La Pagaille

Arthur Goldhammer
18 December 2018

Image by U.S. Department of State via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain ; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emmanuel_Macron_in_Washington_-_2018_(26809923797)_(cropped).jpg)

The fundamental problem of the French presidency has been unexpectedly highlighted by Emmanuel Macron’s response to the Gilets Jaunes. Florence Aubenas, writing in Le Monde, noted that in her visits to ronds-points where protesters were gathered, no politician’s name other than Macron was mentioned. Hence it was only to be expected that their demands would be met by a declaration from the president himself. He delivered a great deal in his televised speech, more than most observers expected he would. But he delivered it on his own, without consultation with the legislature, leaders of his own or other parties, or even, it seems, with the relevant ministries. The practical problems of fulfilling his promises have become apparent only after the fact. For example, the expedient mechanism for increasing take-home pay at the bottom of the income scale–adding to the activity bonus–will leave out many people earning the minimum wage, perhaps justifiably because their spouses are earning more, but perhaps not. Nobody really knows because nobody has investigated the consequences of a measure decided unilaterally, by fiat, by the president. The same goes for the elimination of the CSG on pensions. For administrative reasons, it seems that it can’t be put in place as quickly as the president promised.

The president of the Republic has, when he chooses to invoke them, such unchecked autocratic powers that he can easily promise more than he can deliver, undermining his own credibility. The hasty–dare one say panicky–response to the crisis illustrates the flaw of this autocratic executive model. If Macron wants to get at the root of the crisis, he should impose checks and balances on himself and discipline himself to consult with both public and civil society institutions before acting. This crisis demonstrates the utter failure of France’s intermediary bodies, which must be rebuilt effectively and quickly. And that does not mean giving in to demands for a so-called RIC, or citizen initiative referendum–an idea that will only make an already disastrous situation even worse.

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4 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    President Macron is seeking to regain control of a situation that has spun out of his control, but not necessarily completely on account of his acts. Opponents of Macron would have lit on one or another perceived “outrage” to justify their vandalism in the name of “the people”. “Yes!” Bringing in the tax on diesel in the middle of the winter, was idiotic from the point of view of timing but the goal is progressive. The tax was merely the excuse for the hatred of Macron to organize itself on the Web, and then, the streets.
    The question is not so much “Are the measures offered by the President sufficient to quell the violence?” As “Will Macron hold fast?” The more that is revealed about the “gilets jaunes”, the more unsavory they look. Notice too, the cowardice of Melenchon, who –supposed environmentalist– has exerted no leadership to quell the radical fringes that have invaded the movement. This was a chance for this “tribune” to demonstrate that he could lead his supporters. Instead, like so many contemporary politicians, he puts a finger in the air to see the way the wind is blowing. If he cannot discern its movement, he sinks into obscurity until events favor his return to public life. Macron may have many faults, but one of them is not a willingness to confront the facts of his situation, good or bad.

  • Tom Theuns says:

    For once I don’t share your analysis, Art. I think Macron knew that the working out of his plans would be complicated and may on final calculation be modified or delayed. But that doesn’t make good television. He needed to take the wind out of the sales of the GJ, and his address, with its simplicity and largesse, did just that. Media was filled by the news of ‘father Christmas Macron’, protests halved. Surely for him that’s a job well done, even if a core of GJ will loudly and quite justifiably protest that all that was promised has not materialized? It’s hard to see how the message ‘we will talk about your concerns with all relevant actors and take appropriate measures to improve the conditions of the lower income French ‘ will have been quite as successful.

  • bernard says:

    I quite agree with you in the sense that ever since his speech, the bureaucracy has been visibly at work trying to walk back the measures – this was especially evident today with an unmatched ever cacophony in-so-far as I can remember. Today was litterally worth of a “yes minister” episode, except that so far Macron is sticking to his guns and refuses to walk back, veen in the face of Bercy opposition.

    I also have great misgivings regarding the RIC which I fear would end up in demagogery.

    Last, in several ways, the current institutional issues illustrate for me yet again how wrong cutting a septennat into a quinquennat was.

  • Geof says:

    Prof. Goldhammer’s analysis highlights the policy ramifications of Macron’s moves; bad enough. But the political implications are a disaster. The emperor has had the worst of aspersions cast on him: He is now “a Man Who Can be Pushed.” Bye-bye Manny.

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