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  • Published in Opinion
beware of snakes

Fair warning. Photo: freeaussiestock.com

Despite a fresh-faced exterior, Emmanuel Macron is offering nothing beyond more of the same political privilege for the wealthy, argues Josh Newman

[Macron] has pushed a new kind of public language.  But the content is old: deregulation, financial bonuses for the richest in society, and a lack of social security.

Such is the verdict of Iñigo Errejon, key member of Spanish left party, Podemos, in an interview with Alain Salles in Le Monde (23 March 2018).  It is a brilliant summary of why we should all be extremely suspicious of Emmanuel Macron and the kind of politics that he represents.

It is impossible to avoid the word ‘centrist’ when talking about Macron.  Despite how clearly it appears to define him and his type, it is a word without much substance, used pejoratively by critics from right and left and as a badge of honour by those who promote this kind of ‘third way’ politics.  It was certainly a huge part of Macron’s election campaign that he was taking the best bits from the right and the left and it implicitly drew on the old hidden wolf of the ‘socially liberal fiscal conservative’.

Presumably his supposed left credentials come from his days as a senior figure in the Parti Socialiste where he was Minister of Economy and Finance until he left to pursue his own presidential campaign.  Remembering that Macron presented himself as someone who was a break from the establishment and also someone who would borrow from left and right, there are two main reasons why neither of these portrayals are credible.

Firstly, he was a major participant in the rightward march of the PS and by the time he left the party had no real left wing credentials remaining.  The second point is obvious but no less important: he was a senior minister in the government which directly preceded his own administration.  It is therefore manifestly ridiculous for him to claim to represent any sort of split from the mainstream.  Equally, if he is claiming to pick policies from the left and right to create something new, but is picking from a centrist party that is left only in name, then the result is a politics which has been completely widespread in recent decades: liberal conservatism with a smiley face.  That said, he does not appear to be as practised as many of his global colleagues at the affable neoliberal smile.

His presidency so far has been a direct continuation of his previous work in government and as a deal-broker for Rothschild1.  The ‘Macron Law’ of 2015 was a clear experiment in the tactics of corporate deregulation that have been at the forefront of his administration.  This law contained many seemingly innocuous reforms, aimed at modernizing France’s business structure.  Whilst it is true that professional legislation in France is extremely complex and bureaucratic in many ways, don’t let’s imagine that Macron’s aim is merely to sharpen up a cumbersome process for everybody.

Much like the present legislation he is trying to push through, it aimed at making life easier for employers.  We should remember as well that this ‘Macron Law’ was carried through by the archaic ’49.3’ loophole in the French political system that allows decrees to be passed without parliamentary consultation, with the only democratic recourse being a vote to dissolve the government.

At a simple level, employers in France complain that it is so difficult to fire workers that they are reluctant to hire people.  This is used to explain why French unemployment levels are around double those of Britain and Germany.  But we know that in the UK employment figures are distorted by the amount of precarious unemployment, so we should be suspicious of comparisons of this kind.

We have to ask ourselves: is a slight boost in national economic productivity really a good trade-off for employers being more easily able to fire workers?  After all, unless you believe in the good old trickle-down theory, we know where the benefits of a ‘modernized’ economy will end up.  France is already one of the world's strongest economies, loosening restrictions for employers will not improve the distribution of wealth.

This is why the current industrial action across France is so important and why Macron’s current task has been likened to Margaret Thatcher’s breaking of the miners’ strikes in the UK.  It is about much more than a transparent loosening of economic bureaucracy; it is about the neoliberal project to take French society in a direction where political power is completely tied to economic power and taken out of the hands of workers.

Aside from the mass strike action planned over the next few weeks, there is good reason to think that Macron’s actual popularity is much weaker than the presidential election results would suggest.  It is well known that many people voted for Macron in the second round only as a measure against the prospect of a LePen presidency, but more recently he has experienced a drop in popularity and made losses in all but one seat in the recent legislative elections.

A short glance back in time should show us that there is nothing new in a convincing, competent, sharper candidate bursting with policies of neoliberal reform being very popular in their initial campaign and then losing popularity once in office.  It happened to Tony Blair, to David Cameron, to Nicolas Sarkozy, and it will happen to Macron too.  

This is a president who has openly said that what France needs is more young people seeking to be millionaires.  To be clear, this is not a call for a healthy, ambitious workforce but rather the dream of maximum consolidation of wealth at the top of society.  It is an old trick and it cannot be allowed to pass.

 


[1] A position in which he became millionaire in one stroke by overseeing a deal with Nestlé in 2010.

 

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