Macron Opens Year Pulling No Punches With Journalists, or Anyone

Just a few extracts from a an aricle by a New York Times journalist… 


Continue reading the main storyShare This Page

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron met with French journalists this week in what is an annual tradition by French presidents to extend a New Year’s greeting. Instead, Mr. Macron seized the occasion to lecture them.

You need a set of rules, he told the assembled press corps, some principles, an ethics code. And besides, you give too much weight to off-record quotes when it’s the official word that counts.

The scolding was audacious. But that is Mr. Macron’s style these days. For now, he is the undisputed master of French politics and his absolute self-confidence — critics say, arrogance — is undaunted, when it comes to French journalism, its labor code, migration or almost anything else.

Mr. Macron, with his upsets to the established order in France and his bid for leadership in the Europe of a politically weakened Germany, appears inspired by the same thought.

His grand vision for France’s role, as expressed in the New Year’s Eve address, harks back to de Gaulle, a leader to which the French press sometimes compares him: “A strong country with a universal pull which, because it is stronger, produces more, and can therefore ensure solidarity at home and make humanist demands abroad,” Mr. Macron said.

Europe, he said, “can stand up to China, to the United States.

The emphasis in these words is on strength. The hallmark of Mr. Macron’s program so far — and what is promised in the coming months in two major domains, immigration and unemployment — is its tough-mindedness.

For his critics, that determination tips at times into disdain. That was the message that many took from his greeting, if it could be called that, to the journalists.

The irony was not lost on the assembled press corps that Mr. Macron, in fact, owes most of his amazing political good fortune to bold French journalism: it was the weekly Le Canard Enchaîné that torpedoed his principal opponent — and the otherwise likely winner of the 2017 presidential election — François Fillon.

…Adding insult to injury, the French president then announced a new, if redundant, law repressing “fake news” — hardly the currency of the professionals in the room, and a problem already addressed in French statutes.

Others have felt similarly discarded, or even betrayed. Mr. Macron rose to power through his service in a Socialist government, but there is little of the socialist about his policies.

…It is an unusual position for a French politician, who for generations have emphasized the protective power of the state — and the proof of any success will come only with a significant drop in the stubborn 10-percent jobless rate, elusive so far. But already surveys show higher levels of confidence among business executives than have been seen in many years.

That is so even though Mr. Macron’s cadre of technocrats are “incredibly far from an electorate that demands protection,” Mr. Perrineau, the political scientist, said in the Le Un interview. Yet Mr. Macron’s poll numbers are climbing again, after a summer trough.

But there are challenges ahead. Mr. Macron may not be so lucky with his next intended shock to the French system, a change to the country’s generous unemployment compensation system, scheduled to be negotiated beginning next week.

Similarly, his sharp-elbowed immigration policy has marked a break with the looser attitude of his Socialist predecessor. He is outflanking both the far-right’s National Front and the conventional right, both of whom make immigration their war cry. Mr. Macron is depriving them of the issue.

He set the tough tone to African students themselves, in a November address to those at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, who were demanding easier access to France.

“I can’t tell my middle classes who work, who pay taxes, that it’s great, we’re going to welcome everybody into the country,” Mr. Macron said. “That’s just ridiculous. Who’s going to pay for that? You’ll just fuel racism and xenophobia. That doesn’t exist, totally open frontiers, that just doesn’t work.”

Accordingly, forced expulsions of those denied asylum were up more than 13 percent last year, hovering around 15,000, compared with the previous year. The interior minister has asked prefects all over France to step up such expulsions .

“We can’t take in everybody,” Mr. Macron said in his New Year’s Eve speech. “There must be rules. It’s indispensable that we check the identities of everyone, and when someone arrives in our country who is not eligible for asylum and has no chance of getting French citizenship, we can’t accept that they stay for months, years, in an irregular situation good for neither them nor the country.”