The victory of the independent centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, in the French presidential election has revived hopes that France’s shaky economy could finally undergo long-promised and much needed economic reforms. However, is Macron, in fact, a status quo leader?
France Needs Reform
In terms of campaign promises, Macron vowed to cut 120,000 public sector functionary jobs and decrease public expenditure by €60 billion over the next five years. He also intends to clear up burdensome red tape by unveiling economic deregulation, enforce business-friendly policies and roll back state intervention in the economy. He also pledged to eradicate inequalities between public and private sector pension systems and uphold the 3% budget deficit rule.
France’s economic growth was 1.2 % last year, well below the EU average (1.8%), making it one of the worst-performing economies in Europe. Furthermore, its feeble economic recovery over the past six years has not been accompanied by job creation; its current unemployment rate is one of the highest among EU members.
If the underlying structural weaknesses in the economy continue unaddressed, the economy risks remaining mired in this sluggish growth environment.
A Lone Wolf
But even though the data clearly demonstrates that France is in urgent need of modernisation, Macron will have to tackle many obstacles in order to push forward his reform agenda. Firstly, irrespective of the strength of the mandate that Macron received during the second round of the French elections, what will determine the success of his reform agenda is the June 2017 French parliamentary elections.
As long as Macron only has the backing of his newly established “En Marche” movement, which holds no seats in the current parliament, obtaining a majority seems like a Sisyphean task. Thus, he will need to form allies with the moderate, center-right and center-left members of the Socialist and Republican parties, who will also need to agree with and support Macron’s agenda.
Jobs, Class and Political Image
Moreover, Macron’s employer-friendly reforms could infuriate workers, who are some of the most expensive in the EU (French hourly labour costs are way above the EU average). Therefore, Macron’s effort is likely to translate into strong resistance to reforms from workers and trade unions, as was the case last year when labour laws triggered public unrest in France.
Additionally, in his election manifesto, Macron pledged to transform French politics, depicting himself as an anti-system candidate. Nevertheless, the former economic minister still comes from the ruling class and, supposedly, who might be reluctant to give a green light to his self-professed transformation.
Furthermore, in light of Marine Le Pen’s radical populism, Macron is seen by some as a status quo leader and his victory can be dishonestly presented by the establishment as an expression of people’s uneasiness about the prospect of changes. Taken together, these factors can weaken zeal for reforms as they certainly entail changes.
A Rock and a Hard Place
Macron is truly between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, if Macron fails to deliver profound economic reforms, French citizens might lose faith in him. On the other, if he pushes reforms too harshly to effectively tackle France’s structural shortcomings, his efforts could result in very painful outcomes for many citizens, which could adversely affect his approval rating.
Given France’s sclerotic economy, delivering on effective economic reforms will be the litmus test for Macron’s popularity and political future correspondingly. If he fails to deliver real change during his first presidential term, he might pave the way for the Front National’s increased support in the 2022 election.
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