French President Macron Worth Watching
June 23, 2017
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There is no shortage of drama in American politics, but anyone who has been tracking the French elections has witnessed a sea change in history.
In an incredibly short time, and with little initial backing from the political establishment in France, President Emmanuel Macron has sparked a legitimate political revolution and changed the course of his entire country.
Consider this: Before April 6, 2016, Macron’s La République En Marche! party didn’t exist. When he announced his bid for the French presidency in November 16, 2016, Macron had never held elected office. His candidacy was an affront to the establishment Socialist Party and to former French President François Hollande, for whom Macron worked as Minister of the Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs. Macron’s opponents in the French government and media called him a novice and dismissed his bid as unserious.
But on May 7, he won the presidency in a runoff with 66 percent of the vote as an ardently centrist, pragmatic candidate. And on June 18, his 14-month-old party (with help from the centrist Democratic Movement) took 350 seats in France’s 577-seat parliament. The establishment Left, led by the Socialist Party, on the other hand, went from having 280 seats after the 2012 election to 44 seats in 2017.
And Macron’s majority is unique. Half of its members are new to politics, while the other half are experienced. His coalition is also almost equally divided by gender. Ultimately, there were 223 women elected to the 577-member French parliament on Sunday. This was entirely intentional and led by Macron. In May, when Macron’s En Marche! Party announced its candidates for parliamentary elections, they put forward 214 men and 214 women.
Macron’s swift rise represents a significant change in French politics – likely the most compelling since General Charles de Gaulle ushered in the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958 after leading the Free French movement during World War II. Further, Macron’s election and that of his parliamentary majority could change political narratives throughout Europe because Macron has pledged to return France to the center of attention.
Although they are drastically different politically, Macron’s trek is similar to President Donald Trump’s historic revolution in 2016.
Both started in the private sector, neither had held elected office before becoming president – although Macron had worked in government. Both ran reformist, anti-establishment campaigns and appealed to broad swaths of their constituencies. Both worked to get non-politicians into the government. Both organized huge nationwide coalitions by using social media and technology to great effect and focusing on policies that promote entrepreneurship.
Macron also pledged to reform the welfare and pension systems in France to make them more fiscally sustainable, to increase defense spending to help fight terrorism, and to hire 10,000 more French police officers to maintain law and order. Does any of this sound familiar? Those who have read my new book, Understanding Trump (now a #1 New York Times Best Seller), might find some parallels between Macron and our nation’s 45th President.
However, I don’t want to overplay this comparison. Macron is a pro-European Union, pro-globalization, centrist and has been described as the anti-Trump, which could be right based on the full scope of his policy goals. President Trump, in contrast, is serious about putting America first and favors focused bilateral agreements over giant multi-country trade deals. However, despite their policy differences, the two leaders have met and both expressed a willingness and interest to work together.
This relationship could be very important, with the underlying reason being very simple: If Macron can build a coalition that can essentially reset the board of French politics in a matter of 14 months, consider what he might be able to accomplish in terms of influencing Europe as a whole.
Without a doubt, Macron is a president worth watching.
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