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October 19th, 2017

Insight

Macron's 'radical centrism' sure looks a lot like conservatism

James McAuley

By James McAuley The Washington Post

Published May 22, 2017

Macron's 'radical centrism' sure looks a lot like conservatism
PARIS - Emmanuel Macron, France's newly inaugurated president, announced his cabinet Wednesday. The country's youngest head of state in decades presented a list of appointees with a median age of 54 and that ultimately ceded control of the nation's economic affairs to right-wing politicians.


Macron, 39, was elected on the highly unusual platform of muscular centrism - without the backing of either the center-left or center-right parties that have governed France since 1958. His list of cabinet ministers provided an early indication of what his lofty "neither-right-nor-left" platform would look like in practice.


The answer: significantly conservative on the budget and the economy, as Macron - a former investment banker - appointed two well-known conservatives, Bruno Le Maire, 48, and Gerald Darmanin, 34, to lead the economic and budget ministries, respectively.


These followed Macron's appointment of Edouard Philippe, 46, another member of the center-right Les Republicains party, as his prime minister, France's official head of government. Although other prominent posts were assigned to Socialists - notably, France's interior and foreign affairs ministries - many of the leftists who grudgingly rallied behind Macron in the election were already disappointed.


Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, the first secretary of France's Socialist party, said on Twitter after the announcement that Macron's new appointments represented a "new government but no government of renewal." If there were certain "guarantees for the left," he wrote, "Matignon and Bercy are on the right." Matignon refers to the French prime minister's headquarters; Bercy to the Paris seat of the economy minister.


Macron's intent to liberalize the French economy was a frequent campaign promise, and his proposals probably contributed to his appeal among the conservative voters who backed him against the far-right Marine Le Pen in the election's final round. As the finance minister under former president François Hollande, a Socialist, Macron was also an outspoken advocate of market reforms devised to reboot a faltering economy with very little growth and an unemployment rate that has hovered around 10 percent for years.


Among other things, those reforms sought to expand France's storied 35-hour workweek and to make it slightly easier for French companies to fire employees, who receive a significant number of labor protections. The law sparked weeks of protests last year, but the proposed reforms became law in August 2016 after the government pushed them through Parliament.


Despite Macron's service in a Socialist cabinet, his support for these measures - along with his stint as an investment banker at Rothschild, where he pocketed a reported $2.9 million - earned him a reputation as a neoliberal not fully committed to the leftist cause.

This was a mainstay of the highly contentious election Macron ultimately won. Throughout the campaign, the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon - whose leftist populism received an astonishing degree of support, especially among younger voters - railed against Macron. When Macron was elected, Melenchon said that the "program of the new monarch-style president is known already" and constituted "a war against the French social system."


But continuing market reforms will be key for Macron, especially regarding his pledge to double down on France's commitments to the European Union. Speaking in Berlin this week alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he promised to "apply in-depth reforms" in his country, largely to regain Germany's trust in France's competence in managing its own domestic affairs.


Tellingly, Macron changed the title of the French Foreign Affairs Ministry to the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, suggesting the primacy of the European Union in his international agenda.


In keeping with Macron's promise to promote representative equality, half of the 18 ministers he named are women.

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