Last updated on 28th July 2019
This Thursday, April 25th, the “wow” effect was supposed to get Macron out of the impasse. Put off multiple times, Macron’s announcements were supposed to close the sequence of the “grand debate”, which was designed as a decompression chamber for the Yellow Vests movement, having been initiated more than 5 months ago. But the result is unequivocal: if Macron relies on a change of method to break the verticality in which he locked himself, in essence, he persists and signs to continue, to even more accentuate the course of neo-liberal reforms.
After more than 5 months of the “Yellow Vests” movement, the repeatedly put off announcements aimed at closing the episode to launch “act 2” of the five-year period. If he had originally planned to make his announcements not live, but through a pre-recorded video, the fire of Notre-Dame changed his plans while constituting a new opportunity to refine his speech following the leak of his “measures” in the press. Indeed, they prompted wide criticism from the outset because of their inconsistency in view of the depth of the crisis opened up five months ago by the Yellow Vests movement.
Cornered, the president chose to change the format and to speak live at a press conference, to counterbalance the form, which was not very convincing in its substance. This adjustment speaks volumes, and it has been noted by many journalists: to appear more like a “president” and less like an isolated “technocrat”. This was the challenge of a bet that was not so risky given the “shyness” of the journalists who faced it.
Changing the “method” to better change the substance
Macron started his speech with democratic issues in an attempt to provide an answer on the subject of institutions. He immediately rejected the claims of the Yellow Vests, reaffirming representative democracy against direct democracy, and swept aside the RIC and the recognition of the white vote. Like the various blank checks given by Macron, he claims to want to “simplify the rules” of the Shared Initiative Referendum. As a result of a million signatories of a petition, parliament could be forced to … discuss a text.
These cosmetic “reforms” take up part of his program concerning the institutional question, postponed following the Benalla affair, such as “proportional” or a reduction in the number of parliamentarians. They finally allow to dress the rotting regime of the Fifth Republic to better strengthen it.
And concerning social matters?
In the social sphere, Macron wanted to be clear: “Stopping everything would be to go down the wrong path”. In this sense, nothing substantial, even if he tried to be broad. Even if he will index pensions of less than €2000 by 2020, the only measure actually quantified, although not concrete in terms of real benefits, concerns the reduction of income taxes. After a journalist asked him for details, he calculated it at €5 billion, much less than the measures announced on December 10th, but also less than the reduction of income taxes under the previous five-year period (€6.3 billion).
Moreover, what will the price be? A “decline in public spending”, austerity in public services, and the need for the “French to work more”. Thus, it is around the classic rhetoric about increasing life expectancy (which has been declining since 2014) of the neighbouring countries where people work more (France being the 3rd country in Europe with the highest weekly working time) that Macron tried to convince around of the now known “work more to earn more”. Clearly, not a word about an increase in wages and pensions.
In other areas, he did not allow himself to make concrete progress on the rest of his most offensive reforms, remaining unclear on the goal of eliminating 120,000 civil service posts, rejecting the idea of increasing the working week of 35 hours, or the removal of holidays. Even if he stated with filigree that there will be a need to work more, he didn’t go so far as to clearly reduce the minimum retirement age.
Clearly, the announced measures are primarily aimed at addressing his electoral base from the first round of the election while trying to expand on the right-wing electorate, with which he intends to hold dialogue through his rhetoric of increased working time.
Macron on the offensive to capture the electorate of the Republicans and National Rally
Thus, the Macron of April 25th clearly does not have the assurance of the freshly elected president of May 2017. But what will especially mark his speeches is the attempt to once again divert the discussion to the ultra-reactionary terrain. While he claims to have “understood the concerns” expressed through the movement, Macron highlighted among his central themes the migratory issue, the strengthening of borders, and the fight against “communitarianism in certain quarters”, all of which are absent from the slogans of Yellow Vests, despite the fact that they are omnipresent in televised debates.
Being in trouble in front of National Rally, whose approval rating increases, his party “En Marche” knows on what electoral ground he must hunt, just as the president would prefer that the public debate is again monopolised by xenophobic themes rather than by social issues and calling into question the reactionary institutions of the 5th republic. But it is also in order to appeal to the electorate of the Republicans, whose choice of voters is the most volatile, that Macron tried to place the debate on the ground of “preserving French fundamentals”.
If we want to defeat Macron, then it will happen in the street
Thus, Macron said nothing else important besides a pseudo-humanist discourse that frankly does not suit him; he who – as he reiterated – recently “discovered” poverty and the difficult living conditions, like those of single mothers.
If there is indeed something to take away from these announcements, then it is their emptiness in terms of responses in the social and democratic sphere concerning the aspirations of the Yellow Vests, and Macron’s desire to continue his anti-social attacks is clear.
Thus, this press conference actually sounds like a call to come to the street again in the next few days. Firstly, this Saturday, April 27th, during a demonstration of convergences between CGT activities, Yellow Vests, associations, and political parties. It is also about the May 1st mobilisation, which promises to be a day of the most importance, or May 9th – a day of strike for the entire public service. It will be through our strikes and our mobilisations that we will be able to prevent Macron from pursuing or even accentuating his anti-social and neo-liberal policies.
Damien Bernard, Revolution Permanente