Thursday, August 24, 2017

En Même Temps

During the campaign Emmanuel Macron became notorious for his frequent use of the phrase "en même temps." It was his trademark segue from left to right or vice versa, a device for having his cake and eating it too, giving with one hand and taking away with the other, etc. Now that he is president, en même temps is back (although yesterday he put it slightly differently: dans le même temps). But now it's Europe where he shows his left profile and the home front where he turns sharply to the right.

Europe has long served as an alibi for French governments. We don't want to take this painful step, they would say, but Europe is forcing our hand--applying leverage often handed to Brussels by the very same people, but never mind.

Macron's two-step is different. He doesn't claim that Europe is forcing him to do anything. Rather, he pretends to be forcing Europe's hand by invoking its better angels. Yesterday's blast was aimed at social dumping. This plays well in Poitiers, of course, and less well in Poland, which serves the president's purpose perfectly. In Europe he can be the champion of the (French) working man. Mais en même temps, at home, his government was announcing that a reduction in worker-paid payroll taxes promised by Macron on the campaign trail will be partly delayed.

Economic policy at home, firmly in the hands of the Macronian right, continues to obey an accountant's logic: we set ourselves a bottom-line budget reduction goal, hence x % must be shaved off every line, no matter how bad the political optics. This move is as ill-considered as the reduction in the housing allowance (APL). It looks callous. A cannier politician wouldn't do it. Macron, for all his mastery of showmanship, at times seems as tone-deaf as Hollande. Or perhaps he hears the sour notes and thinks he can drown them out by speaking loudly on the European stage. It isn't going to work, and the mistakes are piling up at the worst possible moment, just ahead of crucial decisions regarding labor code reform and the budget.