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french president

Is Macron a friend of the Rich?

Recently France has been swayed by large scale protests carried out by tens of thousands of its citizens in response to a series of economic reforms since the new government came to power in 2017. A growing mistrust amid the tax cuts on corporations and high earners while raising taxes for the working class has prompted the people to put pressure on the government to make big changes.

Emmanuel Macron founded the centrist movement named “En Marche!” in April 2016 and much to the surprise of many, won the elections the following year. The French saw promise in Macron’s manifesto, which promised significant economic reforms backed up by his relevant experiences both in the public and private sectors. The fragile economy and mistrust for the previous regime left the people with no options but to take a risk instead of voting far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. However as the recent “Yellow Vests” movement spread out in France the truths behind the reforms have only started to get publicity.

Historical information

Francois Hollande, who preceded Macron as President, failed to live up to expectations having faced major opposition from his proposed economic and employment reforms. He faced criticism for many issues including failing to address difficulties in integrating immigrants into the French society and even pandering to the right with his comments on stripping French citizens with dual nationalities off their citizenship following the high profile terrorist attacks that shook the country, including the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 and the Nice truck attack in 2016. Hollande decided not to re-run for the election due to a combination of social, political and economic frailties and the huge mistrust shared among the French citizens.[1] Macron on the other hand was appointed Deputy Secretary General to Hollande in 2012, while also serving as Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs between 2014 and 2016, where he formulated several business reforms to aid the economy.[2]

Macron was born in Amiens, France and is an alumnus of the elite École Nationale d’Administration. He showed great aptitude in the areas of literature, politics and theatre at an early age and had been able to forge powerful connections during his time as an inspector at the French Finance Ministry during Nicolas Sarkozy’s tenure as President. However he switched civil service to work in investment banking at Rothchilde and Co where he swiftly rose up the ranks to become managing director before being appointed as Francois Hollande’s staff. [3] His most significant contribution in investment banking was his crucial role in advising Nestlé on its USD 12 billion acquisition of a unit of Pfizer in 2012 which earned the nickname- “the Mozart of finance”.[4]

Despite public protests as, the business reform package he introduced in 2015 as Finance Minister was forced through parliament by then Prime Minister Manuel Valls who invoked the special article 49.3 procedure which also received criticism from within the ruling Socialist party.[5] However he soon resigned (in 2016), and founded En Marche! And announced his candidacy for the 2017 presidential election. His manifesto attracted a lot of attention, and was even able to gain support from both the left and the right, especially through his proposals that aimed at lowering housing and corporate taxes, reforming pensions and welfare, and allocating substantial resources.

He became France’s youngest ever president by defeating Le Pen in 2017. He had received 66.1 percent of the 47 million votes cast. He had never held an elected post but it did not seem very difficult for him to achieve his objective.

Plans for the economy/budget:

The biggest test, and also Macron’s main objective has been to overhaul France’s economy. He inherited a very poorly performing economy from his predecessor with the biggest challenges being[6]:

  • 10% unemployment, and nearly one in four among under-25s
  • Bloated public spending (56% of GDP compared with 44% in Germany and 39% in the UK)
  • Low economic growth

 His twin aims are to boost investment and set up a “new growth model” that is both good for social mobility and the environment. Macron has been advocating a Nordic-style economic model that mixes spending cuts of 60 billion euros with a 50 billion euro stimulus package over the same period. The “spend and save” system that Macron plans is meant to mix targeted public spending with fiscal discipline as a Nordic model. Besides lowering corporate tax rate from 33 to 25 percent he also has plans to slash 120,000 jobs from France’s bloated civil service while lowering companies and households; tax bill by 20 billion euros.[7] These are part of the major economic reforms that Macron has planned while making France stick to the EU government deficit limit of 3 percent of GDP.[8]

Security and Defence

In light of the recent terrorist attacks that have rattled France and resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives, Macron has proposed increase in defence and policing by recruiting 10,000 new police officers and expand prison capacities. He also advocates the idea of an EU army, and has been promoting joint military projects and setting up a permanent European headquarters.

Some of his notable plans for governance includes reducing number of lawmakers by a third in both the Senate and National Assembly, banning the hiring of family-members as assistants of lawmakers, and banning consulting activity for people holding elected office.[9]

Foreign relations and others

France’s commitment to 2015 Paris climate agreement has been among the key global issues that Macron has promised to back-up and promote since his early days in the office.

When it comes to foreign relations he has voiced support for multilateral institutions such as the UN security council, however also supporting the promotion of the French language and Francophone institutions as “an essential vector of our influence and a weapon against the spread of radicalism”. He stands strong against the Syrian regime led by Bashar al Assad and wants him to answer for his crimes before an international tribunal while being a strong critic of Russian policy, backing EU sanctions following the Ukraine crisis.

Europe

Macron is pro-EU and has campaigned for greater cooperation and integration within the EU on fiscal, environmental and social regulation. In his European agenda he has expressed his plans towards a common fiscal policy, a joint finance minister, implementation of the banking union and a bolstered bilateral relations with Germany.[10]

Macron’s tenure as president

Macron came to power at a problematic time- he faced a massive restructuring of regional powers following the Brexit referendum, as well as US President Donald Trump’s reshuffling of American interests. These major changes made the situation a little more difficult from the very start, and especially after the shocking withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord, a decision made my Trump himself, who does not believe in climate change. This prompted Macron to offer France as a second homeland to climate researchers.

