by the taxes of people who retire much later than railway workers. Most special offers will be phased out as part of the Macron-Borne reform.

The government has been strangely reluctant to use financial arguments of this kind. As a result, the reform has been successfully described by the left and the far right as a “banking” reform – as if a country with an accumulated public debt of 3,000 billion euros (114% of GDP) does not have to worry about its creditors.

And now? The troubles will subside. Borne’s government will almost certainly survive a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly on Monday. His reward will almost certainly be returned by Macron within a month.

The new Prime Minister will try to make a fresh start, but the rest of Macron’s second term will be clouded by the clash over pensions. He has promised to reduce unemployment to 5.5% (i.e. full employment) by the end of his second term, but it will be a struggle for his centrist minority government to pass the changes to the right to work that he wishes.

Did Emmanuel Macron break France? – POLITICS
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is expected to survive a vote of no confidence in the French National Assembly | Pool photo by Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP via Getty Images

Above all, Macron has no obvious successor. Several centrist politicians aspire to follow him, but the Macron “brand” and approach will not be a big vote winner in 2027.

He failed to establish a direct link with the French people, suppressing political parties and trade unions. He failed to convince the French that they suffer from blockages and the vested interests of special interest groups.

Macron has, in some ways, succeeded. “Macronism”, as it was first defined, has failed.

With the left radicalized and splintered and the centre-right paralyzed by selfish infighting, Marine Le Pen and the far right wait patiently in the wings.

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