Jolyon Howorth, Understanding The Macron Phenomenon – Analysis
Macron has insisted that, in France, two ideological currents previously thought to be incompatible – cultural and political liberalism traditionally defended by the left, and economic and commercial liberalism traditionally defended by the right – can in fact be rendered compatible within one broad political family. A recent opinion survey shows that Macron supporters are closer to the left on cultural liberal issues and closer to the right on economic liberal issues. Macron has suggested that, rather than a clear split between these two currents within liberalism, there is a continuum. How extensive and durable that continuum proves to be is a function of the statistical paradox examined earlier. Millions of French voters – a clear majority – remain resistant to Macronism. Given the electoral collapse of both mainstream left and mainstream right, the fate of the centrist continuum, as the new government sets about governing, will be decided not only in the street – the last available platform for the radical left – but also in internal battles within the ranks of La République en Marche. With 350 deputies, half of them political novices drawn from civil society, the party has plenty of scope for internal dissension. Macron considers the old cleavage between left and right to be out of date. The main cleavages henceforth will be between centrist “progressists” and “conservatives” of both left and right as well as between Europeanists and nationalists.
The third story behind the Macron phenomenon is a program that aspires to be revolutionary. The first law to be enacted aims at eliminating corruption in political life. Economic policies involve an unprecedented attempt to combine key features of economic liberalism – greater flexibility in employment, lower company taxes, encouragement of industrial and commercial innovation, massive professional retraining programs – with generous state protection and increased benefits for those on the lowest incomes. The state and the market are cast as symbiotic partners. Reducing inequalities is paramount, involving major reform in housing and health policies. Domestic challenges include reforming the labor market through wholesale revision of an arcane code that runs to more than 3,000 pages, developing a new model of growth based on harnessing the digital economy, encouraging entrepreneurship, raising significant tax revenues from internet companies, reducing taxes on firms that invest in growth, and funding research and development in environmental transition. Macron invited all US climate scientists to relocate to France.
The French economy’s structural problems are toxic. The nation has not had a balanced budget since the 1960s. The debt to GDP ratio of 96 percent is among Europe’s worst. Macron intends, where all his predecessors failed for want of trying, to reverse that situation by bold initiative. His leadership style is executive. He consults widely but decides alone – and then expects total loyalty in implementation. To date, this has worked extraordinarily well.
Outside France, there are two priorities: to re-launch European integration through a balanced and dynamic Franco-German axis; and to generate a new deal for Africa, in part to stem the flow of migrants. If Macron succeeds at only half of what he intends, he will prove to be a transformational president. If he fails, Marine Le Pen will be back with a vengeance.
Jolyon Howorth has been a visiting professor of political science and International affairs at Yale since 2002, dividing his teaching among the Political Science Department, the Jackson Institute and Ethics, Politics and Economics. He has published extensively in the field of European politics and history, especially security and defense policy and transatlantic relations – with 15 books and more than 250 journal articles and book chapters. He is the Jean Monnet Professor of European Politics and Emeritus Professor of European Studies at the University of Bath.