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  • Raphael Hammond

Macron’s Napoleonic streak has gone too far

By Raphael Hammond



We have always known Macron was a ‘Jupiterian’ leader – decisive, self-important, and self-assured.


But Damien Maudet, French LFI MP for the Limoges and Haute-Vienne, has called the recent actions of the government ‘liberal authoritarianism’. Where do these accusations come from?


Particularly of late, in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, freedom of speech has been under threat. Left-wing MPs, Rima Hassan and Mathilde Panot, from opposition party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed / LFI) have been summoned for questioning by police on the grounds of ‘terrorism apologism’ after complaints by the OJE, a pro-Israeli lawyer group. Hassan and Panot’s message, while assertive, indignant, populist (and to my mind often poorly worded) in style, is frequently legitimate in substance. The same is true of much of LFI, when they’re not being derailed by controversy from soon-to-be outgoing leading figure Jean Luc Mélenchon. LFI are the only French party to have called for an immediate ceasefire. Hassan and Panot are elected officials, representing a significant section of the public, and who have the legitimacy of their constituents to support them – and their police questioning marks yet another point in a pattern of democratic backsliding under Macron.


Macron’s government and the media establishment has increasingly treated LFI and its supporters as outside of the democratic sphere, in the same way as the Far-right had been under the ‘Barrage Républicain’. This is particularly obvious in the treatment of Rima Hassan, whose call to protest in support of Palestine in France used the term ‘soulèvement’ which translates as a rising up. Despite the term commonly being used to refer to green, farmer, and ‘gilets jaunes’ protests, Public Sénat criticised her on the grounds the term translates to ‘intifada’ in Arabic. Much as in Britain, public debate on Gaza is spoken in the language of ‘woke Islamic-leftists’ ‘apologists of terrorism’ and ‘antisemites’, whereas on the other side, claims of racism, anti-Muslim hatred, and complicity in genocide are hurled at the opponent with little space for reason or questioning. The government continues to accuse LFI of being terrorist sympathisers, and has continued an aggressive anti-muslim rhetoric and policy, including a continuation of a headscarf ban for French athletes at the Olympics this summer. Neither side has come out clean, and the levels of vitriol and division are strongly concerning for the future of French democracy and the wellbeing of its citizens of all creeds and backgrounds.


Macron’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, has been characterised by his trigger happy approach to dispersing protests. Riot police are deployed at almost every opportunity, be it at Green protests about large scale agricultural ‘mégabassine’ reservoirs, or motorway construction; protests about public hospital closures in Brittany, or the colossal protests about pension reform. Any contestations of the established logic and presidential power have been met with violence and accusations of antidemocratic behaviour. Darmanin outright banned a green protest group on the grounds of ‘inciting eco-terrorism’ – this has since been overturned. More recently, pro-Palestine student activists occupying a prestigious social science university in Paris, Sciences Po, were met with threats of violence and removal by force by the interior ministry, to the point that supportive LFI MPs, sensing a political moment and a media opportunity, turned out to support the student demonstrators and formed a curtain between them and CRS riot police.


Meanwhile, Macron’s government has ploughed on with its agenda. Despite Macron’s party Renaissance losing its majority in the national assembly, they have continued to pass laws essentially by decree – using a constitutional tool normally reserved for emergencies, the now-infamous article 49.3, to break the deadlock. This has led many on the left to accuse Macron of disrespect for the electorate, as in both 2017 and 2022, he relied on nominally left-wing voters to defeat Marine Le Pen on the far right. Macron promised compromise at the time, but functionally has governed in a decidedly right-wing manner, with increasing attacks on the welfare state via pension reform, blatant climate inaction and hypocrisy, and repressive and borderline authoritarian immigration laws which gained the approval of the Far Right. The latest government efforts include a new programme of austerity measures, approval of EU trade deals which torch EU food standards and further deepen the French agricultural crisis, and the sinking of Europe-wide protections for gig-economy workers by Macron personally.

What will be left at the end of the presidency of Emmanuel Macron? Potentially, little but the smouldering remains of French democracy.

The state of French politics is grim. The left, momentarily united at the legislative elections, has once more splintered over the war in Ukraine, which fed into existing left-right, green/productivist, and social progressive/conservative disagreements. The far right has been able to effectively tap in to both real and perceived economic and cultural insecurity felt by a sizeable electorate. The supposed presidential ‘centrists’ act unilaterally, stoke the flames of culture war, worsen social problems, and react to contestation with state violence and accusations of terrorism and anti-republican behaviour.


What will be left at the end of the presidency of Emmanuel Macron?

Potentially, little but the smouldering remains of French democracy. A country where citizens do not have the liberté to speak their mind, protest, or wear what they see fit in public places; Where égalité is a distant dream, as wealth inequality skyrockets while corporate profits climb ever higher; Where the fraternité of the welfare state has been dismantled. A country where government by decree has been normalised, where socio-cultural divides have been intensified, not healed, and where big business has been able to buy the president. A country primed for far-right takeover come the next presidential election – unless the left can unite once more.


Image: Flickr

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