France has the world’s only tricameral system. There is the National Assembly, the Senate, and ‘the Street’ – the extra-parliamentary forces, often marshalled by left-wing trade unions. Extremists are ready to combat President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘ultra-liberalism’. But there are good reasons why the Street may not prevail this time.
A revolution is underway in France. Contrary to most, this one is fairly predictable and brilliantly executed so far. There will be five acts in total, the norm in French literature. The first two are behind us.
Act I was about creating a credible place on the political spectrum for the young and largely unknown Macron. This was done in record time. His En Marche! (On the Move) party was founded in April last year.
Act II encompassed Macron’s victory in the presidential election. Tired of reading that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front (FN), had a serious chance to come to power, I wrote an OMFIF commentary in February predicting a 65% score for Macron. This won me a few ‘stop dreaming’ mails. Ultimately, despite a terrorist attack on 20 April just before the first round of the election and the hacking of Macron’s emails just before the second, he scored 66.1% of the vote.
Act III is underway. It is about enlarging the presidential majority to include the ‘social’ part of the Republicans (LR), France’s main centre-right party. Macron yesterday appointed Edouard Philippe, an LR member of parliament, as prime minister. As a mayor of former communist stronghold Le Havre, he is used to negotiating with people who do not share his political vision. The economic revival of Le Havre since he became mayor in 2012 exemplifies Philippe’s credentials.
There could be other ministers coming from LR. In addition to several ministers from the centrist Democratic Movement, Macron may be able to afford to appoint some from the Socialist party (PS). That he owes little to crony politics means his cabinet may be the most competent in decades.
Act IV will take place soon, with the legislative elections on 11 and 18 June. Two months ago, getting an absolute majority for EM! looked impossible. Yet Macron has managed to breathe new life into the nominations. In a survey by research agency Harris Interactive, 75% of respondents said they were in favour of Macron’s list of candidates.
Act V will take place in the summer and early autumn, with Macron’s first reforms. This will be the most dramatic part. There will be disorder, particularly around the labour code, but there are three reasons why the Street will not triumph.
First, the reforms are set out explicitly in Macron’s legislative programme. Contrary to what happened with some of his predecessors, no one will be able to claim that Macron intends to implement a different agenda from the one he was elected on.
Second, it is unclear if Le Pen will still head a united party by the end of the year. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Marine’s niece and one of just two FN members of parliament, announced on 9 May she was leaving politics. This came as a shock to voters, who prefer her to Marine. Florian Philippot, the strategist behind Le Pen, has threatened to quit if the party reneges on its pledge to drop the euro. But if the party does not reverse its position on the euro, the numerous internal opponents of Philippot may quit.
Third, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Macron’s most dangerous left-wing rival, has returned to his recalcitrant ways. He has ended his alliance with the French Communist party, declared that he does not want to beat the PS but ‘replace’ it, and started to select the National Assembly candidates of his ‘France Unbowed’ movement alone rather than using grassroots online voting.
Macron is smart, lucky and determined to put to work Georges Danton’s motto, ‘De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace et la Patrie sera sauvée’ – ‘Audacity, more audacity, forever audacity – and the Fatherland will be saved.’ The upheaval of 1789-99 changed France, Europe and the world. The time has come for another, more peaceful revolution.
Jacques Lafitte is founder at Avisa Partners, Brussels, and formerly oversaw the euro dossier in the Cabinet of Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Yves-Thibault de Silguy.