La rentrée politique
Emmanuel Macron’s second rentrée resembles the first. The president is trying to get the ship of state back on an even keel after a rough summer in heavy seas. The Benalla Affair has finally begun to recede from the headlines, but the damage to Macron’s image has been even more severe than the damage done last year by the Ferrand affair and the resignation of Bayrou and other MoDem allies in the first summer of discontent.
The Hulot resignation, like the Benalla Affair, looms larger than it should, because the media have reveled in the spectacle of Hulot, himself a creature of the media, resigning in tears and spite. As much as they enjoyed Macron’s rise, the media know that his downfall would make his improbable saga an even more compelling narrative than it already is. But history’s rhythms are slower.
Macron has nevertheless been fairly adroit, with a considerable assist from Édouard Philippe and Gérard Darmanin. After letting it be known that he had doubts about the reform of the income tax, which will henceforth be collected at the source (as in all other modern economies), he allowed himself to be persuaded that all would go smoothly, or smoothly enough, to overcome any “psychological” effect on the beleaguered taxpayer. Allegedly, the poor contribuable is such a fragile soul that she cannot be expected to calculate that a sum deducted monthly from her paycheck and multiplied by 12 is greater than, less than, or equal to the sum previously paid at the end of the year. And, horrors, their might be bugs in the software computing the monthly deductions.
Worse still, businessmen otherwise capable of managing their books protested that it would be an unreasonable burden on them to be required to serve as “tax collectors for the state.” By pretending to take all this whining seriously, Macron showed that he was attentive to his subjects’ remonstrances (the Ancien Régime terminology is deliberate, and I am almost tempted to refer to the protesting small businessmen as prospective tax farmers). But by giving in ultimately to Darmanin, Philippe, and … Hollande, who initiated this reform, he puts himself back in the driver’s seat yet again as the Master Reformer. Grade: Assez bien.
Meanwhile, to replace Hulot, Macron moved swiftly, choosing François de Rugy, whose green credentials cannot be denied but who is also a reliable politician, which Hulot was not. Now this department can be backburnered yet again until the next crisis erupts.
On Europe, Salvini and Orban have played into Macron’s hands by casting him as the leader of the pro-immigration forces they despise. This alleviates the domestic charge that he has been unconscionably harsh on immigrants. As Jean-Luc Mélenchon moves toward a more open anti-immigrant stance–alleging that migrant workers are a tool of the bosses to keep wages low–Macron can have his cake and eat it too. (Meanwhile, the German far left under Sahra Wagenkneccht has adopted the same anti-immigrant line, suggesting that the extremes are converging.)
With Merkel all but helpless, Macron’s plans for European reform seem dead in the water. He needs to begin mounting a campaign for the 2019 European elections, and if Ferrand takes over at the National Assembly, it will be interesting to see whom Macron chooses to lead the LREM forces. If Europe is to be his “social alibi” for a conventional program of neoliberal reform at home, this choice will be crucial. It must be someone credible as a social reformer but also dependable enough not to turn into an internal critic of Macron or even a potential challenger if his presidency bogs down further. No obvious name presents itself. Suggestions welcome.