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'Jupiter', pigs and a gift to the rich...

Editorialistes (opinion writers) hold a major role in the French press. Here, in a new regular column, French journalist Paul de Villepin examines their recent hot topics.

Mainstream editorialists have sometimes been criticised for too blatant support for and admiration of Emmanuel Macron.

Thomas Guénolé, a prominent political scientist who is regularly invited to express his far-left positions in the media, recently appeared on Europe 1 radio to denounce this tendency and what he considered to be a lack of transparency.

Europe 1 is owned by Lagardère, a conglomerate that also includes Elle, Paris Match and Le Journal du Dimanche. Mr Guénolé vigorously demanded that several major opinion writers “come out” and publicly reveal their “political colour”.

However following this call, only Jean-Michel Aphatie from France Info and Arnaud Leparmentier from Le Monde responded, but even they did not clearly state their views.

Mr Guénolé went on to do his own analysis of leading opinion writers' views, finding in his opinion that the majority had (broadly like Mr Macron) a political bias that was pro-free trade and to a certain extent supportive of minorities.

This comes as, Bruno Roger Petit – a renowned TV journalist and opinion writer – was recently appointed “spokesperson and adviser to the president”. His main task will be to “broadcast the Elysée’s public message” via “any means at his disposal, notably the presidency’s Twitter account”.

In order to fully understand the crucial role that opinion writers play, let us focus on what these “major influencers” have discussed this month.

Despite the pro-Macron allegations, their recent comments were far from unanimously positive.

On October 15, President Macron made an appearance on private channel TF1 to address the French people for the first time since his election in May.

In this “big interview » (grand entretien), the president tackled several issues, ranging from taxes to education. In a broadcast followed by 9.5 million viewers, Macron was interviewed by three senior journalists, and the following day, analyses of their exchange were everywhere in the media.


‘Jupiter’’s TV interview


Prior to his interview on TF1, President Macron gave an extensive interview to the German weekly Der Spiegel. In response to many of his critics, he claimed that he was “not arrogant” but rather “determined.” However, this assertion did not save him from further criticism.

In the eastern daily L’Alsace Laurent Bodin remarked that throughout the interview, “Macron followed Mitterrand’s footsteps by placing himself above the debate”.

In Le Parisien, a daily paper focussing on Paris and its suburbs, Didier Micoine criticised what he saw as Mr Macron’s self-centredness, dubbing him ‘Jupiter’ (the king of the Roman gods). “Today he gives the impression of being the only one that matters. Macron is probably right to have such high self-esteem – given that his goal is to deeply transform the country – but for his credibility as well as his popularity, ‘Jupiter’ would undeniably benefit from less narcissism”.

On Europe 1’s website, Anne Sinclair – a TV and radio interviewer who hosted a political show for over 30 years – regretted “the lack of empathy and warmth springing from such a competent bright man.”

Along the same lines, Sinclair – who is also Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s ex-wife – said Mr Macron reminded her of Valérie Giscard d’Estaing,  president from 1974 to 1981. Both men were too wrapped up “in their own heads,” she said.

Moreover, Ms Sinclair resented Macron’s criticism of François Hollande, who had helped launch his political career. On a positive note, Sinclair said she was fascinated by Macron’s take on business. She also appreciated his ambitions, if somewhat vague, with regard to improvements in training with a view to a lasting reduction in unemployment.

Despite a few favourable comments, however many editorialists focussed on what they saw as Macron’s narcissism. One of them was Le Dauphiné’s Gilles Debernardi, who penned an article entitled Macron, up on the mountain top.

In this column published in the provincial paper based in Grenoble, the editor, Mr Debernardi, said: “Macron should have accorded as much empathy to society’s underachievers as he has to those who are successful. In a nutshell, Macron should adopt Jacques Chirac’s warmth instead of Margaret Thatcher’s frosty disposition.”

In the left-wing newspaper Libération, Laurent Joffrin argued that Mr Macron was leaning right but noted that he had “rather mastered the interview in sometimes a Sarkozian style”. However he added: “In the end, his philosophy does not change and Macron is building a strange society.”

It would appear that the majority of French people agree with Mr Debernardi’s assessment. A recent poll conducted by Harris interactive for RMC radio revealed that 61% of the 856 respondents did not have a favourable view of President Macron’s performance. Abonnement La boutique


In the midst of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the president confirmed that he had reached out to the Grand Chancellor of the Légion d’Honneur in Paris to ask the institution to revoke Weinstein's membership of the Légion, given by president Sarkozy in 2012.

The Weinstein scandal and more broadly the general topic of sexual harassment also made the headlines. The revelation made by several french actresses such as Emma de Caunes, Judith Godrèche, Léa Seydoux, Florence Darel and Eva Green gave a greater exposure to it.




In its daily editorial, Le Monde asked “whether the scandal would mark a before and an after in the fight against sexual harassment and violence against women”, adding that “the #balancetonporc [squeal on your pig] hanshtag launched by [French journalist] Sandra Muller speaks volume about the anger that went viral on social media in the days following the scandal”.

Le Monde argues that the initiative shows that there has been incontestable progress made six years after the scandals surrounding Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The newspaper deems that – “even though some laws are already in place to fight these behaviours – we should all work on prevention, training and education in order to fully raise awareness on these issues.”

On October 17, Pigs on the grill made the front page of the newspaper (which is particularly reputed for its impressive front pages). Moreover, Libération devoted four pages to the scandal.

In his édito, Johan Hufnagel praised this brave move: “We should all listen to these women and respect their courage. Equality is without shadow of a doubt one of the keys to end this daily nightmare”.

The journalist also stressed the fact that gender equality starts with equal rights and equal wages.

If most of the press praised and encouraged the tide of women who shared their own sexual harassment stories using the hashtag #balancetonporc, the  conservative weekly news magazine Valeurs Actuelles did not quite approve. In a column, businesswoman Sophie de Menthon explained how outraged she was by the fact that denunciation had become a habit in our society.

If she admitted “that sexual harassment was a real issue,” she however deemed “that the end does not justify the means.”


Wealth Tax


Finally, Mr Macron's key promise to replace Impôt sur la Fortune (ISF) wealth tax with a tax on property wealth only was adopted in parliament. The move was seized on by his opponents as evidence that he was the “president of the rich”.

Patrick Apel-Muller in L’Humanité, a daily newspaper founded by Jean Jaurès (a historical figure of the left) formerly an organ of the French Communist Party, attacked a measure that will “fuel economic inequality”. According to the editor of the newspaper, “the suppression of ISF will fuel big stock exchange speculators and ‘vulture funds’ which carve up employment and industries in order to obtain maximum yield”.  

In leading daily financial newspaper Les Echos economics journalist Dominique Seux explained that “thanks to this reform, we will finally get the answer to the question we have been asking ourselves for the past 30 years – did our tax policies have an impact on our industrial woes?”

Local paper l’Union based in Reims (and founded by four French Resistance fighters during the Second World War) supported the ISF policy. In his column Macron: president of the rich, so what? Sébastien Delacroix considered that it was a gift to the rich and above all to the super-rich.

“However, France needs these super-rich people here in France more than in Lisbon or London”, he said.

To back up his claim, Delacroix stated that 20% of tax exile millionaires in the world are French.

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