Saturday, December 16, 2017

How Macron Circumvents His Own Ministers

Much was said during the campaign about Macron's lack of political experience and not enough about his intimate familiarity with the real levers of power in France, which are found not on the village marketplaces where politicians distribute their tracts but in the back offices of the various ministries. And now that he is in power, Macron has devised an efficient method of circumventing the politicians, including his own ministers, and reaching directly into those back offices in order to influence how the levers are pulled. His method is detailed in this article in Le Monde. I have long maintained that government in France is effective only when the chief executive forges an alliance with the top administrators. Conservatives used to know how to do this. The Socialists had something of the knack in the early Mitterrand years, when many young énarques in the ministries brought left-wing sympathies with them into the administration.

Macron knows from experience how the sausage is made. It's the secret of his effectiveness so far. He inspires all those departmental directors. Meanwhile, it's said the luster has begun to wear off for many REM deputies, especially those who came from the private sector. They are said to feel "useless." In their previous jobs they were VIPs, decision-makers, movers and shakers. Now they're legislators, who must sit all day day in the hémicycle just to raise their hands. I feel their pain.


Anonymous said...

Inviting people from civil society into your party list, or appointing them to cabinet, is nine times out of ten an exercise in window dressing. The rare exceptions to this rule tend to be lawyers or people from finance. The political talent in Macron's majority are all centrists politicians or refugees from the PS and the UMP. Macron is in such a good position because he has been able to rally the support of the entire French establishment across partisan divides. His party might have amounted to something if he had lost the election and was forced to play the game of parliamentary politics. Now he does not need them: he can form a government of all the talents and drop his rather thin "anti-system" pose.

Macron is the system incarnate, able to do things everyone at the top has always wanted but which partisan politics made impossible. Of course he gets along well with the civil service!

Tim said...

As some of you know part of my work during the day involved lobbying the French government and the EU institutions in Brussels. Interestingly enough I can say from personal experience that in fact the REM deputees I have dealt with seem kind of disinterested and not really that interested in stakeholder outreach(at least on the issues I work).

On the other hand many of the deputees and Senator from the Les Republicans seem(especially those affiliated with Wauquiez's) seem to have a leaner hungrier attitude and are eager to meet anyone who walks in the door such as myself and my associates who has info or suggestions that might help them take on or embarrass the Macron government.

I say this as someone who is NOT a natural LR or Wauquiez supporter nor are the causes I represent necessarily rightwing or LR-ish. I just seems like the LR especially the Wauquiez branch has that hungry dog runs faster type of attitude.

Tim said...

I guess my overall response to Art's post is the administration or civil service of the French government is very good at what they do overall and the fact that Macron's knows the inside's of the French government inside and out is very much to his advantage compared to "similar" leaders such as Justin Trudeau or Barack Obama who had very little actually experience working in high level. For those of you like Art and myself who live in Massachusetts Macron in some sense is similar to MA Governor Charlie Baker who has extensive experience in both the private sector and state government and historically always a bit of a reputation as a whiz kid and Mr. fix it.

The problem as I see for Macron is the state administration is part responsible for some of the problems France is currently facing in both Foreign and Economic Policy are due to previous decisions made by the state administration. For example the administration has handled the post Brexit post Trump period quite well however, the civil service/administration as I see it really never predicted or imagined Trump or Brexit would happen and never really put into place policies that would have insulated France to a greater extent pre Trump pre Brexit. Sometimes I get the sense that because so much of the French civil service hates Trump they could really never imagine him winning(or Brexit happening).

**Credit though must be given to Ambassador Araud who handled the Trump election very well. Probably better than any other French civil servant or any other EU member state civil servant. Araud is a true gem that I know is close to retirement but Macron would be well advised to keep Araud around as long as possible.

Anonymous said...

@Tim - your observations are very interesting (Macron does resemble Baker or the technocratic Mitt Romney of long ago). I wonder, however: what do you think the French civil service could have done better to prepare for Trump or for Brexit?

France had little to say about Cameron's pre-Brexit diplomacy, but Hollande is to blame for that if anybody is. A more coherent Europe would be better prepared for Trump, of course. The French civil service knows exactly how it would like the EU to evolve, and Macron is pushing for this agenda. The fact that things haven't already moved forward on defense (for example) is the fault of Germany, and (again) passive old Hollande.

