The method to Macron

By Alex Barker, MAY 7, 2018  – Financial Times

There is plenty of food for thought in the media coverage of the French president’s anniversary  So a year has passed. It was on May 7, 2017, that Emmanuel Macron defied political gravity to be elected French president — a 39-year-old former investment banker, standing on a pro-EU ticket, for a new party, having never held elected office. Brussels swooned. France and Europe “found its answer to strongman populism”, to quote the New York Times. How does it look a year in? The unfolding Macron story is perhaps the most compelling in Europe today and there is plenty of food for thought in the media coverage of the anniversary. The exercise of power The most striking theme in the press is Mr Macron’s singular approach to power, from the aesthetics of the presidency to the relentless centralised control of his administration.

The first year has made it clear: there is method to Mr Macron. Anne-Sylvaine Chassany’s FT Magazine profile offers a fascinating insight into Mr Macron’s Elysée, its customs, its circles of influence and its grip on government. (At the beginning of the term “one needs to be Caesarist or Bonapartist, then you can let go a little at a later stage,” said one aide.) Le Figaro has a beautifully presented review of the first year — including a superb map of Macronista seating arrangements in the Elysée. Le Monde meanwhile explores the Macron touches that give his presidency that regal edge. The polls In France, at least, the dazzle has faded. Almost 57 per cent express unhappiness with the first year of Mr Macron, according to this BVA poll. While his achievements on the international stage are admired, his approach to tax and immigration are not. The 20 point fall in popularity is worse than Jacques Chirac and François Mitterrand, but not as bad as Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande during their respective first years in office. Note who is beginning to turn against Mr Macron: older voters, rural areas, and Socialist party supporters (in droves).

Little wonder Mr Macron advisers say a “plan for the vulnerable” is going to be a big feature of the second phase of the term. For now though the message is budget discipline (a virtually Teutonic Gérald Darmanin tells the FT: “the right deficit is zero”. ) France is back.  With 160,000 kms of travel notched up inside his first 12 months, there is no doubting the president has made his mark on the international stage, albeit with some “delicious” slip-ups. Ifri, the Paris-based think-tank, took a systematic look at foreign policy in the Macron era and if anything it highlights continuity in outlook, carried through with that distinct swagger. Some big tests are approaching: a deteriorating strategic environment (notably the potential demise of the Iran nuclear deal); the assault on multilateralism (possibly via a trade war with America); and the challenge of revitalising the EU (and convincing Germany that big reforms are in its interest). When the second anniversary arrives, the onus may well be more on results. What we’re reading Whose border? Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung has a long read on the EU’s common border force. Frontex is potentially gaining the money and legal power to become a standing border force. The big question: will member states allow it to perform that role? Berlin’s budgeting Wolfgang Münchau is spectacularly unimpressed with the budget proposed by Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new finance minister. Mr Scholz’s ambition is to push the budget into a surplus of 1 per cent of GDP or higher. Such a surplus would, over time, eradicate all public debt. At that point Germany will have reached ordo-liberal utopia: it will have become like Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania, which boasted a surplus of $9bn in 1989, just before the dictator was overthrown. Inflation riddle The Wall Street Journal tries to solve the mystery of missing eurozone inflation through 11 charts. Customs clashes Another day of skirmishes in London over the customs union policy. Greg Clark, the business secretary, told the BBC that thousands of jobs are at risk unless Britain pursued a hybrid EU-UK partnership that would achieve the results of a customs union, potentially after a prolonged transition. He appeared to have the backing of Downing Street. The Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg, meanwhile, compared it all to “Project Fear”. The Irish Times reports growing pessimism about progress on the Irish border issues before upcoming June summit. Scrapping Iran sanctions? Not so fast Peter Harrell has a thought-provoking piece in Foreign Affairs that explains why reimposing sanctions is not automatic or easy. It took the combined efforts of Congress and two US presidents — George W Bush and Barack Obama — nearly a decade to cripple Iran’s economy. Rebuilding economic pressure after Washington pulls out from the JCPOA would be an even greater challenge, given international opposition to the US withdrawal and scant international support for renewed sanctions. The result could be a “win-win” situation for Iran, in which it is both freed from the JCPOA’s constraints on its nuclear activity and able to retain at least part of the sanctions relief for which it bargained.

European leaders meet to discuss crisis of drowning refugees.

The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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