France’s Political Revolution?

Commentary by Louis VIS (Traduction Française)

‘If we do not act, it will be too late. It comes down to what this country [France] stands for. It refuses to reform itself. It is a country that moves forward through revolutions’ (Jacques Attali 2013).

With the French Presidential elections less than a year away and Marine Le Pen set to make it through to the second round of the campaign, politicians across France’s main political parties are scrambling to find a suitable rival. On the right, the ‘Parti Républicain’ (PR) will probably see the Mayor of Bordeaux and former Minister, Alain Juppé, who at 70 years old will face the energetic former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. On the left, whilst François Hollande, the current President, may want to seek a second term the ‘Parti Socialiste’ (PS) may want to field a different candidate. Indeed, Mr. Hollande’s public opinion ratings are at an all-time low, making his re-election highly unlikely. Alternative PS candidates are: Manuel Valls (Prime Minister), Marie-Nöelle Lienemann (Former Housing Minister and MEP), Arnaud Montebourg (Former Industry Minister) and Benoît Hamon (Education Minister).

Claude Truong-Ngoc CC BY SA 3.0
Emmanuel Macron aims to become France’s next President by bringing something new to politics – by Claude Truong, licensed under CC BY SA 3.0

One potential dark-horse for President might be the current Minister for the Economy, Industry, Digital Affairs, Emmanuel Macron. Since his appointment on 24th August 2014, the former investment banker has pushed for business-friendly reforms. These include reforms of the 35h week, wealth tax and the privileged status of French civil servants. This pro-business attitude, sometimes at odds with French socialist values, have unsurprisingly caused numerous tensions between Ministers within the government. Consequently, Mr Macron decided to launch a new cross party political movement called ‘En Marche!’, which translates as ‘Forward!’ or ‘On the Move!’. His aim is clear. To tear down regulations that protect vested interest, and carry the country forward. Whilst his views might also seem at odds with the policies of the last few governments, a growing number of citizens agree with them. Many do not support the ongoing trade union strikes. Indeed, the country’s loud trade unions are becoming increasingly less representative of the population. Talking at his first rally in Paris last week, he told an audience: ‘This movement, because it is the movement of hope, and because our country needs it…will carry it together to 2017 and through to victory’. Whilst not yet publicly announcing that he will be standing for election next year, his intentions seem clear.

What makes Mr. Macron so different to his Socialist colleagues is that he does not belong to a political party and has never run for elected office in the past. On the one hand, this makes him look like a young, dynamic and ambitious politician with fresh, new and innovative ideas. On the other hand, this also means that he does not have any political anchor in either a party or an electoral base. Whilst popularity may help to make him the man of the hour in next year’s Presidential election, should he decide to stand, it does not guarantee him a place in the second round.

Public Domain
‘En Marche’ is the first cross party movement in Europe – Public domain.

As it stands, French politics desperately needs a revolution. Yet for many voters, the only person capable of it is Marine Le Pen. Indeed, the French establishment and mainstream political parties have run out of steam and seem to be making the same mistake as the ‘Remain’ campaign in the UK’s EU referendum. Rather than making the positive case for liberalism and globalisation, they are telling voters about the dangers of voting for the far-right. Mr. Macron has made it clear that his aim is to give people something to vote for rather than against. As he so clearly explains, France is paralysed, depressed and stuck. France needs to change and move forward. ‘En Marche!’ seems to finally offer France the chance to embrace modernisation and change for the better.

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