Can Macron Succeed Where Obama Failed?

Article first published on Social Europe on 24 May 2017

For the first time in years, France is being looked at with interest and admiration. The country is having its ‘Obama moment’: the feeling that no ambition is too high for a great nation, especially when it comes to carrying the torch of liberal democracy and optimism.

In fact, the parallels between Obama’s 2008 and Macron’s 2017 victories are staggering. In both cases, a charming new face of exceptional talent and self-confidence emerges against all odds to offer a radical departure from the past. Politically, Macron, like Obama, comes from the centre-left but proposes to work with moderates from both sides and to break away from ideological posturing. Economically, the new French President puts forward the vision of social mobility, innovation economics, and egalitarian liberalism once championed by Obama. Culturally, it is hard not to notice the commonality between Obama’s multicultural patriotism and Macron’s proud promotion of an evolving French identity.

Continue reading “Can Macron Succeed Where Obama Failed?”

Quelques bonnes raisons de voter Macron

A J-7, quatre candidats sont dans un mouchoir de poche. Marine Le Pen et Emmanuel Macron sont encore favoris, mais la dynamique est clairement en faveur de François Fillon et Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

L’hypothèse d’un second tour avec Marine le Pen est solide compte tenu du très haut niveau de certitude de ses électeurs (85% de ceux qui disent vouloir voter pour elles en sont certains, selon le dernier sondage Ipsos publié dans le Monde le 14 avril). Le socle d’Emmanuel Macron, qui est au même niveau dans les intentions de vote, est moins solide (68%). Continue reading “Quelques bonnes raisons de voter Macron”

More To Macron Than Ideological Ambiguity

Article first published on Social Europe

When asked where he stands on the left-right axis, Emmanuel Macron gives a long answer along these lines: “I come from the left, but I don’t believe the left-right divide is the right one today. Look at how both the left and the right are divided, and how primaries have reinforced radicals from each side. Look at the number of issues on which there is a left-right consensus. I believe in another axis, which matters more today: the opposition between progressives and conservatives.”

This ambiguous positioning has earned Macron a lot of mockery. As the old joke on the French left goes, when someone claims to be neither left nor right, then he/she is right-wing. Opponents from either side of the political spectrum accuse him of being a classic liberal centrist, sharing common features with ex-president Valéry Giscard D’Estaing. The recent alliance formed with historic centrist figure François Bayrou only validates their assumption. Continue reading “More To Macron Than Ideological Ambiguity”

The French ‘maximalist’ view on Social Europe

Article first published by Clingendael in June 2016. 

Since the early days of European integration, French policy-makers and commentators have held maximalist views on Social Europe. In 1989, François Mitterrand famously said: “Europe will be social, or will not be”. The dominant picture is one of fear of foreign competition and accusations of heartless neighbours. The French like to think they are the only ones to defend the human face of European integration. Crucially, there is little recognition of and reflection on the German and Norther European lack of trust in their Southern partners. France’s approach to Social Europe can be categorised in three groups of claims and demands.
Upward harmonisation of social conditions
The first set dates back to the negotiations of the Rome Treaty, during which the French government secured a social policy chapter. They did so under the pressure of French employers’ federations who feared labour cost competition from other member states. The idea that market integration brings about unfair competition and ultimately leads to a social race to the bottom, or ‘social dumping’, is very present in the French view on Europe and globalisation despite only patchy evidence. The development of EU social standards in employment and working conditions was seen by Jacques Delors as instrumental to winning French support for further market integration. The 2005 referendum on the EU’s Constitutional treaty was lost partly on the perception that the EU was a market that left ordinary people unprotected.

Continue reading “The French ‘maximalist’ view on Social Europe”

Le Brexit ouvre un débat utile pour l’Europe

Article publié par le Monde le 20 juin 2016.

La possibilité d’un Brexit se dessinant chaque jour un peu plus, on peut déjà tirer des enseignements du référendum britannique du 23 juin. Quel qu’en soit le résultat, le succès de la campagne en faveur du « Leave » doit conduire les pro-Européens à s’interroger sur ce rejet et ne pas reproduire les erreurs du passé. La réaction au Brexit ou à une victoire étriquée du « Remain » ne saurait passer par davantage d’intégration, mais par une remise en question sur le mode de fonctionnement de l’Europe.

Première leçon, le camp du Brexit surfe avec brio sur la vague de contestation d’élites qui ne sont plus considérées comme représentatives. En promettant de restaurer la démocratie et la souveraineté dans leur pureté, les anti-européens s’attribuent le monopole de l’idéal démocratique. Ce faisant, ils gagnent non seulement en respectabilité, mais touchent du doigt un immense défi : celui de réconcilier ouverture et intégration européenne avec démocratie. La réponse traditionnelle, qui a consisté à renforcer le caractère démocratique des institutions européennes, n’a pas eu l’efficacité escomptée. Les raisons n’en ont pas été suffisamment analysées. Force est de constater que toutes les institutions, qu’elles soient nationales ou européennes, politiques ou économiques, sont aujourd’hui suspectées de ne chercher que le renforcement de leur propre pouvoir.

Deuxième leçon, le camp du Brexit propose un changement concret dans la vie des Britanniques : une diminution de l’immigration intra-européenne en mettant fin à la liberté de circulation des personnes. Le caractère potentiellement toxique de ce message – initialement porté exclusivement par le leader du UKIP Nigel Farage, mais depuis relayé par des personnalités plus modérées – a été largement atténué par la proposition de mettre en place un système d’immigration à points, comme en Australie et au Canada. Le slogan « reprendre le contrôle » (« Take back control ») y trouve une traduction bien réelle, là où les chiffres avancés par les pro-Européens sur les bénéfices économiques supposés de l’intégration européenne se heurtent à un mur de scepticisme.

