Monday, January 2, 2017

Narrowing the Field

FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau sees the French presidential race as a 3-way contest among Fillon, Le Pen, ... and Macron. He's not alone in already counting out the eventual Socialist candidate even before the debates and the primary of the Belle Alliance Populaire. But is he right to do so?

It has to be granted that Macron has played his cards awfully well. His political timing has been impeccable--and at this stage of a political battle, timing is often everything. But vagueness has also been an essential part of his strategy, and at some point this will begin to cost him. Macron is running as the new kid on the block, and for that it suffices to say "Out with the old!" But "In with the new!" comes next. Voters and, more importantly, journalists will then want to know what "the new" looks like, and what is Macron actually offering beyond what is in la loi Macron (and El Khomri) and the Attali Commission report (and perhaps the Gallois report)?

For Munchau it all comes down to Europe. Macron is for, Le Pen is against, and Fillon is ambivalent. Macron, moreover, is a federalist, and Munchau approves, while wondering if he can get Germany to go along with whatever plan he may (or may not) have for strengthening the EU's central institutions. In essence, Munchau is endorsing Macron for his vagueness while condemning Le Pen for her clarity. But in the upcoming primary debates Macron is likely to become a punching bag for all the Socialists, since he is really the man they are running against, more than they are running against one another. This may force him to descend from the cloud on which he is currently floating above the fray.

Or maybe not. Some politicians seem charmed, and for the moment Macron is enjoying a peculiar état de grâce. Pourvu que ça dure. But for now Munchau seems to have captured the feeling that the French race has narrowed, that the Socialists are out of it, and that Macron could (according to a couple of polls) edge past Fillon to become Marine Le Pen's opponent in round 2. If so, it would be the most stunning political rise in the history of the Fifth Republic. This in itself seems to have captivated the media and perhaps the public. But is it real? No one has yet cast a single vote for Macron for anything. And since he has refused to take part in the primaries, his first test will come in the Big Show. Until then we won't really know whether he's for real.

P.S. I should add that Macron has abandoned his vagueness in one important respect. He forthrightly praised Merkel for her refugee policy, which he says saved Europe's "dignity." And implicitly he criticized France for not doing enough. This is a courageous stand and not calculated to win votes. He deserves credit for it.


FrédéricLN said...

I wonder if Macron should be really considered "vague", as he already published a large number of detailed stands on a wide range of issues. Not including the Attali Commission report that he drafted — ideas there are not necessarily his, but the reporter must have shared the encompassing vision and the specific inquiry into each "decision" in this report.

Maybe the uncertainty is about what he would *do*, not think or propose. The most realistic detailed propositions are quite conservative, in the meaning of not changing much. Macron certainly suggests to let fall some totems or institutions in place since decades and not delivering anything (as Tony Blair did), this will save some money but not influence that much reality.

A Parisian (or French) way of thinking is to also imagine detailed "decisions" that are unrealistic and totally detached from the real world, such as crating dozens of "ecopolis" (fully new towns) in the Attali report. I try to translate the scheme into English : "For things to start working, it' really required that this and that stop, and that we take at last the necessary means of doing this and that". Which is an excuse for not doing anything — "A pity that it is impossible… We can only cope the present state of things and hope it will not get worse until an opportunity comes to really change".

I did not hear Macron falling into that kind of sophism during his campaign. But I fear that is exactly what his supporters and allies might hope from him: this curious mix of "social-démocrate" focus on adjusting minor issues and locate your hopes in areas known as unreachable. New skin for the old ceremony.

Massilian said...

Instead of digesting the daily twisting and churning "analysis" and speculations from the media experts, I decided to rely on my instinct which I don't consider more unreliable than their changing views.
I have a feeling that the French voters are already exhausted with the "political debate" linked to the presidential election.
I believe the primary of the left shall halas not attract as many voters as they hope, because it is just a matter of supporting one half of the socialist party against the other and whoever wins the primary won't stand a chance to make it to the second round of the election. Melenchon will benefit from a chunk of the Montebourg voters and Macron will benefit from a chunk of the Valls voters. Exit the PS, which has to solve its internal problems before solicitng more responsabilities.
I also believe against most experts that Marine Le Pen already ate her "pain blanc" (cake), she has been around for too long, she softened her statements too late, she is also a certain looser since she can't possibly win the presidential election. Not very attractive for people who are fed up... and I truly believe French voters for once may wish to vote FOR something and not against. So I feel Fillon will win a significant portion of the "moderate" FN voters, those who are tired of protesting and wish to see at least something implemented, Fillon represents a credible conservative right.
On the other hand, Macron might very well make it to the second round.He should do better than Melenchon and Marine.
As for the final score, it might be very close to dead heat but France will not be split between Right and Left anymore but between les Anciens et les Modernes. Which I find more interesting.

brent said...

@ Frédéric LN: I'm interested in your enthusiasm for EM but where do you find his "detailed stands" on issues? His website ritually repeats words like "innovation" and "change", but without any substantial meanings attached. (I don't count the Attali Commission report, for which he was a quite junior deputy reporter, not an author.)

@Massilian:Do you put EM among the Moderns? My impression is that he marks a return to the 90s, a second coming of Blair or Bill Clinton, without substantive critique of inequality and the financialized economy, or sustainable energy policy, public infrastructure spending ... just a business-friendly suspension of worker protections and 'personal responsibility' in place of social supports. What am I missing?

@Art: I agree that his support for Merkel's refugee policy is EM's finest moment so far--but isn't it also a shrewd maneuver to capture the whole pro-EU side of the electoral spectrum? Especially if, as some predict, he will be running against either Fillon or LePen in the 2nd round, his taking a strong EU stance feels like highly strategic positioning (as well as a principled one).

Massilian said...

@Brentwill offer a pleasant modernity for everyone (he was a banker). I just think the paradigm has changed. The best description of political modernity I can suggest can be found in NKM's - interesting- book : "Nous avons changé de monde", and I haven't and won't read Macron's "Revolution" (a very old battered, cliché and dumb title !). Since NKM won't make it, he is the only "modern" left.
I do believe that "personal responsability" for exemple since you mention it, is a very powerful idea with an undue "bad" reputation, and it should be glorified again, just think in terms of global warming, ecology, health, business creativity, and a few more.
Of course it is not new but it is in tune with the present time. I am not saying we should get rid of "l'état providence" but we certainly do have to be bolder than just burden the young with the cost of the "acquis" of the more privileged older generations.
I haven't seen any fresh daring challanging idea coming out from the PS, social, political, cultural, you name it, in ages... "Hé oh la gauche..." it is not asleep, it is dead !

FrédéricLN said...

@brent: thanks; enthusiasm might not be the word: I consider Emmanuel Macron as a decent competitor. He makes me think of Georges Pompidou in, say, 1957: competent on many matters, well aware of the ways of the mighty ones, unable to do much politics by himself, not that interested in any deep impetus (not to say, in revolutions). The perfect Prime Minister, if he finds the right President.

I had in mind this interview — not true "shocks" actually, also not meaningless words.