May 20th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Morrison's budget jive lacks inherent harmony

CANBERRA OBSERVED Does budget do heavy lifting or is it "Labor lite"?

NEW ZEALAND Porn poll shows strong majority supports default opt-out policy to protect kids online

FRANCE Emmanuel Macron: a president without a political base

YOUNG POLITICAL ACTIVIST TRAINING (YPAT) Seven-day intensive course without equal in Australia

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Taiwan to go full steam ahead with submarines

RURAL AFFAIRS Murray Goulburn closures an omen of an industry in crisis

CLIMATE SCIENCE Temperature hasn't risen in 20 years: latest data

QUEENSLAND ENERGY 50 per cent renewables target: Is it credible?

LITERATURE Inexplicable: the ongoing appeal of H.P. Lovecraft

LITERATURE The gentle giant: Samuel Johnson

MUSIC Promissory notes: the public funding siphon

CINEMA Going in Style: Old dogs turned rookie robbers


BOOK REVIEW An abstemious revolutionary

BOOK REVIEW Soviet-era thriller revels in details

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Emmanuel Macron: a president without a political base

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 20, 2017

The clear-cut election of Emmanuel Macron as France’s next President, with the backing of both the left-wing Socialists and the right-wing Republicans, disguised the fact that Macron has no traditional base of support, and will face an uphill battle to control the National Assembly, after elections are held in a month’s time.

Emmanuel Macron

The National Assembly appoints the country’s Prime Minister, who holds most of the executive power in the country, except foreign affairs and defence, which are the prerogative of the President.

As one French commentator, Pierre Briançon, wrote: “It’s nice to be elected French president. But it doesn’t amount to much if you don’t have a majority in parliament to implement your program.”

France’s political system is based on a popularly elected president, a National Assembly of 577 individual constituencies, and an indirectly elected Senate.

The voting system favours the major parties. In the last National Assembly election, the Socialists won a working majority over the Republicans, and have supported President Hollande. This will change next month.


The party system in France has fractured with the emergence of Emmanuel Macron, the collapse of the Socialist Party vote with the defection of many of its members to Macron, the discrediting of the Republican presidential candidate, François Fillon, and the emergence of Marine Le Pen’s National Front as the largest right-wing party.

Macron has announced that he will support candidates for all positions in the National Assembly, indicating that he does not want to rely on any other party. However, he faces formidable problems.

In the first round of the presidential election, he secured just 24 per cent of the popular vote, and more recent opinion polls have put the support for his new party, En Marche!, at 26 per cent.

A comparison between the 2017 vote and that in 2012, when François Hollande was elected President, shows that the Socialist Party vote has slumped from 29 per cent down to 6 per cent. Almost all of this went to Macron, but some also went to the left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who scored nearly 20 per cent in the first round of the presidential election.

Polls conducted recently suggest that the Socialist Party vote is likely to remain at single-digit levels, a major shake-up in French politics.

While Macron has inherited the Socialist Party’s vote, his agenda is far to the right of the Socialists, particularly on economic policy, where he favours labour-market deregulation, a long-held policy of the right, and France’s deeper integration into the European Union.

For people who support the Socialists, Macron is a natural ally, having been a minister in the Government of François Hollande from 2014 to 2016.

However, the parties further left hold a deep suspicion of Macron, who is a former merchant banker, and a supporter of deregulation of the French labour market and of tighter integration with the European Union.

After Macron won the presidency, Mélenchon attacked him furiously. He said that Macron was planning a war on the French social system and called on his voters to mobilise against the former banker in parliamentary elections in June. “The program of the new monarch-style president is known already. It is a war against the French social system, and ecological irresponsibility,” he declared.

Mélenchon said the country had massively rejected the far right and added that parliamentary elections must show that this is a moment of positive choice.

A major shake-up on the right looks certain in the wake of the Presidential election, with polls showing that the National Front continues to have the support of about 20 per cent of the French population, about the same as the right-wing Republicans.

Le Pen said that her party “must undergo a profound transformation” in the run-up to the National Assembly election, including a change of name.

Her problem is that to be a major force in the National Assembly, Le Pen must reach an accommodation with the Republicans, who are opposed to her policies on a number of key issues: immigration, membership of the European Union, and labour-market reform.

Up to the present, the Republicans have refused to have anything to do with the National Front.

The elections in France have already eroded the power of the parties that have dominated French politics since the 1960s. And even if Emmanuel Macron is able to get a working majority in the National Assembly, the underlying challenges he faces are formidable.

With a population of 64 million people, France has registered little economic growth in recent years, while unemployment is over 10 per cent, and more than 20 per cent among the young.

France’s economy is being held back by the soaring size of the public sector and too little productive investment in areas such as the auto, aviation and electronics industries.

Attempts to rein in government deficits contributed to the unpopularity of both Nicholas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Macron is unlikely to do any better.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm