Föhrenbergkreis Finanzwirtschaft

Unkonventionelle Lösungen für eine zukunftsfähige Gesellschaft

If France’s reforms succeeded

Posted by hkarner - 15. Juli 2017

Date: 13-07-2017
Source: The Economist

What a Macron miracle could do for France and Europe

Suppose France’s president manages to transform his country and his continent

FOR as long as anybody could remember, the French president had given his annual Bastille Day address in front of the sweeping lawns of the Elysée Palace garden. But the July 14th speech of 2026 marked a revolution of a different sort. The president spoke from the modernist glass-and-steel presidency building, newly inaugurated in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis. The moment was rich in symbolism. The move from the historic presidential palace, which is to be turned into a museum, marked not only the merger of the capital with its once-declining banlieues. It sent another message: nine years after his first election, Emmanuel Macron has turned France towards the future.

It was not always clear that things would work out this well. During his first years, Mr Macron made his share of beginner’s errors. He underestimated the idealism of his first-time deputies, freshly recruited to En Marche! (“On the Move!”) for the parliamentary elections in 2017, and narrowly avoided defeat on a bill to hand sweeping counter-terrorism powers to the police. He overestimated his ability to outwit Vladimir Putin, and got embroiled in an unfortunate overseas adventure against an Islamist incursion in Niger. “The ambition of young leaders is always humbled by foreign entanglements,” sniffed a veteran Republican, who had lost his seat to a 35-year-old En Marche! debutant.
The new French president also misjudged the shrewd skills of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, niece of Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist National Front (FN) whom he had defeated in 2017. Europe had celebrated that resounding victory as a watershed moment for the struggle against nationalist populism. The FN was considered a spent force: it was split, demoralised, and faced chronic debts. But Ms Maréchal-Le Pen sensed her aunt’s weakness. She evicted Ms Le Pen in a dynastic coup, ejecting her coterie of anti-euro advisers. Returning the party to its traditionalist Catholic roots, the telegenic young Ms Maréchal-Le Pen built a formidable nationalist opposition party, helped by defections from Republican hardliners. Commentators recalled soberly that only 24% of voters had backed Mr Macron at the first round in 2017, and warned of a new Le Pen threat.

Yet, on the policy front, Mr Macron managed to get things broadly right. After the famous “autumn of mécontentement” in 2017, when strikes and demonstrations against his signature labour bill exasperated commuters and rubbish lay rotting in the unseasonal heat, the president stood firm. Editorialists called it his “Thatcher moment”. It was followed by a series of reforms that revamped the welfare and unemployment systems, to encourage job creation and train young people for work. Thanks also to a more stable fiscal regime, business confidence returned, and firms started to invest and hire. La French tech, which had fled to London’s Hoxton, returned to colonise edgy districts of northern and eastern Paris. Even France’s public finances were brought into line. From Berlin, into her fourth term as chancellor, Angela Merkel watched, speechless.

There was no immediate economic miracle. Mr Macron knew from German history that the return on such efforts took time. But he told the French as much, keeping up national morale as best he could. Thanks to the new can-do spirit, Paris won its bid to host the Olympics in 2024.

France first, then Europe
Mr Macron used this as a pretext to unify Greater Paris, erasing the divisive boundary of the périphérique ring road, and giving the banlieues the symbolic embrace they had long sought. Its first mayor, Jacques-Antoine Granjon, an online entrepreneur, was the brains behind moving the presidency. Xavier Niel, a tech billionaire, was made education minister. Coding became part of the primary curriculum. The French adopted new technology with all the zeal they had once reserved for Minitel, an early online service. Paris became a global research hub for artificial intelligence. Frédéric Mazzella, founder of a ride-sharing startup, was made transport minister; car ownership, and pollution, fell.

The timing of those early reforms proved crucial for Mr Macron’s re-election in 2022. They began to pay off just before the campaign got under way, enabling him to defeat Ms Maréchal-Le Pen in a run-off vote, despite her ice-cool performance in a televised debate that was contrasted with her aunt’s behaviour five years previously.

Mr Macron’s second term proved decisive. As Germany’s economy began to suffer the effects of years of public underinvestment, France’s new economic vigour challenged German dominance. German economists started to model a scenario in which France’s advantage in demography enabled its economy to outpace Germany’s. After decades of morosité the French came to recognise their strengths: not only population growth but world-class engineering schools, fine craftsmanship and high-end creativity.

The new dynamic at the heart of Europe was not just economic. Britain’s turn inwards after Brexit pushed France and Germany into each other’s arms. With his carefully calibrated German-speaking team, Mr Macron pitched his case to Berlin with just the right tone, restoring confidence with serious reform and fiscal rigour at home. Germany, seeing France respecting European budgetary rules and showing signs of economic confidence, started to put aside its habitual distrust. France began to press its own demands more credibly. At first, Franco-German initiatives were symbolic. There was a joint investment fund, and some mutualised defence procurement. In an innovative experiment, each sent a bilingual minister to serve in the other’s government.

By the start of Mr Macron’s second term, however, with a more Macron-friendly team in the finance ministry in Berlin, the German calculation began to shift. Germany agreed to formal talks on institutional change, including the creation of a euro-zone finance minister and common budget. Renewed French leadership encouraged Germany to shrug off its own reservations. The pair jointly took up causes beyond Europe’s borders, including climate change and global inequality. Prompted by the geostrategic retreat of America and Britain, Germany became a regular troop contributor to EU military operations, particularly in the African Sahel. By 2026, opinion polls showed that faith in Europe outstripped scepticism in almost every one of the 27 EU countries.

As academic papers began to appear on the “French renaissance”, analysing how a once-mighty nation could fall and rise again, Europe reaped another benefit. Other countries discouraged by decades of decline and disorder took note. Italy, which like France had once believed that politics could offer little more than the management of decline, was given fresh hope. Mr Macron’s radical centrism, a political philosophy designed to bring the left and right together to build an open society against the forces of nationalism, inspired lookalikes. The Italian version of the En Marche! Election Handbook became a bestseller, inspiring the victory of “In Movimento!” The upshot was a strengthened, more confident and less divergent euro zone, and a political model for curbing nationalism.

So it was a satisfied President Macron—not yet 49 years old—who sat down in front of a giant plate-glass window on Bastille Day 2026 to speak to the nation. He had decided to quit politics after his second term, and finish the novels he had sat up drafting late into the night. Thinking back, he recalled wryly how he was mocked in 2017 for talking up a French renaissance. But, then again, he was also mocked for thinking he would be elected in the first place.

The German calculation began to shift

 

Advertisements

Kommentar verfassen

Bitte logge dich mit einer dieser Methoden ein, um deinen Kommentar zu veröffentlichen:

WordPress.com-Logo

Du kommentierst mit Deinem WordPress.com-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Twitter-Bild

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Twitter-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Facebook-Foto

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Facebook-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Google+ Foto

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Google+-Konto. Abmelden / Ändern )

Verbinde mit %s