What’s cooking in Paris: Macron’s cordon bleu

By Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

Cordon bleu Parisian style or an anecdote that went down in the annals of political history: During the 2017 presidential campaign, more precisely on the Sunday of the first round of voting, candidate Emmanuel Macron and his team took a lunch break at a highway rest stop. Which meal do they choose? “I like cordon bleu,” said Emmanuel Macron. The waitress replies: “That’s part of the children’s menu…”.

In this political autumn, however, Emmanuel Macron will have to choose between a disruptive menu and election campaign cuisine. Before we continue with France’s political cuisine, it should be reminded at this point that the Council of Ministers is the formation that brings together all 16 ministers each week – usually on Wednesday – under the chairmanship of the head of state.

It is one element that allows the head of state to oversee the formulation and implementation of government policy and to give – or withhold – his or her approval to several important decisions. More generally, this council allows the head of state to shape discussions involving the entire government with his or her views. The pompous reception halls in which government members are received at the Élysée Palace rival the high level of formality that reigns there – and the tedium.

But that was part of the world of the past, the world before the June parliamentary elections in which Emmanuel Macron’s political formation was dealt a stunning electoral blow, losing its absolute majority in the National Assembly. Not only did his party lose almost half of its mandates, it also lost a majority in the National Assembly: When Macron took office in 2017, La République en Marche (LREM) had entered the Assemblée Nationale with 314 deputies; in 2022, under its new name Renaissance, it will have to make do with 170 seats. The National Assembly consists of a total of 577 deputies.

Political blockades en masse

In a country as centralized as France, political actors and observers have suddenly had to embrace the need for compromise, an approach that seems like a UFO in French politics. The only question is how long this culture of compromise, so alien to France, will last. Because it is a fact that Emmanuel Macron’s opponents, with whom parliamentary compromises could be found, are not numerous enough to guarantee him a stable and lasting five-year term.

After all, in his quest for power, the current French president has weakened his political opponents on the right and left fringes of the political spectrum. While his strategy has made his re-election possible, it has also helped the two extremes and made them heard. In this way, the hypothesis of a blockade leading to the dissolution of the National Assembly becomes particularly credible in this context.

And there will be no shortage of reasons for a political blockade: A health care system on the edge, the increasingly loud resentment of teachers and the galloping precariousness of students, inflation and rising energy prices, pension reforms, and so on. And all this at a time when the country has experienced unprecedented drought and fires.

So, what does this mean for Germany and the European Union? Both Germany and the EU should prepare for two distinct phases in Macron’s second term, state Ronja Kempin and Julina Mintel of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in a new analysis. In the first period, the president will pursue a policy of reform majorities, to win back the trust of citizens and secure a good starting position for new elections. “Accordingly, Macron will devote a great deal of political energy in this phase to negotiating domestic political compromises – and, to this end, will also back away from his promise to reduce France’s national debt,” the two researchers write.

Macron’s successor could be Marine Le Pen

This means Emmanuel Macron will lobby the EU to introduce further stimulus packages and develop new funds, as well as advocate a reform of the Stability and Growth Pact to gain more financial leeway for his domestic reform projects. “Conflicts with Berlin are thus inevitable at this stage if Berlin refuses to continue to suspend or reform the Maastricht criteria,” the two analysts write. “But the German government should always keep in mind that Macron will be forced to dissolve the National Assembly during his mandate in order to circumvent a domestic political blockade.”

If he succeeds, then he would have more room to maneuver in the second phase of his term to address the EU’s future issues – the “European Political Community“, the Union’s autonomy, and peace in Europe. “To work on these issues in Franco-German harmony, German European policy should formulate for itself the goal that Emmanuel Macron can realize his domestic reform agenda. To counteract the growing social disparities in his country, Macron needs Berlin’s support. It would be important for the German government to clearly commit to the EU’s autonomy in health and energy policy and to provide impetus in favor of a unified social and labor market policy,” they stress.

And they conclude: “It may sound threadbare, but it is more likely than ever: If Macron fails, his successor in 2027 will probably be Marine Le Pen. Since the parliamentary elections in June, she has found herself in a very comfortable position of power – which should not be further strengthened in the coming months by a rigid German European policy.”

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