Je t’aime moi non plus

28 October 2022

Emmanuel Macron staked out a claim to the political center without ever calling it that. “Ni droite ni gauche” pointed to a centrist position but avoided any suggestion that it landed Macron in the swampy middle ground–“le marais”–that traditionally stood between left and right. “Centrism” connotes compromise, but Macronism presented itself as decisively “en marche,” not bogged down in the marshes of moderation and accommodation.

But then came the Gilets Jaunes, Covid, and–unkindest cut of all–repudiation in the 2022 legislative elections. Without a majority, les marcheurs have been left these past six months marking time. Even to pass a budget they’ve been forced, to their embarrassment and consternation, to invoke Article 49-3. And the response–a censure vote that for the first time brought together the far right and far left and failed only because of the refusal of LR to go along with it–made it clear that Macron’s divide-and-conquer strategy had worked so exquisitely that his only potential allies now are the rump of Les Républicains, who share his views on key policy matters like pension reform but detest him personally, along with everything he has done to realign the political lines of force in France to their detriment, making collaboration seemingly impossible.

Or is it? The other night Macron took to the airwaves to propose a “collaboration” with LR. This may have been prompted in part by a lunch the president shared the day before with Nicolas Sarkozy, who, though still feuding with his former party, enjoys both strong support in its base and a close relationship with Macron, who in his TV appearance adopted various Sarkozyste tropes and even policy orientations, such as eliminating taxes on overtime wages. Travailler plus pour gagner plus is back, and so is the notion that pension reform is somehow the most important issue facing the country in a time of galloping inflation, war in Ukraine, energy shortages, and new tensions with Germany over the direction of the EU.

So the champion of ni droite ni gauche has now been reduced, in order to remain afloat, to courting the right that he himself reduced to its current shriveled status. What does this new rapport des forces portend? A change of government or even early dissolution of the National Assembly is hardly unthinkable. The Borne government is going nowhere fast, and one line in the Solenn de Royer story linked to above stands out in this context: Sarkozy is said to be annoyed that Macron, after dangling the PM post in front of the Sarkozyste Catherine Vautrin, gave it instead to Borne. That was supposed to buy him some cred with the left, but the formation of the NUPES put an end to that foray. His best option now might be to await an opportunity to replace Borne with Vautrin or another right-winger who could buy him some love from LR, with which his relationship for the moment is strictly je t’aime moi non plus.



  • bernard says:

    Someone asked me recently what I thought was going on in French politics. My answer was: there is no majority for and there is no majority against, therefore nothing much will get done. In terms of Macron and the right, François Mitterrand said it all and his words remain true to this day: “au fond du couloir, à droite”, which one might translate (I enjoy a little provocation with one of the top translators…): at the end of the dimly lit corridor to your right. Nothing new under the sun, unfortunately.

  • Gregory Brown says:

    I continue to be more sympathetic than most commentators. Macron understands his mandate. First and foremost keep the populist right out of power and that means keeping the fear of the populist left and perception of political corruption/stasis from feeding the populist right. Secondly to keep France in Europe. He continues to do that. Biden, I believe, was elected with a similarly limited mandate and has not been able to achieve it. I give Macron great credit for recognizing that it’s not a time for grand reforms or realignment but for the delicate work of ensuring the center can hold.

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