One of the first things he did was making a state visit immediately after his election to meet Angela Merkel in his quest for improved Franco-German relations and since forged a strong relationship with Merkel and agreed on a “common roadmap” for Europe. However Merkel has a more cautious approach than Macron when it comes to major issues concerning the EU.[11]

He has always been vocal about increased European cooperation on many issues, and has been pushing for a “European Army” to improve security in the EU-with Merkel quick to endorse Macron’s plan, and . Macron also voiced strong interests to pursue security dialogue with Russia seeking to improve EU-Russia relations especially in terms of security.

In France

Macron had been quick in pressing for reforms soon as he took charge- with one of his first significant contributions being against mass corruption and nepotism in French politics- introducing a ban on elected representative from hiring family members.[12]

Yellow vests movement

In the May 2018, a political movement arose that challenged Macron’s economic reforms. It has been named “Mouvement des gilets jaunes” or the “Yellow Vests Movement” where demonstrations started on 17 November 2018, months after it was created. The main protagonists of the now ongoing movement are the ordinary working and middle class French citizens who strongly feel that Macron is not the leader for the ordinary working class. What triggered the movement was the proposal to keep increasing a direct tax on fuel, as well as the carbon tax. Although Macron stated that these were part of his plans to reduce fossil fuel reliance but it has been widely criticised as an act of “taxing the poor to tackle climate change”.[13]

In his first budget Macron’s business friendly government had proposed trimming corporate rates and a “wealth tax” on the rich, explaining that boosting investment will aid the economy, however also increasing certain taxes such as one on low-income pensioners. While giving tax breaks to big corporations, plans of charging lower taxes on high-paid workers in certain industries have garnered mistrust from ordinary citizens and political rivals alike, with the left-wing calling him “Hero to the rich”.[14] He also moved to loosen hiring and firing regulations on companies to improve France’s paralysed labour market.

Protests have been going on for over a month and hundreds of thousands of French citizens have taken part in what seems to be an anti-Macron rebellion, with the premier making a U-turn by suspending the proposed tax hike amid the protests that have turned violent. French authorities have deployed nearly a hundred thousand security forces during several days of protests detaining thousands and using anti-riot weapons such as tear gas against protestors.[15]

In a very recent bid to end the standoff, Macron announced a package of measures for low-income workers estimated by economists to cost up to 15 billion euros. Besides suspending the fuel-tax hike plans for six months, he also announced raising the minimum wage by a 100 euros per month from 2019 while scrapping the recent increase in social security taxes on pensioners earning less than 2000 euros.[16]

The protests are still ongoing with protestors expecting their 42 directives to be accepted. However recently it has garnered criticism for a lack of leader and organisation, and violence by protestors and use of force by police has already resulted in over 500 injuries. Despite Macron announcing several major changes bowing down to protestors, there are many demands to yet to be met and it is not clear when or how the Yellow Vests Movement will end.

Conclusion

Macron, poised to become “Europe’s next leader” as Merkel nears her exit from politics, saw a major slump in his popularity since the protests. Falling out of favour may mean nationalists such as Marine Le Pen gaining support, and with the rise of the populism in Europe in the past few years, it may not come as a surprise if France leans towards the far-right. A major shift in powers may make the situation in the region volatile and with France being a major power in the EU, and with the UK poised to officially leave the EU in a few months, it would cause a major restructuring in regional powers and interests. Most concerning of all, with countries such as Italy, Hungary and Poland having already given in to populism, a major power joining their ranks will shake up the EU and prove to be a major challenge in the future of the EU. The current situation and its developments in France will have a significant impact on the economic and political stability in the rest of Europe.

[1] https://theconversation.com/where-did-it-all-go-wrong-francois-hollande-flops-out-of-presidential-race-69806

[2] https://www.biography.com/people/emmanuel-macron-050817

[3] https://www.nouvelobs.com/rue89/20160830.RUE5451/au-fait-il-faisait-quoi-chez-rothschild-emmanuel-macron.html

[4] https://www.ft.com/content/9bd62502-12cf-11e7-b0c1-37e417ee6c76

[5] Revault d’Allonnes, David (17 February 2015). “Loi Macron : comment le 49-3 a été dégainé comme un dernier recours”

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39845905

[7] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39845905

[8] https://www.ft.com/content/37223e92-3319-11e7-bce4-9023f8c0fd2e

[9] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-protests/french-yellow-vests-protest-in-their-thousands-for-fifth-saturday-idUSKBN1OE0BF

[10] https://www.ft.com/content/37223e92-3319-11e7-bce4-9023f8c0fd2e

[11] “Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel pledge to draw up ‘common road map’ for Europe”. The Telegraph. 15 May 2017

[12] “France bans hiring of spouses by politicians in wake of Fillon scandal”. Reuters. 27 July 2017.

[13] https://www.politico.eu/article/macrons-mistake-taxing-the-poor-to-tackle-climate-change/

[14] https://www.thelocal.fr/20170927/hero-to-the-rich-macron-cuts-taxes-for-wealthy-in-first-french-budget-france

[15] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-protests-tax/france-drops-fuel-tax-hike-as-yellow-vest-anger-persists-idUSKBN1O40PQ

[16] https://www.france24.com/en/20181210-macron-france-tax-cuts-raise-wages-speech-yellow-vest-unrest

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