Although Emmanuel Macron campaigned for the French presidency as an exemplar of the Third Way, since taking office he has governed with broadly right-wing policies, even if that means ripping up some of his campaign promises.
Macron makes a big deal of the idea that he is following the policies on which he was elected. “I’m doing what I said I would,” he often proclaims. But perhaps the gentleman doth protest too much.
In his first year at the Élysée Palace, the self-proclaimed “Jupiterian” president has put forward a dizzying array of reforms: the anti-corruption “moralisation” law, reform of the labour law by presidential decrees, reform of university admissions, reform of the railways, constitutional reform, a new domestic security law, new immigration and asylum immigration legislation … The list goes on.
And despite Macron’s flagship campaign slogan that he is “neither left, nor right”, most of these policies are on the right side of the political spectrum.
President of the rich?
Macron’s economic policy is a prime example. He appointed Édouard Philippe as prime minister, Bruno Le Maire as economy minister and Gérald Darmanin budget minister – all erstwhile members of the right-wing Les Républicains party. In doing so, he set his economic reforms in a broadly neo-liberal direction.
This was made clear by the first finance law Macron introduced, which got rid of France’s wealth tax and replaced it with a 30 percent flat tax on income accrued from capital – considerably reducing the tax burden on the wealthiest. Meanwhile, tax reforms that help the working and middle classes are staggered over several months, in the case of employees’ national insurance contributions, and over several years in the case of housing tax.
So is Macron the “president of the rich”, as his left-wing opponents say? He has defended himself against this accusation by pointing to forthcoming reforms such as doubling funding for state schools in deprived inner city areas. But such measures pale in comparison to Macron’s policies aiding the rich – the latest example being his plan to abolish the “exit tax”, which was introduced in 2011 to combat tax evasion among French businesses.
Despite his protestations, Macron has not always kept his campaign promises. For example, as a candidate, he said he wanted France to end its state of emergency. “We can’t live under exceptional circumstances forever, so we’ve got to get back to the ordinary law,” he wrote in his 2016 memoir-cum-manifesto “Revolution”. A year later, the state of emergency was gone, but the terrorism and domestic security law put into place on October 30, 2017, has put several of its provisions on the statute book – notably on house arrest and putting terror suspects under police control.
Constroversial asylum law
The recent asylum and immigration bill also shows a big gap between what Macron the candidate said and what Macron the president is doing. In 2017 he declared that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had “saved the honour” of Europe by having Germany take in nearly a million migrants in 2015. But his asylum and immigration law – which passed its first reading in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French legislature, on April 23 – has sparked controversy. Members of France’s Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), those of the National Asylum Court, human rights groups and the ombudsman Jacques Toubon have all criticised Macron for making it harder for people to get asylum in France and for working towards a goal of expelling people without residence permits.
In the eyes of many on the left – especially Macron’s supporters from that side of the ideological spectrum – this proposed law betrays his promise of a Third Way balance between “humanity and firmness”.
Security and immigration are key priorities for right-wing voters. In addition to Macron’s conservative overtures on these issues, there is his appointment of Jean-Michel Blanquer – who regularly denounces a teaching community associated with the left – as education minister. There is his government’s hardline approach to the recent waves of strikes and protests. And there is his declaration – made in a speech at a conference of French Catholic bishops – that he regretted that “the link between church and state has been damaged” (France’s form of stringent secularism, known as laïcité, is seen as a cornerstone of the nation’s republican identity; the Catholic Church, meanwhile, has historically been regarded as a reactionary force in French politics). On all these issues, Macron has sent strong signals to the right.
Keeping Les Républicains voters happy
In making a big step to the right, Macron is furthering his agenda of shaking up France’s political landscape. Notably, he has pushed Les Républicains even further to the right under their new leader Laurent Wauquiez. But, in courting right-wing voters, Macron risks alienating the people who voted for him in 2017, who were mostly on the left or centre of the political spectrum.
An IPSOS poll for French daily Le Monde published on April 6 has shown a change in France’s perception of the ideological position of Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) party. Whereas only 33 percent defined LREM as right-wing in 2017, 50 percent now do.
Perhaps even more tellingly, a study by Kantar Sofres-One Point, published in French daily Le Figaro on May 3, showed that 53 percent of Les Républicains supporters are happy with Macron.
And what about the “big social project” Macron promised for 2018? Announcements are expected in the coming weeks on healthcare and on reducing social inequalities within cities. With this, Macron will have the chance to either reorient his policies or to cement his move to the right.