Bilan provisoire

Arthur Goldhammer
11 December 2018

Image by CFI Education Inc. (https://courses.corporatefinanceinstitute.com/courses/financial-analysis-certificate-course-online)

Last night Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation. Did he save his skin? My first reaction was negative, based more on a visceral response to his presentation–poor–than on the substance of his concessions. Macron likes to project confidence and can do it fairly well. Contrition is not part of his natural repertoire. When he tries it, it seems affected.

Nevertheless, he apologized and accepted blame for his “hurtful language.” On top of that, he made real concessions. The increase in the minimum wage (SMIC) is slightly illusory. He didn’t increase the SMIC, which would have required employers to pay, but rather offered state funds to pay 100 euros a month more to workers earning the SMIC of 1200 euros. An actual increase in the SMIC would have put the same amount in the pockets of smicards, but it also would have had further knock-on effects, since the wages of many workers are indexed to the SMIC. The government couldn’t have absorbed the massive cost of such a move, and Macron did not want to force it on employers. Indeed, there are sound economic reasons for not doing so, since French wages, unlike US wages, have kept up with productivity growth. Macron also suspended a tax increase on retiree income and called upon firms to offer year-end bonuses.

These concessions were significant, and they may mollify the Gilets Jaunes. Some have already indicated that they see no reason to march again in Paris next Saturday. Others smell weakness and want to press their advantage. Meanwhile, lycée students, also sensing opportunity, took once again to the streets. And Philippe Martinez, leader of the CGT, said flatly that the concessions were not enough.

Is this the famous “convergence des luttes” that Mélenchon has been urging and expecting since last May? It’s too early to tell. My hunch is that Macron may well have slipped out of the noose around his neck despite his unconvincing delivery. He put real money in people’s pockets, avoided any complex technocratic jiggery-pokery, and nevertheless gave up nothing essential from the core of his reform.

He will, however, now have to face Brussels, since the French deficit will pass the fatal 3% mark. Indeed, it may go as high as 3.5, a full point above the (optimistically) projected Italian deficit of 2.4. Yes, I am well aware that Italy position is structurally quite different from France’s, but most citizens aren’t, and you can bet that Matteo Salvini will make much of “discrimination” by Brussels. This means that the last hope that Macron can lead a European reform effort has been dashed.

What is more, Macron’s retreat shows that there is more margin for maneuver than he has admitted. It shows that determined resistance can get results. It also shows that this is indeed a top-down government, in which the president can make major moves by fiat, without the slightest demurrer from the parliament, where the LREM majority exemplifies the famous parlement godillot, which follows orders as swiftly as a well-drilled regiment. Will deputies of either the majority or opposition now find their voices and begin to convey more effectively the wishes of their constituents?

The GJ protests have proven, if proof were needed, that there is a democratic deficit in France. Macron promised yesterday to work more closely with mayors, but the mayors are almost as dispersed and atomized as the citizens to whom they are close. They cannot act as the corps intermédiaires that Tocqueville insisted no democracy can do with out. Macron’s problem is that he needs forces capable of informing as well as checking him, but he has yet to prove whether he is capable of working with people who do not agree with him. This will be his next test.

 

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5 Comments

  • Tim Smyth says:

    On the EU/Brussels front it seems as if Macron has them over a barrel. Some of the usual suspects in Germany and the Netherlands will be unhappy but they are boxed in politically by AKK’s election(and UK’s absolutely shambolic Brexit tactics). In fact you almost have to wonder if Macron waited to announce this policy shift until AKK was elected over the weekend.

    Second a lot of the usual suspects in Germany and the Netherlands like Die Welt are not just criticizing Macron this morning but also AKK’s economic record running Saarland in fact calling Saarland an “honorary” member of Southern Europe. I joked after AKK was elected the usual ordoliberal suspects in Germany would probably be ruing the day Saarland was returned by France to Germany sovereignty in the 1950s(AKK lives about 10 minutes from the French border).

    I

  • Geof says:

    “…and nevertheless gave up nothing essential from the core of his reform.” I thought the unspoken theme of his platform was that the French were coddled too much. If so, he certainly caved. Politically, he is a dead-man walking. His only hope is for even bigger blunders by his opponents. If you count them as Wauquiez and Mélenchon, at least he has the odds on his side.

    • Tim Smyth says:

      The issue is Macron sees his opponents not as Wauquiez and Melenchon but Theresa May and the Brexiteers which are very good opponents to have. Macron’s issue as I see it is not so much that he is President of the rich but he sees his enemies again as May and the Brexiteers something the average person in France is not paying much attention to. Even better for Macron at least some people in Trumpworld are starting to see him as the numero uno enemy in Europe as recently implied by Trump’s Ambassador to the EU.

      A lot of people in this blog won’t want to hear this but Macron even 1% approval rating can steamroll over Jeremy Corbyn and the British “Lexiteers” which is what the main political story of 2019 will be about.

  • Robinson says:

    Two thoughts i) the question to which nobody has an answer is: will the GJs be satisfied by these concessions? If the protests start diminishing, Macron has hit his mark.

    ii) Macron’s efforts to lead a European reform effort have been vetoed by Germany, with deniability provided the aid of the Dutch and their “league.”

    Germany will tut-tut and use these concessions of Macron’s as an excuse for further Euro austerity, but this is nonsense: they weren’t going to give him anything anyway. German intransigence remains the great obstacle to European reform (Not Salvini- whatever his very great defects one can hardly blame the Italians for wanting to stimulate their economy after ten years of shrinking GDP!). The only thing that stands a chance of making the Germans see reason is a more assertive France

  • brent says:

    Regarding EM’s “affected” manner Angelique Chrisafis is right-on in the Guardian: one doesn’t eat humble pie from a gilded antique table. I don’t see how this man will ever NOT be the President of the Rich, nor does he seem to want to be anything else. Policy is a different question. He may have successfully divided the GJ with a more than token offering–or his obnoxious personality may offset that initiative. He has surely lost, as you suggest, the major claim to assume leadership in the EU, and in next spring’s elections. But he will no doubt retain power in France, and who knows? Maybe his unbending neoliberal reformism will bear fruit. But will that be enough to placate a deeply distressed society (the 80% ! who felt an immediate sympathy with the GJ)?

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