The “Social and Ecological” Contract
As France’s political parties wither away, French civil society may be organizing itself to fill the void. Perhaps that is too optimistic a read of what those perennial civil-society reformers, Laurent Berger and Nicolas Hulot, are up to with their “Social and Ecological Pact.” But something needs to fill the void left by the evaporation of the parties and the unwillingness of the Gilets Jaunes to translate protest into policy. What Berger and Hulot are proposing looks very much like a political agenda aimed squarely at Emmanuel Macron. They call for taxing wealth, undoing Macron’s cut in housing assistance, and, of course, reinvigorating the ecological agenda that Hulot was prevented from implementing when he was Macron’s ecology minister. Berger’s reluctance to go along with Macron’s version of labor-market reform also finds expression here, albeit at the risk of blurring the line between labor action and political action, which is always a risky move for a labor leader. The Social and Ecological Pact may yet prove to be but another abortive effort to give birth to an authentic opposition in the era of the one-party LRM state. But in the absence of other political activity, it is at least a sign of life.
Meanwhile, Macron is trying to reinflate the Europe balloon that helped give loftiness to his presidential campaign and the early, more hopeful days of his presidency. The “Europe that protects” formula is tired, however. The proposal to revise the Schengen Agreement is new and substantial, especially in its insistence on a common asylum policy (“with identical rules for acceptance and rejection”). Despite Macron’s decision to turn away from naming villains (such as Orban and Salvini, his bêtes noires in the past), this proposal is certain to arouse their ire.
Orban is of course already angry because of the move by 12 member parties (from 9 countries) of the European Peoples’ Party (PPE) to oust his Fidesz from the group. Significantly, France’s Republicans, although a PPE member, is not part of the group of 12. Republican leader Laurent Wauquiez has supported Orban in the hope that association with his anti-immigrant politics will help solidify his party’s image as a worthy rival to Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. Nevertheless, LR’s lead candidate in the EU parliamentary elections, François-Xavier Bellamy, is more ambivalent when it comes to the sulfurous Hungarian. Despite this equivocation, center-right former PM Jean-Pierre Raffarin has announced that he has had enough of Wauquiez’s flirtation with the far-right and will be supporting the Macronist list in the European campaign. Whether this leads to his exclusion from LR, a party he helped found, remains to be seen.
In short, despite Macron’s effort to project once again an image of a president in control of a political system that has returned to normal despite the continuing whimper of weekend protest marches, turbulence, not to say chaos, is visible just below the surface.