I agree that Macron, and Araud, have handled Trump with remarkable combination of tact and firmness.

Tim said...


I would say that the Finance/Economy/Budget ministries have a world view that finds Trump and Brexit anathema whereas someone like Araud is much Rumsfeldian in that France needs to fight with the army it has not the army it wishes it had. Remember the Bercy ministries in effect were their own foreign ministry in terms of international economic issues and really in terms of France-UK relations and France-US relations ever since 1970s. Since Brexit/Trump my sense though is French foreign policy is going to back to an older school type of model where everything goes through the Foreign Ministry and people like Araud.

In a very practical sense I think Bercy is very concerned that Brexit and Trump will start a deregulatory race to the bottom in financial, tax and banking matters and that some in Paris like Macron and Araud will say what is the harm in France joining them. The fact that Trump especially has no interest in the G7/G20 type of diplomacy Bercy specializes in instead favoring one and one relationships with people like Macron is very disconcerting to them.

Tim said...

While I know many people over the years laughed at the idea of Britain being a bridge between the US and continental Europe but just from my own experience a lot of people in Bercy were kind of fond of the UK and its Finance Ministry being a bridge between France and the US especially in economic matters(Gordon Brown as a UK Chancellor played an important intermediary role for years between France and US). Whereas because the recent circumstances of Trump/Brexit the idea of a more direct US France relationship visualized by Araud and Macron himself is much more on the rise in Paris.

I guess the issue is Araud doesn't necessarily care about the same things as Bercy. While I don't have any inside information in this regard I am pretty sure that Bercy is deeply upset about Trump talking about chainsawing Dodd Frank. I am also pretty sure that Bercy is unhappy that Araud and the Quai d' Orsay isn't doing anything to try to stop Trump either from dismantling Dodd Frank even with some of Araud's newfound notoriety on Twitter.

Anonymous said...

@Tim: Thank you very much for these two long answers. Your critique of the Bercy ministries seems spot-on: it would be nice if the US administration cared more about international fora, but wishing for this doesn't make it so. My guess is that whatever Araud thinks about Dodd-Frank, he understands that, in the current climate, France can't do much to affect American policy on the issue. He would certainly get nothing done by tweeting about it!

Trump is so mercurial that I don't know how useful the personal bond he has formed with Macron will prove. Still, it is worth the effort. Macron has courted Trump more successfully than Theresa May, without being obsequious or embarrassing France. Given Trump's personality, it probably helps that Macron is a cocky man, and not a reserved woman...

Tim said...

I found the recent TV interview with Macron that was aired overnight to be quite interesting and confirming what I have suspected i.e. that Macron's primary public point of disagreement with Trump and the US will be over climate change and global warming. In fact Macron goes as far to imply that climate change will be the only issue he publically critizes Trump on.

One outcome of this as I see it is that the "Bercy" agenda of international tax cooperation, international bank regulation, international efforts to combat income inequality are all things that Macron appears to have little interest in unlike really all three, four(Mitterand), or even five(Giscard Estaing) of his predecessors? Macron quite outright says he must choose his battles and the ones of income inequality and international tax evasion that his predecessors were so fond off do not appear to be ones Macron is enamored with.

Of course one nice convenient element of Macron choosing Climate Change as his battle is much of the US neoliberal Wall Street elite like Lloyd Blankfein, Mike Bloomerberg, and Jamie Dimon are all much much closer to Macron's position on the issue than Trump's. More intriguing is that Macron is wrapping neoliberalism as form of French exceptionalism in a populist era.

Anonymous said...

Macron isn't wrong to present neoliberalism - green, responsible, democratic neoliberalism - as a kind of French exception. Macron's position was the overwhelming consensus in the 90s, but what world leader really stands for it today? Trudeau, and perhaps some of the Scandinavians (the Italian PD is clearly on its way out).

The great issue is Germany, of course. The Germans certainly prefer to work through international groups like the G8 / G20. If France is to stand for anything on the world stage when it comes to tax coordination, France and Germany must stand together. I don't sense that they do, although admittedly I may be confusing Eurozone issues with worldwide tax negotiations & on the latter subject I'm pretty ignorant

Macron has reacted to Trump far more deftly than Merkel. I imagine that Helmut Schmidt, or even Willy Brandt, would do better with Trump than the current Chancellor. This doesn't reflect badly on her as such- Trump has brought everything back to a sort of cave-man level. Perhaps Macron's personal rapport with Trump will prove useless. Merkel certainly seems to regard this sort of "personal" relationship between leaders as worthless. She kept her distance even from Obama, who was popular in Germany. As things stand I am happy that Macron can talk to Trump, and concerned that Merkel cannot.

