France: Emmanuel Macron’s marvellous manoeuvres this week

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As a boy Emmanuel Macron grew up receiving praise. He was an exceptional youth and he deserved it.

It was a virtuous circle. The more he excelled, the more he was extolled – and praise was the incentive that kept him at the top.

Twenty years on, nothing has changed. Today Mr Macron runs France, but it is the same urge to shine that keeps the lights on into the small hours at the Elysée.

And as for the praise? Well, all you can say is that it that the givers keep on giving.

Today, paeans are once again being sung at the end of another week in which France’s president shaped events around him.

First, the carpet

His offer to loan the Bayeux tapestry to the UK had the British press and establishment purring with approval.

What a masterstroke of cultural diplomacy, they said.

The man is a cross between Metternich and Michelangelo! And Machiavelli too.

Airport? Non!

Less widely reported, but more significant at home, was his decision in the festering case of the airport-that-never-was. For years the limp-wristedness of French governments had led to a bizarre situation in Nantes.

A massive new airport, approved by everyone who had a legal right to decide as well as by a local referendum, was held up by 200 radical squatters.

No-one dared turf them from their cabins because of a real risk of violence, so the airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes – first mooted half a century ago! – was still farmland and forest.

Activists celebrate after the French government announced plans of an airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes
Activists celebrate after plans of an airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes were scrapped

Emmanuel Macron had promised that as president he would not stand for any more dilly-dallying. The state’s authority would be preserved.

So what did he do this week? Naturellement, he abandoned the airport for good.

And the extraordinary thing is that once again, the result was… more praise.

Of course there are many in the west of the country who are furious that their airport will not be built. But what most French people see is a government that – unlike its predecessors – is prepared to take tough decisions. And that they rather like.

Even Le Monde, which does its best normally to find flaws in the Macron master plan, accepted that the airport manoeuvre was “perilous but ably done”.

Wait! There is more

In other news this week, more signs emerged that the French economy has turned a corner. For the first time since 2009, there were more factory openings than closures. Growth should be back to pre-crash levels.

Mr Macron’s new labour code bore first fruit with the news that unions at Peugeot-Citroën have accepted a voluntary redundancy plan, negotiated at factory level. Previously this would have been impossible, as the company is not making losses.

A man shops at a mall in Talange, eastern France, on the first day of the regional winter sales, on 2 January 2017
Things are getting better – slowly, some may say – for the French economy

On immigration, it is true, the president came under attack from the left because of the perceived harshness of his new law. Basically this should distinguish more clearly between those who can and cannot stay in France.

But even here, the attacks do Mr Macron no harm at all. As a poll showed this week, two thirds of the French think policy towards migrants is “too lax”.

So while the public may not actually be praising Mr Macron for his immigration policy, they certainly do not want him to go in the opposite direction.

Hello monsieur

And then on Friday, the president had talks in Paris with Angela Merkel – the German chancellor embroiled in coalition wrangling and very much looking like yesterday’s woman.

Earlier the new Austrian chancellor was in Paris. And before him the Turkish leader. Both – let it be noted – came to France and then went on to Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron Talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on first day of a European union summit in Brussels at the EU headquarters on 14 December 2017
Mr Macron and Mrs Merkel, seen here in December, met again in Paris this week

Up till a few months ago, that would not have been the natural order of events. Now Mr Macron is the go-to guy in Europe.

What is happening here? Can it last? Does everything he touches turn to gold? Is it just la Baraka, the blessing of good fortune?

These are questions that no-one can answer. At some point, inevitably, the lustre will start to fade. On Europe, in particular, his visionary ambition may not turn out to be in tune with popular feeling. Being oppositionless is good in the short term, dangerous thereafter.

But for now, the virtuous circle keeps on revolving. And the eulogisers keep on eulogising.

Source :

BBC

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