Tout ça pour ça

16 March 2023

It came down to the wire, and in the end the president simply did not have the votes. Nor did he have enough arm-twisting clout to persuade the fence-sitters whose support might have encouraged the government to take a chance on an up-or-down vote in the Assemblée Nationale. So Elisabeth Borne, despite all her efforts to appease Républicain deputies, was forced against her better judgment to resort to Article 49-3 and may now pay the price: un remaniement is a time-honored way of pretending that a loss is on the prime minister rather than the president.

But in reality, no matter what he does, Macron is left with little or no camouflage to hide his humiliating defeat. Now that the reform bill has been forced through–un vice démocratique, in the words of Laurent Berger, and it’s hard to read it any other way–Macron, the erstwhile Jupiter, is now an emperor without clothes and will likely remain so for the rest of his term. With all his political capital now squandered on pension reform, he at last holds the prize in his hand, but it hardly matters. The protesters will remain in the streets for some time to come, and any palliative measures forthcoming from the Elysée, such as a purported bill to make French workplaces more bearable now that everyone faces two additional years in what many French workers seem to regard as something akin to prison, will be greeted with jeers rather than cheers. Macron’s name will be joined to the long list of failed reformers, as France limps on to the next election.

It didn’t have to be this way. Had Macron stuck to his original plan of thoroughly overhauling the pension system rather than merely raising the legal age of retirement, he might have eked out a majority. But that plan fell victim to Covid, and its replacement fell victim to the presidential hubris that has been Macron’s nemesis from the beginning. He seems stuck in the past, clinging to the neoliberal pieties that used to be worshiped by all the bien-pensants, even as the economic and geopolitical landscape has been reshaped by the cataclysm of Russian aggression and growing US-China hostilities. Macron, who came into office in the bloom of youth promising to turn France’s face resolutely toward the future, is doomed to finish out his term, of which four long, long years remain, as the ghost of a discredited past. Requiescat in pace.

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  • Since this was obvious in the presidential election, in which you seemed to think Macron was still the golden star, I’m rather amazed at this post. Macron has been another in the line of bad French presidents, wishing they were Thatcher. You don’t men tion inequality and the climate crisis. Thomas Piketty’s tribune in Le Monde is the oraison funebre of our Dear Leader, who went from Thatcher to Orban in five years.

    • Gregory Brown says:

      I agree that the political tactics are hard to understand. Why use 49,3 to push through a compromise rather than dissolve the Assembly and campaign for it, or stick to the original plan and push that through? But to write off the next 4 years seems premature. If there’s anything we’ve seen consistently in the past 7 or 8 years, it’s that past patterns no longer hold.

      Stranger things have happened than a successful comeback. The one thing Macron has been able to do consistently is frame his opposition to his liking. Or benefit from his opposition imploding.

  • Anonymous says:

    Politics ain’t beanball, in the U.S. or France, where hating French presidents is a national sport. “[F]rom Thatcher to Orban in five years” –? –That’s an outrageous exaggeration.
    “Would have”, “Could have” –it is easy to sit in an armchair and criticize the people who actually have to get up every day and try to make a government work. I’m reminded of one of my favorite French aphorisms:
    “Un jour j’aimerais vivre ‘en théorie’ –parce que, en théorie, tout se passe bien.”
    The progenitors of “le 49-3” were Frenchmen who recognized that the fissiparous people who are the French –and their elected officials in the Senate and the Assembly– can get so caught up in making distinctions without differences in the face of national problems that immobilization would result.
    Was the “49-3 ‘cramdown'” the preferable option for Macron and Borne? –Of course not. However, France is not getting any richer, and the people at the top of the political tree took the difficult option towards what they believe would be a better future for the French.
    The reform has passed; like it or not, France’s rising generation has a better chance at having some kind of retirement than the old system would have allowed them. All that is left to the opponents of Macron and the reform is to “Grincer les dents”. On to the next battle –time is on Macron’s side.

    • I think the path to Orban took about two years. I do love the talk about how the aristocrats at the top try so hard to do what is right for the little peasants, who don’t understand the McKinsey reports, and the wonderful work of the Montaigne Institute, Macron’s fave go-to, run by a confessed cokehead. The figures are not just funny, they are lies – like the famous 1200 euro a month pension promise, which was for everybody, or for the vast majority, or for 1.5 percent of the retirees. Democracy ain’t beanball, and Macron is no fan of it. The censure, I think, will fail, because the “Renaissance” – what a name, surely the PR peeps that came up with it thought it was gold! – has nowhere to turn. And no future. According to Le Monde, Macron had no doubts and no scruples about his Orban-esque gesture. Fine. Let’s see how long that reform lasts. I’m guessing it will never be implemented. And the party that promises to reverse it, at the next election, has a golden issue. As for the “aging population” canard, actually, the ability to continue a system started when France was much poorer, in 1948, depends, as always, on productivity. Lookie, ma, I’m actually using a computer! You see, there’s such a thing as technology. It has made many of the French rich even richer – and Macron has made sure they don’t have to pay taxes on that.

  • bernard says:

    We will see what happens with the no-confidence votes but whatever the result one would suspect that Macron’s presidency is effectively over: The parliamentary wing of the LR party has just shown who ‘s boss and they will likely increasingly do so.
    Macron has been a big disappointment and a big destruction man, but not a construction man. He has almost destroyed the twin political pillars of the fifth republic, namely the socialist party and the LR party. This might have been acceptable if he had replaced the two pillars with something but once he leaves the presidency in 2027, and leave he must, the party he created will likely vanish in the Bermuda triangle, never to be heard of again. The edifice without the two pillars that supported it may conceivably collapse and Macron may turn out to have destroyed the fifth republic
    As for his achievements, they are few and far between. On the international front which is his sole prerogative, the main achievements are France being expelled from Africa by no less, actually no more, than Russia, The AUKUS pact expelling it from the Pacific area, the attempt to negotiate with Putin resulting in an eastward shift of the European Union along with lasting mistrust from central and eastern European countries. On the national front, he will be remembered as the man who attempted and sometimes succeeded to destroy every social conquest since the election of the great President Mitterrand in 1981. The arrogance is matched by the paucity of results.

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