(I am also concerned that the UK is so focused on itself that May seems to have nothing to say to Trump- Britain is as headless and inconsequential as Italy for the moment, alas.)

Tim said...

The Bercy crowd doesn't like me and my associates as we tend to advise France and more broadly the EU acting to as one to deal with tax and financial issues directly with the US on bilateral basis. This was true when Obama was in and especially true now with Trump. What I tell people in France are that groups like the G20, G7, OECD, IMF, and World Bank are basically talking shops and viewed as jokes by much of DC especially on GOP side of the aisle. The Bercy has a lot of intellectual energy invested into these multilateral institutions and doesn't want to sully themselves by jumping into the cesspool of DC politics(unlike Araud who revels in it).

Another issue is that the UK was strongly opposed to any type of EU role in bilateral tax and financial agreements with the US. Right now I am pushing the French government to scrap all of this OECD/G20/G7 talking shop crap and move after Brexit day in 2019 for a direct bilateral tax treaty between the US and the EU and use this as a vehicle to settle all of the tax evasion issues with Amazon and Facebook between the US and EU/France once and for all. Such an agreement of course would have to be ratified by the US Senate and Bercy doesn't like this as the will have to negotiate with some pretty odious in their mind US GOP Senators. Bercy would rather talk around the G20 table and make public statement and put moral persaution on Amazon,Facebook etc. I of course tell everyone who will listen in Paris and Brussels that this is a sick joke.

Mitch Guthman said...

I feel a bit disconnected from French politics at the moment. Everything seems to be paused, as France waits to see what comes next. Will Marine Le Pen, or another branch of the family, rise phoenix-like from the smoldering ashes of the FN’s disastrous campaign? Can the PS free itself from the deadly grip of the centrists and resurrect itself in time to challenge Macron? How will the right’s bizarre, personality and ambition driven resolve itself?

Above all, everyone seems to be waiting to see what Macron will do. This, for me, is the most baffling. At least on paper, Macron has more power than any French ruler in history. There are very few institutional checks on his power and, as Art points out, he seems to be working hard to override those through ingratiating himself with the administrators; the political opposition that might once have checked a president’s power is in total collapse.

What does Macron do with all that power? Very little, it would appear. He has no significant legislative agenda. He makes speeches in which he identifies problems for which he evidently doesn’t have or can’t be bothered to propose solutions; it’s almost as if he’s still running for president, rather than actually being president. Macron postures and preens in his “god-like” persona while the right-wing ministers he’s appointed ignore him and the very many legislators of the REM who came to Paris to serve him sit on their hands awaiting his pleasure.

What does it mean that Macron “bypasses” and undermines his own ministers, rather than replacing them with ones who will carry out his agenda (whatever that might be)? He would seem to have the absolute majority of legislators yet he proposes no major “reform” or legislative agenda. He might, as Art says, know how the sausage is made and how to inspire administrators but what kind of sausage does he want them to produce?

Perhaps this is the downside of “ni,ni” and having the chameleon-like ability of appearing to everyone exactly what they want to see. Perhaps Macron, having such a rapid yet vacuous rise to power, finds himself in the position of Robert Redford’s character in “The Candidate” who, having just won election to the US Senate, asks his cynical campaign manager: “What do we do now”. It is as if french politics and perhaps the very idea of France is dying a slow death from entropy and all that will remain is Macron.

Anonymous said...

@Mitch I think that Macron has a very clear idea of what he would like to do with his power. He would like to liberalize the French economy, and he would like to reform the Eurozone.

I believe that if Macron had his druthers he would implement far more drastic reforms than the relatively minor adjustment to the labor code that he passed this year. He doesn't do so because such a move would be hugely unpopular and provoke the street. With regards to the Eurozone (and so to monetary policy) he is checked by Germany. (A more expansive monetary policy could of course off-set the pain of liberal reforms.)

Macron is resourceful and his position is strong, but there are very real constraints on his power.