Macron has the deputies but not the people’s consent for his far reaching reforms

14 May 2017 –Emmanuel Macron delivers the investiture speech as President of the French Republic. (From https://en-marche.fr).

The French electoral system of ‘two Sundays’ has permitted Emmanuel Macron to become President, despite being the first choice of only 24.015% of the voters on the first electoral round of Sunday 23 April. Then, exactly for the same reason, his newly born party “La République en marche” (REM or LREM) is now estimated to have elected around 360 deputies in yesterday’s second and final round, a landslide of around two thirds of the 577 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly. The truth remains though that his politically misty party was voted just by one third of voters (32.3%) in the first round on Sunday 11 June, and almost by the same percentage yesterday.

However, the ‘two Sundays system’ and the ‘single member constituencies’ made all that possible. Let alone for abstention, which on Sunday 7 June surpassed the 50% benchmark, reaching 51.3%. Yesterday non-participation soared further at around 62%. However this is a country where people go en mass to the polls, if they feel they can have an effect on the way the country is run. They proved that on Sunday 23 April with a turnout of 77.77%. Only 24.015% voted for Macron then.

Exploiting the system

As a standard rule, the second round is a contest between the two candidates who got the two highest percentages of votes on the first Sunday. In the second round, the winner takes the seat. In the past elections the presence of Marine Le Pen and her National Front party candidates in the second round, actually forced most of the voters to either abstain or vote for the other guy. This why Macron won the Presidency on 7 May and yesterday for the same reason his party candidates got elected, and will pack the National Assembly room in high numbers.

Many French Presidents though have found out the hard way, that it’s one thing to win an election and quite another to govern this difficult country. The French get rather too often to the streets to resist government policies. Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande found it extremely difficult to apply even a part of their own programs. After five years in the Élysée Palace though, both of them had no chance of winning a second tenure in this splendid edifice. Trade unions, civil society organizations, widespread unrest and administrative traditions invalided their authority.

High expectations

Macron has promised across-the-board changes in the public sector and the regulative environment in the economy. Understandably, he is to cut down the public sector and restrict the state’s intervention in markets. He primarily plans to deregulate the up to a certain extent inflexible labor market and abridge the rules in the financial sector. From what he has said so far he is not to do all that through the regular legislative procedure. Instead he counts to use his Presidential prerogative, to introduce policies by Directives.

However, his success or failure to transform the largely uncompetitive French economy into a more productive machine, will also determine his ability to realize his foreign strategy. His European Union vision for a closer cooperation with Germany and a more federalist EU, presupposes the successful accomplishment of his internal reform policies. This is a precondition, if he wants to avoid the bad luck of his two predecessors, who were obliged to finally kneel before the economic might of Germany.

It may be true that after the Brexit, France is the only nuclear power of the EU, and this is a political argument in the dealings between Paris and Berlin. Yet, when it comes to money and pain France is a slack competitor to Germany. That’s why Berlin has managed to impose its austere and egotistic policy lines in almost all the major EU issues. The most important amongst them is the negative attitude towards the Southern countries. Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal have in vain being asking for more relaxed economic policies. Germany though has effectively managed to block it and promotes instead her austere ideas.

Always tantalizing Greece

Last week came the first opportunity for the new Paris government to flex her muscles and test her ability to influence the European affairs. In detail, during last Thursday’s Eurogroup the 19 EU ministers of Eurozone were expected to decide partial debt forgiveness for Athens. France was supporting the Greek demand, against Germany’s defiance. Indirectly, Paris wanted to show that Bruno Le Maire, the new minister for Finance was a kind of advocate of the EU Southern member states interests.

At the end of the day, what Le Maire managed to attain was just a vague and flimsy verbal Eurogroup comfort for Athens, promising once more that before the end of the year her debt sustainability will again be discussed. The fact that the International Monetary Fund denied to put any money in the Greek program, clearly means that the country’s debt is not sustainable. Berlin insists to penalize Athens, denying to honor the German reassurances of November 2012 for an effective debt haircut, in order to make it bearable.

Berlin defies Paris

Undoubtedly, Berlin will not concede its prerogative over Europe’s economic matters, without effective pressure from Paris plus the South. But when it comes to money there is no other kind of efficient persuasion, than enough…money. And for the time being France cannot compete with Germany in this unforgiving platform. Berlin still has the upper hand in Eurozone’s affairs, and France has to win an equal influence.

In short, if the new French President really aims at a truly federalist Europe without a German prerogative, he must first succeed in his plans to revive the faltering economy of his country. If he fails, like his predecessors, the more federalist EU of his vision will end up as a Germanic Europe. The two thirds majority in the National Assembly, his one year old REM party doesn’t mean much in this respect.

Softer on Britain

Last but not least, Macron’s more relaxed attitude towards Brexit, has to assume a more tangible content, again against the German boldness. He has recently left open the possibility of a British reunification in the EU, in contrast with the German, “out is out”. The fact that Michel Barnier, an old French political fox is the head EU’s negotiator for Brexit, doesn’t mean that Germany won’t be able to dominate in the procedures. As noted above, when it comes to money, only money matters. Rather sooner than later then, Macron’s capabilities will be tested.

In conclusion, Emmanuel Macron has raised the stakes very high, in order to win the Presidency and the absolute majority in the legislative. Nevertheless, the upper middle class, the rich French and the country’s elite, who voted for him as a first political choice, are not enough to secure a groundbreaking Macron administration.

 

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