When Macron believes himself to be Napoleon: a story of inappropriate and misplaced governance 

English translation by Anne Geurts of Une gouvernance inadaptée et déplacée : quand Macron se prend pour Napoléon

Having turned a large part of French public opinion against « his » pension reform, President Macron then went on tour abroad, and made some rather inappropriate remarks.

Was it a way for him to divert attention once society had been left in disarray? 

Whatever our perception of the pension reform, Macron’s method is quite « disconcerting », not to say dismaying: he makes decisions alone, much to the displeasure of his entourage and openly displaying the fact that his government is only an instrument « at his beck and call”. 

The French president also likes to show his contempt for social partners, who nonetheless remain essential stakeholders in the social consensus, even though a pension system is an issue structuring our society’s life. 

Two of his advisors recently explained to me that everything he felt to be the responsibility of the State could only be decided by him, and since in his mind the State is responsible for everything…

In what capacity is Emmanuel Macron speaking?

Macron’s method, defying any consultation and consensus, reflects a way of governing that is visible in his international positions. He claims to be European, but he does not do anything to give any one but himself space, or to share the spotlight with them. 

When he goes to visit the Chinese president with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, in the midst of the Ukraine crisis and tensions around the island of Taiwan, President Macron expresses positions that are doubly and disturbingly ambiguous. 

Le Monde

During his state visit to China on April 6 and 7, the French president told the American website Politico and the business daily Les Echos that Europe should not align itself with the United States or China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. These words were published following his return to Paris. In the event of a conflict with Taiwan, « the worst thing would be to think that we Europeans should be followers » and « adapt ourselves to the American pace and to a Chinese ‘overreaction' », Emmanuel Macron also noted, pleading for a « strategic autonomy » for the European Union.

On a state visit to the Netherlands, Emmanuel Macron went back over his statements calling for not being « followers » of Washington concerning the Taiwan question, remarks that have triggered a wave of misunderstanding.Paris « is for a status quo in Taiwan, supports the one China policy and [the search] for a peaceful settlement, » he said. A position, according to him, « compatible with the status of ally », which does not mean being a « vassal » of the United States. Alongside him, Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, provided some nuance: « The relationship with the United States is essential » before calling upon the Europeans « to speak with one voice ». The fact remains that Emmanuel Macron’s incriminating words reveal European differences on three key issues: ties with the United States, whose involvement in Ukraine is crucial, relations with China, Russia’s benevolent ally, and the EU’s « strategic autonomy » from both of the two great powers.

Ambiguity vis-à-vis the great dictators of this world, and vis-à-vis Europe

After his (futile) attempts to establish a relationship of trust, even friendship, with Vladimir Putin, whom President Macron recently asked « to not humiliate, » he is now repeating the same thing with the Chinese president and making statements that are all the more ambiguous because he is speaking on behalf of Europe, as if he were its president. He doesn’t even seem to mind « stealing the microphone » from the president of the European Commission who was traveling with him (or the other way around). 

Read also: The war in Ukraine is primarily a challenge for Europe

This desire to be recognized as the de rigueur interlocutor for the great dictators of our time could be part of a diplomatic will to establish relations of the same type. But Emmanuel Macron’s need to impose himself as an indispensable go-between and to establish a sort of connivance with these threatening autocrats is disturbing: as if Vladimir Putin or XI Jinping were going to buddy up with him, presumably subjugated by his charm and charisma..

Even more seriously, no one within the European Union has given mandate to the French president to go and speak for the continent and, what is more, with words that are contrary to the declared interests of most member countries. 

Authoritarianism in complete contradiction with the European construction approach

President Macron demonstrates a form of authoritarianism that is in complete contradiction with the very process of European construction. Perhaps he hopes to assert, on the international stage, an authority that French society has ultimately never gratified him with, as someone who was thwarted by the « yellow vests » movement whose only common denominator was their detestation for this young president. A young president who liked to be called Jupiter at the beginning of his mandate… In the same way, Emmanuel Macron is poised to impose a pension reform after four years of destabilizing society, without ever having managed to make it understandable, or socially acceptable.

On the international scene, his behavior is identical. While China plays a perverse role, to say the least, with its half-support to Putin’s Russia, the French president is now playing the « non-aligned » card by placing China and the United States on an equal footing, instead of showing its solidarity along with other European countries. Again, no one asked him to go to war with China because it is threatening Taiwan, but no one asked him to offer any form of support to this increasingly threatening Middle Kingdom either. 

His verbal attack against the United States, when it is their army which provides three quarters of the defense effort for Europe and the armed resistance of Ukraine against Russian aggression, is « disarming ».

Read also: Zelensky in Washington, a historic and patriotic moment

The recent issue of France’s military effort – unfortunately without so much as the shadow of a debate, as is the case for all military affairs in our country – with a budget twenty times smaller than that of the American defense should however bring him back to a certain degree of modesty. In order to be on equal footing with the United States militarily, it would be necessary to add up all the European Union’s defense budgets and practically double them..

Emmanuel Macron thus gives the image of a Napoleon outside of time and reality, unable to understand the limits of his authority, or to realize his inability to convince. Enforcing now seems to be his only way to govern, disrupting his only way to be noticed. Doesn’t this belong in a museum, the museum of arrogance and of a governance culture that is as inadequate as it is outdated?

To go further : Roses for Formosa (by Michel Goya)

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