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A Year of Macron


Chris Doyle

Wed, 09 May 2018 12:12 GMT

France is back! The Macron mantra reverberates around this globetrotting President. It is has been a barnstorming opening 365 days as the youngest ever President of France, at the age of 40, the youngest leader since Napoleon Bonaparte. For differing reasons, it has been almost as dramatic as the first year of office of his American counterpart. 

When he entered the Presidential race, Macron was a relative unknown. This is a charge that no longer can be levelled. He has moved fast to imprint himself on the office of the presidency, shifting it back more to a monarchical style, redolent of Charles de Gaulle. He styles himself as a "Jupiterian President". This is a man who does theatre, who understands the eyes are on him who has brought zest and energy to the role. Some see virtue in his confidence but others tut tut at behaviour that borders on the arrogant. He prefers the vertical decision making process, not least because as he says: "I hate the process which means you have to constantly explain the reasoning behind a decision."

Domestically he has governed far more as a creature of the right despite depicting himself as centre left. The tax burden has been reduced, the wealthiest are happier. His labour market reforms have made it easier for employers to both hire and fire. On immigration he has been tougher than he proclaimed in campaign mode. Although he rescinded the national state of emergency imposed after the terrorist attacks in France, his anti-terror legislation is far from liberal. 

Not everyone in France is happy. His approval rating hovering at around 40% may be higher than the woeful levels of Francois Hollande but many are unhappy about what are seen as his pro-rich policies. 

But it is on the world stage he has really made a mark. Francois Hollande had cut a dull and uninspiring figure but Macron is far from that, having so far visited 22 countries in just one year. Major foreign visits to the US, China and India have been backed up with frequent visits to Africa where he has promised to engage more and increase French development aid. Next up, a tricky trip to Russia to joust with Vladimir Putin later this month.

The relationship with President Trump is the most intriguing. The abiding image of the extended bare knuckle handshake with Trump showed a man who was not to be cowed by the New Yorker's colossal ego. Macron by standing up to Trump perhaps earned his respect, to the extent that apparently they speak at least once a weak. Trump proclaimed in April, "he is perfect". Divisions between the two are major, not least on climate change, trade and Iran. Macron was prepared to take the fight to Trump over the climate deal but was still able to build a significant relationship. His recent state visit to the United States was the high point of this relationship, guaranteed to make British government ministers and officials nervous that they had been gazumped by this nouveau French upstart, daring to challenge Britain's much vaunted "special relationship" with the US. 

Yet for all the fanfare and the razzmatazz, what has Emmanuel Macron achieved so far? The odds are that he has failed to shift Trump's position on the Iran nuclear deal as he failed to stop him pulling out of the Paris climate deal. As for the EU, major reforms he cherishes are light years away. Much was made of the significant French role in the largely insignificant missile strikes on Syria in April that Marcon has claimed had the aim of ensuring that "France is to be respected in the region", something that might need more than a few missiles to achieve.  

Macron's interventions have the tendency to be opportunistic rather than strategic, exploiting German and British weaknesses as they obsessed over their domestic challenges of elections and Brexit respectively.  

But Macron has had one essential element of all successful political careers – luck. He came to power on the back of the one of the most unpopular French presidents of all time and at a time of a dearth of world leaders. The huge parliamentary majority he also won has allowed him the leeway to push through reforms others had baulked at. It may be that the first year will be a golden period with tougher challenges to come and keeping a disenchanted French electorate content is some challenge but thus far Emmanuel Macron has certainly made his mark. With luck, France may be back to stay but with a modern updated twist. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.