More king than president?
It’s a long time since Emmanuel Macron rode to presidential power on a wave of promises, many related to public spending and reforming the labour market. Now that it’s time to deliver on those promises, the people are a little less enthusiastic…
Three months of disruption lie ahead, as the first of the planned railway walkouts saw around 75% of staff strike. More than half of the French public are against the strikes, but there’s a significant fear of sneaking privatisation, and Macron’s diplomacy may be the difference between success and failure for his reforms.
And what’s behind these reforms? The SNCF train system carries a big old bundle of debt, and France’s public spending total stands at 59% of GDP, compared to Germany’s 44% and the UK’s 39%. Economic growth and a cut in the unemployment rate are his targets too. Social mobility is a stated concern, but few people could miss the irony in spending an average €250 a day on Macron’s hair and makeup when the public purse strings want tightening. When France’s royalty and nobility found themselves on the sharp end of the guillotine, it was by reason of their unreal existence and complete disconnect from the people; is Macron more king than president?
Stating that he wouldn’t yield to “the lazy, the cynics or the extreme”, as he did back in September, certainly has that monarchical touch, and February’s finger-pointing at farmers at the Salon de l’Agriculture lacked the common touch. But could his forceful nature not only see France’s economy grow, but its stature on the world stage too? His recent words directed at Donald Trump, in response to the stand-off about trade tariffs, certainly show a refusal to be cowed: “We won’t talk at all with a country if it is with a gun to our heads.”
Talks at the EU, where Macron would like to see greater harmony, have meanwhile been complicated by the rise in populism in Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy, if not its most prosperous. The president’s hopes for harmony in taxation, minimum wages in all EU countries and a dedicated Eurozone finance minister and budget certainly seem ambitious; he may find common ground with Angela Merkel, but the Dutch prime minister’s words of “It’s not a French-German Europe” don’t bode well for reform.
All in all, it’s enough for a king to want to tear his expensively coiffed hair out.