Continue reading “Le Brexit ouvre un débat utile pour l’Europe”

French labour market reform: good intentions, poor delivery

Article originally published by Social Europe on 04 April 2016.

If French politicians are serious about unemployment, they should work on an ambitious, long-term plan rather than a technocratic package

France has not been short of controversial discussions in the past few months, in a context dominated by the terrorist threat. A few days ago, President Hollande closed a painful chapter by dropping the project of constitutional revision that would have made it possible to strip convicted terrorists of French citizenship. Since then, however, the government’s labour market reform project has become the new hot potato. What is dubbed Loi El-Khomri – after the name of the labour minister – is a last-ditch attempt to tackle France’s structural problem with unemployment and demonstrate the government’s reforming credentials before the 2017 national elections. Unfortunately, the government has made a pretty poor start (with thousands on strike last week).

Why the reform?

The reasons why a reform is deemed necessary are several. The big picture is France’s stubbornly high unemployment rate at about 10 per cent. In fairness, French unemployment did not soar after the 2008 crash in the same proportions as other EU countries. However, France started from a solid 8 per cent unemployment rate, a level that has been the norm since the early 1980s. In 1992 already, Francois Mitterrand famously declared: “We have tried everything against unemployment”. Since then the French political class, right or left, has kept trying, in vain, to address France’s number one problem. Subsidised jobs, reduced working time, lower taxes for employers, easier dismissals, activation policies: none of these measures has made a substantial impact. More worryingly, youth and long-term unemployment are particularly high, and labour market dualism is real: 87 per cent of hirings are temporary contracts (2015) and, since 2000, their number has soared while those of permanent contracts have stagnated.
There are two more short-term reasons compelling Hollande to act. On the one hand, he has repeated time and again that he would not run in 2017 if he did not manage to “reverse the unemployment curve”. Yet time is running short, and the latest monthly figures have sent mixed signals at best. On the other hand, the EU has long been asking for a substantial labour market reform in France of the same calibre as Hartz IV. If he wants to keep benefiting from relative fiscal leniency and an accommodating monetary policy, Hollande needs to show some good will.

What is the reform?

The main thrust of the reform is to give more space for company-level negotiation on working time and pay in order to facilitate adjustment to new market environments. Labour legislation and the standards set at sectoral level would become less important. In other words, the bill would greatly advance internal firm flexibility – rather than modify the main parameters of French labour legislation.

In particular, firms would have the possibility to implement a lower rate of overtime pay. Today, overtime is paid at 25 per cent more for the first 8 hours (a week) and 50 per cent more beyond that, with a minimum of 10 per cent in case of a branch-level agreement. In the same spirit, employers and employee representatives could negotiate company-level agreements to adjust working time and pay in order to reach new objectives (accord de développement de l’emploi). These agreements would complement a more ‘defensive’ version (accord de maintien dans l’emploi) created in 2013, which has only been available to large firms running into difficulties. If no agreement can be reached, any trade union representing more than 30 per cent of the employees could request the organisation of a referendum within the firm.

Continue reading “French labour market reform: good intentions, poor delivery”

Du bon usage de Corbyn : leçons pour la gauche française

Jeremy Corbyn a remporté une victoire éclatante, nette et sans bavure, au Parti travailliste. La page du blairisme semble définitivement tournée. La gauche de la gauche et les « frondeurs » du PS applaudissent, et il n’est pas jusqu’à certains représentants  de la gauche dite « réformiste » pour se réjouir. On a en effet pu lire un ministre du gouvernement signataire de la motion A et chargé de superviser les négociations sur le TAFTA se réjouir ouvertement sur Twitter. Pour la gauche française, tirer de cet événement historique les bons enseignements est crucial en vue de la campagne présidentielle de 2017.

Il s’agit d’abord d’éviter les conclusions hâtives.

Premièrement, sur les valeurs de gauche. Pour beaucoup, la victoire de Corbyn porte un coup mérité à la gauche de gouvernement, qui a fait passer son potentiel électoral avant la défense des idées et valeurs de gauche. Or les sociaux-démocrates et socialistes modérés n’ont jamais prétendu abandonner les idéaux et valeurs de gauche. Ils ont toujours défendu une morale combinant la justice sociale, la générosité, l’ouverture avec des valeurs de travail, d’autorité, de respect de la loi qu’ils pensent également en phase avec les préoccupations de l’électorat populaire. David Cameron a compris l’angle par lequel il attaquerait Corbyn avec beaucoup de succès: celui de la défense des travailleurs, de la « sécurité économique ». Il serait suicidaire pour la gauche d’abandonner ce terrain aux conservateurs.

Continue reading “Du bon usage de Corbyn : leçons pour la gauche française”

Je suis Charlie: what next?

NB: article publié par Policy Network vendredi 31 janvier dans le cadre du bulletin mensuel “State of the Left“, qui passe en revue la situation politique (et notamment des forces de gauche) dans les principaux pays européens et nord-américains.

imageJanuary’s shocking attacks have undoubtedly left their mark on France, but the long-term political implications are yet to unfold

It is still unclear whether the 7 and 9 January killings in Paris, and the ensuing historical march, will have lasting repercussions on French politics. A remarkable climate of national unity and an unexpected wave of global solidarity immediately followed the attacks. Four million people, including 40 heads of states and governments, marched on Sunday 11 January in Paris to defend freedom of expression and stand up against terrorism and antisemitism. A crossbench Marseillaise was sung in the Assemblée Nationale – a first since 1918. Unsurprisingly, however, intellectual and political divisions quickly resumed. This is not necessarily bad news in a democracy, but it places the president and his prime minister in a very challenging position.

Continue reading “Je suis Charlie: what next?”