Coup de Semonce
Three economists of broadly social liberal stripe–Jean Pisani-Ferry, Philippe Martin, and Philippe Aghion–have sent Emmanuel Macron a note articulating their disappointment with the “imbalance” of his economic policies to date. “Our model,” which in their support for Macron they had believed was the president’s model, “is Scandinavian, not Anglo-Saxon.” Speaking for many on the moderate left who believed that Macron intended not just to liberalize the economy but also to reduce inequalities, increase social mobility, and enhance the social safety net, they add specific recommendations to their criticisms. The text of their note is published in today’s Le Monde.
Along with the text is a report, officially denied by the Elysée, that the critique was instigated by Macron himself. It would hardly be surprising if this were the case. Macron has ruled with quite a free hand thus far, but discontent with both the direction and style of his presidency is mounting. He has quite a bit of time before he faces his first electoral test in next year’s European elections, which will, as always with Europeans, be a referendum on his presidency. One way to respond to critics and suggest more flexibility than has been evident until now would be un remaniement. And this note could be the prelude to such a move, which needs to be made soon, well in advance of the elections, if it is to be made at all. The note contains a warning shot aimed straight at “the three political ministers” (as the note identifies them): Édouard Philippe, Bruno Le Maire, and Gérard Darmanin.
Less drastic than un remaniement would be a course correction, perhaps coupled with a minor cabinet reshuffle, by the current government. Philippe has been a very compliant prime minister, and he could easily preside over a new economic policy incorporating some of the measures advocated by the economists. Le Maire and Darmanin are more problematic. Le Maire is a potential rival of Macron’s, and a dismissal would deprive him of the prominent platform he now occupies and cast him out into the political wilderness. In a purely political sense, this would be a shrewd move.
Macron, who is nobody’s fool, is a student of the presidency. He would like to dominate the government as de Gaulle did, but the president to whom he has also been compared frequently is Giscard–the wunderkind whose promised transformation fizzled half-way through his term. Aghion warned in another recent article that Macronism might turn into neo-Giscardism. To prvent this, a little Mitterrandian neo-Florentine cabinet intrigue could prove useful.
But Macron’s idea of the presidency may ultimately be quite different from Mitterrand’s, or, indeed, from that of any of his predecessors, all of whom made re-election a major priority. It may be that Macron is willing to stake his all on a single term in office. He seems convinced that he knows what needs to be done to set France on the right course. He is beholden to nobody for his position, and he has a long and no doubt bright future ahead of him whether he is re-elected or not. He may have decided that the only way to achieve his goal is to alienate anyone who disagrees with him, even those who supported him in the past.
The economists ostensibly composed their text as un coup de semonce directed at the president. Of course, if the president himself egged them on, as rumored, then it could also be a shot directed at the current government, whose days could be numbered. Or it could be a shot intended to rebound back into the camp from which it came: that of les déçus du Macronisme, the social liberals who were with him at the beginning but have grown wary of his intentions. You think I care about what you think, he could be saying, because I asked you to tell me. Mais je m’en fous.
Mitterrand was called “the Sphinx.” Macron may have learned from his study of his predecessors that inscrutability is crucial to the exercise of power.
Photo Credit: David Brandt, 12 pound Cannon Fire at Kronborg, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0.
The most disappointing in this note, is the weakness of the changes proposed by the three economists. “Eau tiède” would be too generous. Gouttes d’eau pas fraîche. No substance. Typically Hollande-like spin-intended ultra-weak “gestes forts”.
What the Trump presidency teaches us (as the Cameron administration or others already did) is that, breaking previous consensus and changing many things is absolutely possible (good or bad, possible anyway). So far, it note Jean Pisani-Ferry, Philippe Martin, and Philippe Aghion’s intention, nor Édouard Philippe, Bruno Le Maire, and Gérard Darmanin’s, nor Emmanuel Macron’s as far as I can guess. All of them are stuck in the “social-liberal consensus” consisting in letting things go the way they go, i.e. more power to the wealthiest, and pretended warm feelings to the poor.
For eurozone reform German acquiescence is necessary.
Fiscal restraint dominates, its source neither Scandinavian nor Anglo-Saxon but teutonic.