Those who are fond of Voltaire’s famous quip about the Holy Roman Empire should take pleasure in the evisceration of Emmanuel Macron by CapX’s Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, who argues that the French liberal reformer is in fact none of these things — well, except that first part. This makes sobering reading for anyone pinning their hopes on Macron as the standard-bearer for a new resurgence of liberal ideas in Europe, stemming the tide of populism and its cohorts, including xenophobia, nationalism and protectionism.
- First off, don’t take encouragement from the apparent ebbing of the Yellow Vest tide: while the protest movement has been discredited by violent factions, the sources of discontent remain, prompting Moutet to warn that France “a tinderbox with a short fuse and many conflicting and unrealistic expectations.”
- Nor is there anything particularly liberal about seesawing tax rises and cuts, an out of control national debt, and government spending taking up a whopping 56% of GDP — that’s even more than Italy, the current poster boy for fiscal irresponsibility, at 48.6%. Oh and unemployment is stuck at 9.1%, compared to 3.8% in the UK and 3.1% in Germany, making France look more like Spain (14%) or Italy (9.7%).
- Even worse, Macron’s supposed liberal resurgence is masking genuinely illiberal policies: in response to the Yellow Vest protests the government can now “preemptively detain” people suspected of wanting to join protests, while investigators can wiretap ordinary French citizens without a warrant.
- Somewhat less sensational, but no less illiberal, is Macron’s obvious embrace of statist economics, including the return of “industrial policies” intended to shore up national champions and protect French businesses from foreign competition. As Moutet recounts, these ideas have a very long, very discredited pedigree in France.
- On the political level, Macron’s bespoke political party, France en Marche, has effectively coopted the most vital elements of the left and right — meaning that there is no longer any effective opposition within the French parliament. That’s why no one should discount the possibility of a return of the Yellow Vests, as opposition has merely been forced out of government into the streets.