Comment: Macron election win would prove poor state of French politics

When he eventually got around to revealing his manifesto, barely three weeks before the first round, it was fabulously uninspiring

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It is not impossible that Emmanuel Macron will lose the imminent French presidential election, but anyone planning to bet the house on it would benefit from a long lie-down in a darkened room before doing so.

At the time of writing, polls say that the incumbent will come top in the first round on April 10, with 28 or 29% of the vote; and then will win the second round a fortnight later by a predicted 58 to 42 if his opponent is Marine le Pen. (Although the left is fantasising about a tactical vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon putting him into the second round, Marine le Pen is the most likely outcome.)

And then, as if by right, Mr Macron finds himself back in the Elysée Palace until 2027.

Macron’s probable re-election reminiscent of de Gaulle’s

It would be a remarkable feat for Mr Macron, who does not have a party to speak of, to secure re-election. It suggests he merits being ranked alongside Charles de Gaulle, who technically did have a party, but who when he stood for re-election in 1965, early on in the Fifth Republic, could have been running for the Croque Monsieur party and would still have won handsomely.

De Gaulle had (according to his own publicity) liberated France from the Nazis, sought to restore constitutional order, been thwarted in doing so, had retorted to the country and waited to be called back to rule when his compatriots realised the error of their ways: which they did in 1958.

De Gaulle then invented the Fifth Republic, which gave the president an enormous amount of power.

Mr Macron is not in de Gaulle’s league, but his re-election is likely to be a similar formality, barring some quite astonishing turn of events before April 24.

Does he deserve a victory, let alone such a walkover?

No, he does not.

His record of achievement is pretty sparse, though of course he would, like any other world leader, blame his having to cope with a pandemic for the last two years for some of his under-achievement.

Even before that came along he had put up taxes. He has managed (if the polls are even remotely correct) to increase support for Marine Le Pen, and he has established a pretty powerful personality cult.

It has increasingly been a case of ‘l’état, c’est lui’. Mr Macron exudes an image of a man born to rule, entitled to rule, and who regards ruling (irrespective of how well he does it) as something he will continue to do until the two-term convention prevents him from ruling any longer.

He barely participated in the election campaign until the last feasible minute. Mind you, given the pitiful performances of most of his opponents, he did not need to.

Something has gone gravely wrong with French political life.

When a country that prides itself on training its political elite professionally – notably through the Ecole nationale d’administration [defunct as of December 2021]– turns out products of the dismal quality of some of those currently in public life, it raises serious questions.

Read more: How significant is abolition of ENA, France's elite finishing school?

Eric Zemmour went to Sciences Po; Valérie Pécresse is an énarque [the name given to alumni of the former Ecole nationale d’administration].

It is somewhat ironic that the person most likely to come second, Ms Le Pen, attended neither.

It cannot be that France is disillusioned with professional politicians who have had this elite training, because the man likely to win the election is just such a person: it really does look as though the electorate has decided that Mr Macron is simply the best of a bad lot.

When he eventually got around to revealing his manifesto, barely three weeks before the first round, it was fabulously uninspiring.

He outlined a highly interventionist programme that reeked of the stagnation of the Mitterrand years.

Despite the lessons that history teaches to the contrary, Mr Macron promised an orgy of economic planning. He threatened to ‘plan the deployment of new industrial sectors’, whatever that means, apparently not realising that in free societies such as France and the rest of the European Union, consumer demand tends to dictate which industrial sectors tend to thrive and which do not.

He plans to build a slew of nuclear power stations – which, the way energy supplies are going, is without doubt a good idea – and has, to her outrage, stolen tax and welfare reform policies from Ms Pécresse, which shows further an inability to think originally and strategically.

Read more: End of TV licence fee, food cheques: Macron’s promises if re-elected

Oh, and there is a war on in Ukraine, which is not an ideal time to change your head of state.

But then Mr Macron, seeing the lack of support for his rivals, and knowing that Ms Le Pen only has to enter the second round to come second in it, can more or less say what he likes.

He knows how to be president; his rivals do not.

Job done.

However, Mr Macron’s managerial tendencies may not do him many more favours in his second term, assuming he wins one.

If Ms Le Pen should secure over 40% of the vote, what will that say about France, the future of French politics, and what should France’s partners make of it?

Might it, taken together with the non-event of this entire election, not suggest that the Fifth Republic is no longer fit for purpose, and that a serious programme of constitutional reform is long overdue?

Read more: Could France soon have a Sixth Republic?

Should the powers of head of state and head of government be vested in the same person?

Ought not France’s political direction be reliant entirely on the composition of its National Assembly, rather than on the present two-stage beauty contest that has, over the years, produced a series of winners of highly questionable character and merits?

The defeated will soon re-group for the legislative elections, to be held in June. It may just be that a period of highly combative cohabitation very quickly puts paid to Mr Macron’s big ideas for his second term – such as they are.

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