L’urgence des réformes n’est plus ce qu’elle était

Arthur Goldhammer
31 August 2019

Time was, “reform” was the watchword of Macronism. Without it, the candidate insisted, France was doomed to stagnation or decline. The established political parties lacked the stomach for it. Real reform would take an outsider like Macron, whose litany of proposed reforms was so extensive that it would amount, he claimed in the title of his campaign tome, to a “Revolution!”

Urgency was in the air in 2017. The barbarians, in the form of the Front National, were at the gate. Without reform, we were told, they would soon be inside. And for the first two years the promised reforms arrived more or less on schedule–until the discontented donned their yellow vests. Then we began to hear more and more about a “change of method,” a need to “listen to the French people,” perhaps even to consult them in vaguely adumbrated referenda, and a sudden discovery of the virtues of “concertation” with all and sundry: unions, associations, stakeholders, corps intermédiaires, even, God help us, the same political parties previously declared to be useless obstacles to change–the Lampedusan sort of change that demands that “everything must change so that everything may remain the same,” as the Leopard put it.

But in this rentrée, the change that seemed so urgent in 2017 has suddenly become postponable. Two days ago, budget minister Gérard Darmanin announced that the retirement reform, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of Year III of Macron’s Revolution, was on hold for a year or so. This came only a few days after the president himself more or less scrapped the reform plans that had been carefully laid by the Philippe government. More importantly, the famous “inversion” of the unemployment curve, so devoutly wished by Hollande, has actually begun–slowly, painfully slowly, but clearly visible to all. Perhaps reform isn’t so urgent after all, one imagines the president thinking. Why risk riling up the malcontents yet again, when things seem to be headed in the right direction? It will be so much easier to sit tight and wait for the green shoots to blossom. We don’t need to emulate Germany after all–and anyway, things aren’t looking so good across the Rhine right now. Merkel is on her way out, and the AfD is surging. Suddenly, all the rois fainéants of the past seem more like prudent rulers than listless do-nothings.

And so Macron, who came on like gangbusters, seems on the verge of settling in to a fin de règne not unlike those of his hapless predecessors, the fathers he Oedipally sacrificed on his way to the throne. “Les Gaulois sont réfractaires à la réforme,” the president said in less lethargic times. Now he seems on the verge of discovering that “les Gaulois, c’est moi.” Of course, a week is a long time in politics, to say nothing of the three more years between now and 2022.

1 Comment

  • FrédéricLN says:

    Well, at the beginning at the quinquennat, before the “législatives”, at least Bayrou believed he could surf on their willingness to change things. But the “grande loi de moralisation de la vie politique” he hoped to pass in weeks, is still in its infancy two years later. Emergency ceased when Ms Goulard’s resignation forced him to leave too.

    Then we had 18 months of very dense parliamentary agitation, without any of the significant changes Macron’s supporters might have hoped. The case was especially clear on environmental issues, and led to Mr Hulot’s own resignation.

    Then came the Gilets Jaunes, and LREM mutated into Parti de l’Ordre, with some success. Mr Macron left some hope to progressists by organizing the “Grand Débat National”, then brilliantly killed the flame with a conclusion rejecting the most popular requests, just before elections that showed the limitations in voters’s support to the Gilets Jaunes and parties supporting them.

    Mr Macron did not only empty the Socialist electoral basis and LR’s raison d’être; he also showed that the popular movements, even if a broad majority, wasn’t able yet to crystallize on a political alternative (the same sentence might make sense for Germany, UK and Italy).

    I read somewhere (at the time of Monory at Sénat, I guess) that you remain in power even if minority, as long as your opponents can’t converge. In such a configuration, the less you move, the less opportunities to move you give to your opponents.

    Former Sarkozy’s advisor (and considered as anti-immigration advocate) Maxime Tandonnet describes a “champ de ruines”, https://maximetandonnet.wordpress.com/2019/09/04/champ-de-ruines-2/, I share partly this view.

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