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Eye on France: Emmanuel Macron's risky business

The man himself: the French president takes a break from writing to the neighbours.
The man himself: the French president takes a break from writing to the neighbours. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Le Monde’s editorial looks at what the centrist paper calls the “national and European risks” being taken by President Emmanuel Macron. Which Le Monde suggests might ultimately undermine his presidency.


What are they talking about?

Nationally, Macron is continuing the fight against les gilets jaunes by trying to debate them into submission.

On the European front, the French leader has written an open letter to everyone, trying to set the tone and the tempo for the upcoming continental elections.

How risky is all that?

It seems like fairly clever footwork to get angry protestors off the streets and into the debating chamber. And having your thoughts and ambitions published in the quality press all over Europe, on the same day, is no mean trick either.

French daily Le Monde says the presidential letter has been greeted with the usual chorus of criticism from the usual critics here in France. And by a sort of benevolent indifference in the other European capitals.

But Macron’s missive deserves a closer look.

What does it all mean?

First of all, the French leader has effectively by-passed 27 other governments and directly addressed the entire foreign electorate.

But Emmanuel Macron, who marched into the French presidency to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the official European anthem, has never made any secret of his determination to reform and strengthen the EU. Who better to talk to on the eve of the Spring polls than the voters, whether French, Lithuanian, Slovenian, whatever you’re having yourself. 

Especially when the continental union is under such serious threat.

Between external pressure from the huge international powers, and internal fractures provoked by Brexiters, Italian and Hungarian nationalists and others struck by the siege mentality, the European community is certainly showing signs of weakness, disintegration, even collapse.

Macron’s letter, says Le Monde, avoided any false appeal to what we might call “europtimism,” a sort of religious invocation of the virtues of federalism as an antidote to the things that actually scare many Europeans: porous borders, insecurity, unemployment, commercial competition, and so on.

Those fears are real.

The risk is that no one is going to be convinced by Macron’s proposals for dealing with them.

The outcome of the 26 May Europe-wide election is going to have a huge impact on the rest of the Macron mandate.

Dark clouds are building over the economy

We’ll give the last, and not unrelated, word to the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has just released its intermediate figures on the prospects for global economic growth this year.

The news is, I’m afraid, not great.

After a sluggish 3.6 percent last year, the OECD has been obliged to revise downwards its estimates for this year. On current trends, the world economy will grow by only 3.3 percent in 2019, and by 3.4 the year after.

French business paper Les Echossays Europe is paying a heavy price for the general slowdown in international trade.

While the OECD last November predicted a fairly miserable 1.8 percent for the Eurozone, that has now been reduced to just one percent. German growth alone has lost nearly a percent. Italy is likely to go into recession. France comes out well, relatively speaking, with 1.3 percent, exactly half the likely growth rate for the US economy.

The Chinese dragon is in the dumps

China is doing badly by its own standards, with Gross Domestic Product unlikely to grow by more than 6 percent.

Trade wars are mostly to blame for the overall slowdown, with Brexit doing its bit, aided by political tensions in Germany and Italy.

The only good news concerns the employment statistics, which are holding up well. And those who have jobs are earning and spending more.

Rich countries are even beginning to report gaps at the bottom of the labour market, down where the hard work is done.

The OECD has called for what the organization describes as “increased multilateral dialogue”. Let’s just hope the man at the helm in Washington is listening. He, of course, tends to the unilateral and the monologue. But the latest figures show that Donald Trump’s policies are already having a negative effect on the rest of the world. And that will inevitably harm the United States in the long run. 

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