20:00, 7 May 2017. France breathes again.
After more than ten months of one of the most rampant electoral campaigns France has ever known and the rise of populist parties - from the Insoumis to the National Front - Emmanuel Macron is elected President. Since the very beginning of his mandate, Macron emphasized on the use of symbols more than ever before. For those who were in France at the time, you surely remember his long walk in the Palais du Louvre as “Ode to Joy” blared through the speakers. Ten months later, one could consider Macron as the European Trudeau: the same youthfulness, but perhaps the same hypocrisy too? Let me offer him my congratulations first.
Just a few weeks ago, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Macron addressed world leaders stating: “France is back”. Even if we can’t credit the originality of the expression to him (and I’d rather not compare him to Ronald Reagan), we can agree with him. Indeed, France is back. We’ve faced tribulations: a President that looked and acted like a six-year old child, and another one that was unable to execute his proposals. We had a vulnerable country facing enormous socio-political tensions. Macron is young, handsome, clever, and he speaks English: he has everything needed to get a job, especially if this job is called “President of the French Republic”. Since he came to power, France seems to have gone through a phase of transformation. A new type of government, made of specialists (such as Blanquer, former director of ESSEC who is now Minister of Education), a reformed national assembly full of new deputies; younger, more globalized and closer to the realities of the population? This is debatable. Closer to the realities of a population for sure: the population that has succeeded, the one that has the money, that speaks English. But what about the other part: the poorer half, the ones who did not have the chance to pursue further education? This part of the population seems to be placed on the sidelines by the start-up nation; a country where everyone can be their own boss! The election of Macron and his policies have, to me, furthered the social tensions in France.
However, these tensions arise between alternative classifications of the society. From a country that opposed the rich part of the society to the poorer one, we now enter a conflict amongst those who do and those who do not embrace globalization. But don’t you dare worry, because France is back and that’s the most important.
Yes, we’re back. We have a whole new president that is going to China, speaking MANDARIN with Xi Jinping because he’s COOL and made the effort of learning a page of Mandarin. He’s cool, right? Routinely, he uses this handy phrase that will trigger the media’s curiosity: “la meilleure façon de s’acheter un costard c’est de travailler” (The best way to afford a suit is to get a job) ,“une gare, c’est un lieu où on croise des gens qui réussissent et des gens qui ne sont rien” (A train station is a place in which you can find people that are succeeding and people who are nothing), etc. Macron knows he’s being filmed when he’s saying that, he knows this will be used by the media and “répété, amplifié, déformé”, as some would say. Nevertheless, he loves it, he gloats about it. Why? Because it raises questions. Is working the best way to get yourself a suit? Can we really find people who are nothing and people who have succeeded in train stations? More seriously, even though we may and will have opposite views on what the answer to these questions are, and to what extent Macron’s words are condemnable, we all hold these feelings. Macron wants to change French society. Now, his project is highly contestable. Personally, I am a Macron defender in most facets, although I do have my reservations on some points. However, putting political opinions aside, one cannot object that he is trying to change society. Step by step, through reforms, he wants to get France back on the tracks of world leadership. Macron is not aiming at an American-style hegemonic leadership, rather a multipolar one in which France can compete with other world powers. Changing a society that says “no” so much that it could say no to a proposal of increasing all wages (never forget that the only candidate that implemented universal income in his program ended up obtaining 6% of the votes) is a challenging task. In a society where our politicians love themselves so much that they turn themselves into holograms, it is all about appearance.
Right from the get-go, his mandate has always been a question of communication. Take for example the documentary about Macron’s campaign which was broadcasted the day after his presidential victory. After six months of one of the most violent political campaigns France has known… we were looking at a startup filled with young and joyful people who speak English and look like they are having the best time of their life. Where is the violence? Macron himself complained facing very violent attacks during his campaign about his wife, his alleged homosexuality, etc. None of this was shown in the documentary. Macron knew he was being filmed, he knew everything he would say could be in the final product. He contained himself. Because it was all about communication, again. But then, where is the line between communication and propaganda? This documentary is considered by many to basically be a 45-minute advertisement for Macron. What do you learn from it? Nothing. And that’s exactly what Macron wanted: he managed to survive this campaign, to avoid falling in the traps created to shatter his image. He managed to retain his image as the innocent boy, far away from the dirty work of politics. Macron introduced a whole new way of doing politics. I completely acknowledge the claim that his policies can be contested and disagreed upon. But I think we should all agree that he is an excellent communicator. Instead of letting Trump take the spotlight at every occasion, Macron uses his counterpart’s notoriety to achieve his own goals. “Make America Great Again” transformed into “Make Our Planet Great Again”. I don’t think Macron’s call for the environment would have had the same notoriety if he didn’t spoof Trump’s infamous campaign slogan.
Macron’s opponents like to compare him with a macaron: beautiful on the outside, empty on the inside, and certainly only for the rich. While the comparison is understandable, it is completely wrong. Macron has a project for France: he wants to succeed in leading it, and he will use everything in his power to do so. Thanks to his communication strategy, the French society is becoming the least of his problems in this fight.
Nathan Lefievre is a second year French student at Sciences Po Paris, Campus du Havre.
Edited by Alex Kloß and Paxia Ksatryo