RG TAKE: Macron enters a new phase of his Presidency

Emmanuel Macron broke his silence yesterday in a 12-minute address to the nation. Seen by many as a welcome change of tone and act of humility, the question is whether the costly, symbolic measures announced by Macron will be enough to take the steam out of the Gilets Jaunes movement – Rasmussen Global’s Chief Strategy Officer, […]

Emmanuel Macron broke his silence yesterday in a 12-minute address to the nation. Seen by many as a welcome change of tone and act of humility, the question is whether the costly, symbolic measures announced by Macron will be enough to take the steam out of the Gilets Jaunes movement – Rasmussen Global’s Chief Strategy Officer, Fabrice Pothier, gives his take. 

What is already clear is that the address marked the end of the first chapter of Macron’s presidential mandate: one where he proceeded unabated with his reforms with little margin for negotiation while focusing on cutting France’s public deficit below three percent. The Macron doctrine of domestic reforms + controlled public deficit = new weight on the European scene, is now a thing of the past.

That does not mean some of the key ingredients were not already in jeopardy. The  economic forecasts for France in 2018 and 2019 were already lower than expected. Convincing France’s European partners to undertake a full reform of the Eurozone, mainly Germany and the Nordic countries, has also proven more difficult than expected. This does not mean Macron will give up his aggressive reform agenda; but it does mean that not only the tone but the rhythm and method of reforms will be different from now on: more consultative with civil society but also with local authorities, especially the disgruntled Mayors. For the first time, the President blinked in face of public protest; trade unions won’t forget that when they battle some his future reforms. It also means that the long-needed overhaul of France’s costly territorial policy will be much more difficult to follow through as Macron cannot afford to alienate the Mayors who emerge as an important beltway between the people and Paris.

In fact, it won’t take long to see if the new Macron method works with the two biggest and likely most sensitive reforms set for 2019: the pension system reform and the institutional reform (put on hold after the summer controversy over an Élysée security adviser). Here, Macron and his government will face trade unions and local authorities who have found a new lease of life with the Gilets Jaunes. Not that they have managed to channel the quasi-spontaneous anger but because they will sit in front of Macron with a simple message: better with us than an angry street mob.

The big political test will come in late May 2019 with the European elections. The opposition parties, mostly extreme left and right, just need to turn the graffiti left by the angry mob into slogans and turn the street protests into a protest vote. Macron and his young party will face the uphill challenge of mobilizing a 2016 electorate, which was always disparate but is now largely dispersed between those pinched by the reforms like the retirees and those disappointed by too slow a pace of transformation. En Marche’s salvation might come from Macron going more decisively to his left on fiscal policy and double-down on European taxation of large technology companies. But that will create further friction, not only with Berlin but also with the Dutch Prime Minister and his political group, ALDE, Macron’s soon to be allies in the European Parliament.

In essence this is a new chapter that Macron and France enter together with a much less certain storyline. However, the President and his party remain the dominant political power in front of gritty but weak opposition parties. And Macron’s capacity to bounce back should not be underestimated.

Fabrice Pothier has over 15 years of experience in leading international public policy campaigns and strategic communications efforts.

Before joining Rasmussen Global, he served as Head of Policy Planning for two successive NATO Secretary Generals – Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Jens Stoltenberg. During this time, he developed some of the Alliance’s most consequential initiatives and wrote some landmark speeches and articles. Prior to this, Pothier founded Carnegie Europe as part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which quickly became one of Europe’s leading think-tanks. He was the co-founder of the International Council on Security and Development where he led global advocacy campaigns on public health and security issues. He started his career in London as a senior risk analyst for Japanese energy group Osaka Gas.

Fabrice Pothier holds two Masters degrees in communications and politics from the UK and France, and speaks French, English and Spanish. Contact him at FPO@rasmussenglobal.com

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