The Castex Government

Arthur Goldhammer
6 July 2020

Emmanuel Macron’s self-reinvention did not get very far. The just-appointed Castex government is as unexciting as the new prime minister himself. After Philippe, Castaner and Belloubet were shown the door. Darmanin was moved to interior. Le Maire, Blanquer, and Le Drian remain in their posts.

So what distinguishes the new government from the old? Nothing, really, except that Macron is no longer the young man in a hurry who was going to reshape everything and transform French politics from top to bottom. By essentially keeping the old government in place and firing his popular prime minister, he demonstrates that he has failed to make good on his promise.

The new prime minister is slightly farther to the right than the old: he comes from the Sarkozy-Fillon faction of the party, not the Juppéistes. The idea that French politics could be rebuilt from the center out, which was the animating force of Macron’s 2017 presidency, is dead. This is a government of the right, a government that could have served under Sarkozy. There is scarcely even a thin patina of green.

Evidently Macron is satisfied with what he has achieved to date and wishes to stay the course. It is a strategy that has the virtue of keeping the Republicans divided and the left out of power and gasping for air. The chief Republican presidential hopefuls will find themselves in the position of running against a government that is not-Republican in name only. Macron’s re-election strategy remains “divide and conquer,” but having chosen to maintain the status quo ante, he has to worry that the Gilets Jaunes will have nowhere to turn but Le Pen, to whom most of them were drawn anyway, while whatever center-left support he enjoyed in 2017 is dissipated, he hopes, between the Greens and the Socialist rump.

This may prove a winning strategy, but it comes as a final disappointment to anyone who hoped that Macron might infuse new life into a moribund party system. He turns out to have been all along the conservative technocrat-cum-businessman his credentials proclaimed. He has no social vision beyond repeated professions of faith in an ever-emptier European dream. Whatever life was left in him was snuffed out by the Covid virus. He is a zombie president, who may yet be re-elected to a second five-year term. Bonjour tristesse.

 

Photo Credit: Chatsam, Grande cour de l’Hôtel Matignon, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

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3 Comments

  • bernard says:

    It will be interesting to watch how the second rigid Prime Minister of President Sarkozy fares when the country is in the streets again due to the retirement reform. This is going to make for a very interesting presidential election with possibly, as usual, an unforeseen outcome – Baron Noir forever!

  • Ron Tiersky says:

    Art – this view may be overly pessimistic. Below I spin out some David Axelrod/Karl Rove-ish calculations. It’s overly long and speculative. I apologize for that. If some of it makes sense, that’s good enough for me.

    For example, in remaking the party system: success loves more success, meaning here that the Greens might produce a leader of national scope, unite for 2022, reduce the France insoumise first-ballot vote. (Does FI have anyone that could possibly recreate the 2017 score?) On the far right, meaning the Rassemblement National: it seems to me unlikely that Le Pen will get through to the second ballot. Even if she did, she would be weaker as a candidate than in 2017. Altogether, if the far-right and far-left vote is reduced on the first ballot, perhaps 5% each, and the Greens (possibly including the Socialists as an ally–they need to find a way to survive) emerge as a national force, more or less united around a candidate, then you have a new left. (This is to say nothing about policies or whether they could survive after the elections.)
    Remains Macron, the LREM and Les Republicains. Here a lot could depend on the relationships between Macron and Eduoard Philippe. Philippe seems to have left the government on good terms with Macron. He and Macron may have agreed that he is now en reserve de la republique. If Philippe is not totally obsessed with ambition, with a desire to be president in 2022, he could support Macron, bringing some of the Republicain electorate with him. Then you would have a new bipolar French system, a right-wing party/coalition organized around the LREM candidate, and a left-wing headed by a Green candidate of national envergure. The RN and FI are much reduced on the first ballot. Philippe is only 49 years old. If he and Macron have some kind of understanding between them, Philippe would only be 54 at the 2027 election.
    I don’t have any feel or instinct at all about whether the Gilets Jaunes will re-emerge.
    All this is speculation but not pure speculation. Again, please forgive the length.

    • bernard says:

      there are three points I would want to make:
      1. FI tends to do much better at presidential election time than in between. This is because Melenchon, whatever his politics and other failings, is a great campaigner with a very good feeling for the electorate. Chirac used to be another one.
      2. The greens are great at sabotaging themselves with primaries. Given the French electoral system, having primaries almost always guarantees the selection of an extremist within the party. Every time the greens have done that, they killed the candidacy of anyone remotely presentable in favor of a mad man or mad woman.
      3. We literally need a baron noir, namely a real social-democrat with green policies rather than a green with vaguely social-democratic leanings.

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