French Puzzle Over Macron as Their New President Gathers Up Power


But it has also led some critics to accuse Mr. Macron of “authoritarian” tendencies. A weekly newsmagazine’s cover called him “Jupiter.” The hyperbole has been widely mocked. But few doubt that Mr. Macron has assumed the role of master string-puller, operating from a political planet he has created for himself.

France’s rigid labor code, which Mr. Macron says kills jobs, will be revamped by decree, largely bypassing Parliament, which is in his pocket anyway. Much of the antiterrorism state of emergency, in force since the November 2015 terror attacks and opposed by civil liberties advocates, will be permanently enshrined in law.

Such quick, bold steps have begun to sow questioning, even unease. The latest demonstration of what some are characterizing as a Napoleonic style was Mr. Macron’s announcement that he would address both houses of Parliament in the regal setting of Versailles on Monday.

Billed as a kind of French state of the nation address, the move is unknown in the Fifth Republic outside moments of severe crisis.

Yet the choice was typical of Mr. Macron, even if the only direct precedent goes back to the mid-19th-century presidency of Napoleon’s nephew Louis Napoleon.

It will be his show alone, without the intermediary of the press — he has given one newspaper interview since his election on May 7 — while upstaging his own prime minister, backed solely by the gold and mirrors of Versailles, and facing solo 925 parliamentarians, many obliged only to him.

“It’s a signal, an affirmation that he is the country’s ultimate pilot,” said Gilles Savary, a veteran Socialist politician recently defeated in his parliamentary re-election bid by one of Mr. Macron’s novice candidates.

Photo

The first session of the newly elected French Parliament in Paris on Tuesday. Many of its members are beholden to Mr. Macron.

Credit
Francois Mori/Associated Press

The man not afraid of inviting President Trump — deeply unpopular all over Europe — for Bastille Day can afford to get crosswise, temporarily at least, with public opinion.

“Three transgressions in one day,” Le Monde began an editorial on Mr. Macron on Thursday, referring to Versailles, Mr. Trump and the new French president’s refusal to grant a traditional Bastille Day interview. (An aide told Le Monde that the president’s “complex thoughts” didn’t lend themselves to mere news interviews.)

The joke is now on those who mocked the title of Mr. Macron’s campaign book, “Revolution,” when it appeared last fall.

“It’s a very personalized way of wielding power, very Bonapartist,” Mr. Savary said.

“Here we are, with the first consul,” he continued, alluding to Napoleon’s final steppingstone before empire. “There’s this prodigious ease of movement. He’s permanently taking the initiative.”

And that is how Mr. Macron is exercising power, floating above the institutions beneath him and advancing a government project that is all about concentrating authority, both in form and in substance.

It is a direct echo of the Napoleonic tactic of keeping opponents off balance by always being on the offensive. Power in France is flowing back to the center — Mr. Macron. “It is him that administers,” Mr. Savary said. “It’s hypercentralized.”

Aides say that the legislating by ordinance while rewriting the labor code speeds up the process.

The government is spending the summer consulting with leery trade unions. But there are no illusions about the ultimate decider: Mr. Macron. As one union leader was quoted as saying, you might pick from the menu, but you can’t choose a dish outside it.

The most contentious item, a move to strictly limit payouts from labor boards to fired workers, appears to be off limits for discussion. Employers want it because they say large potential indemnities are a hindrance to hiring.

On the security front, exceptional measures — particularly searches and seizures and house arrests — will now essentially be decided by Mr. Macron’s Interior Ministry, with little review from the judicial branch.

The ministry can also decide to close down mosques if it doesn’t like what is being said in them. Never mind that none of these measures have stopped further terror attacks since 2015.

France’s public defender of civil liberties, the former justice minister Jacques Toubon, has denounced the Macron government’s effort, as have the Paris bar and others, for infringing on the rights of citizens.

As for migrants — in Paris alone, some 1,200 are camped outside a reception center in the city’s north, with 200 more arriving each week — Mr. Macron’s lips say “humanity,” but his hand says something else.

Photo

A gathering of the Nuit Debout (Up All Night) movement against the French government’s proposed labor reforms in Paris last year. France’s rigid labor code, which Mr. Macron says kills jobs, will be revamped by decree.

Credit
Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

His tough interior minister, Gérard Collomb, has refused to open a new reception center at Calais, where some 600 migrants have once again congregated despite the French government’s demolition of a 7,000-plus-migrant encampment there in October.

Outraging humanitarian groups, Mr. Collomb called Calais a “fixation abscess.” He is one of President Macron’s earliest and most steadfast supporters.

Yet, like him or not, the consensus seems to be that the new president possesses ruthlessness, cunning and tactical skill, all at once. “M as in Macron or Machiavelli,” read one recent headline in Le Monde.

“There’s a little bit of mystery about him,” Mr. Savary said — perhaps an echo of the Machiavellian precept that leaders are not bound to reveal too much.

“He wants to be both lion and fox,” said Jean-Yves Boriaud, a Machiavelli specialist at the University of Nantes. “Machiavelli said the two must coexist. This is enlightening. Authority and ruse.”

Mr. Macron, with his crafty disassembling of the country’s traditional political parties and his show of force against the strongmen of Russia and America, is playing the two at once.

His break-things-along-the-way style is also in tune with two of his fundamental inclinations.

He admires the brusque Silicon Valley culture and is trying to encourage it in France, visiting technology salons in preference to France’s ailing and neglected hinterlands.

Political allies who tarnish his reformist image, like the four tainted cabinet members fired so far, are tossed out “like an old rag,” as the National Front leader Marine Le Pen put it. With a solid majority in Parliament, Mr. Macron no longer needed the deputies who several of these affiliated-party ministers brought with them.

In addition, Mr. Macron believes France cannot be reformed, but instead is “a country that transforms itself, a country of revolution,” as he put it in his one newspaper interview, last week.

The ambitions are grandiose. His coming to power is “the beginning of a French renaissance and I hope a European one as well,” he said in the interview, with Le Figaro and other European newspapers. “A renaissance that will permit the rethinking of great national, European and international equilibriums.”

The far-left France Unbowed movement and its Communist allies are boycotting Monday’s speech at Versailles, calling Mr. Macron “pharaoh-like.”

Hard-left trade unionists and their allies in Parliament are already promising to be in the streets come September and the return from the summer break, a threat and reality that have thwarted decades of attempts at change in France.

The sequel to this debut could be messy.

Continue reading the main story



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *