President Macron was elected on the promise of bringing radical change to France while operating from the centre of the political spectrum or, as he put it ‘neither right nor left.’
Living up to the hype and the promise was always going to be difficult – especially so in a France that seems so resistant to change.
That said, the President has pushed through some significant reforms, including labour market reforms, that many thought would be well-nigh impossible. In return he has been rewarded with a plunge in his popularity. Not unexpected. Any change will have losers as well as winners.
However, for me, the disappointment comes from his lack of radicalism. Macron promised to govern (some would say rule) from the radical centre. At Radix we were therefore particularly interested in what he understood by that and, hopefully, to learn from it.
The reality has been somewhat different. Macron is governing from a pretty traditional centre-right platform. The policies he has been implementing are straight from the playbook of the 1980s and 1990s – flexible labour markets, reduced government expenditure, lots of nice words but no meaningful action on environmental issues (his environment minister has just publicly resigned in protest), and so on.
His European policies also contain few, if any, new ideas. Banking union, some kind of sharing of financial risk (both of which have been essentially killed at birth by Germany), and so on.
Maybe the only suggestion that will be considered radical by some European bureaucrats is the (not so new) model of concentric circles with a highly integrated inner core and a less integrated periphery (which may include a post-Brexit UK).
So far so bland; and so much re-hashing of the 20th century neoliberal consensus. That may be considered radical for France, but almost everywhere else has been through this process decades ago and that programme is running out of steam.
No new ideas about how to re-define the social contract. No radical thoughts about how to cope with immigration and multiculturalism. Nothing to replace the discredited model of trickle-down economics that he seems to be trying to push on a resistant, collective-minded France.
No new thinking about how to deal with the information revolution, the gig economy and the potential impact of all of that on job security and international competitiveness.
On international trade, Macron also seems to have drunk the usual Kool-Aid. Like everyone else he talks about liberalised trade and defending the rules based order without seemingly recognising that that order is over once and for all.
As Fraser Nelson rightly points out in the Telegraph (£), his programme is what most Brits would recognize as a traditional centre-right programme that could have easily come out of the UK Conservative Party.
Maybe for France that constitutes sufficient radicalism. But for the rest of us, we expected more – new ideas from the radical centre rather than a tired re-hashing of 1990s centre-right policies.
Maybe France did miss the wave of neo-liberal policies when they were in their heyday. But rather than trying to catch up three decades later, might it not have been better to vault over that period and come up with a fresh set of ideas fit for the 21st century?
Of course, that’s easier said than done. But it would have been nice to see an attempt.
At the time of his election, some argued that if one were to scratch below the Macron surface, one would will not find a revolutionary but rather a creature of the establishment captured by traditional ideas underpinned a monarchical view of the presidency.
There is still time to prove them wrong. We can but hope.
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