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French Politics #2

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
Welcome to my new newsletter. Every week I’ll send you an update on French politics.
This week: Macron started as a Freshman in national politics, but Monday night it became clear it has only taken him seven days to be transformed into an international statesman. It now seems that his party might even win an absolute majority in the Assembly.

Two new presidents made their first move onto the international stage last week. The contrast between the two could not be bigger. In Brussels, at the NATO Summit and the EU, and then the next day in Italy at the G7, Donald Trump made a weary impression next to the smart looking and wide-awake Emmanuel Macron, who could have been Trump’s son.
The most striking moment was when the two greeted each other for the first time. Trump’s fights in the handshake arena have been under scrutiny for a while now. The entire world press wondered which of the two would win this battle. It turned out to be Macron, with flying colours. Trump’s knuckles turned white while Macron kept the American president in a grip. “The handshake was not innocent”, Macron told a French Sunday paper. To him, it even was a “moment of truth”. The outcome of the masculine duel was clear: France 1 - USA 0.
That is looking shaky
That is looking shaky
Just like in any family, spending a couple of days together in exotic locations can end in irritation and conflicts. In this case, Trump was the obnoxious uncle who clearly annoyed his European cousins. It even led Angela Merkel to make a clear statement once she was back home. Strengthened by her new Seelenverwandte* Macron, who also wants far-reaching European integration, the German Chancellor said that the times in which we could completely depend on others are over. We Europeans, have to fight for our destiny. It looks like Germany and France finally got rid of their inferiority complex. According to The Economist, her message was aimed at four different groups. But what did she really mean? Moreover, how does the sentimental divorce between the World’s two largest trading blocs fit into the context of the upcoming general election in Germany?
Despite the ‘catastrophe’ of his first foreign trip, Trump had a different view. He thought it was a success and was openly charmed by Macron: at the end of his European tour, he asked for the French president’s mobile number.
Yesterday, he probably received the photos of his foreign trip, because Trump responded angrily to Merkel’s remarks this weekend, in his own style: with a tweet.
*Soul mate
EAT THAT, Germany!
EAT THAT, Germany!
Until last week, Justin Trudeau (45) was the youngest of the G7 leaders, but now Macron (39) is the youngest of the gang. They met for the first time in Taormina, and it was love at first sight.
Macron’s official photographer immortalised the budding bromance. Both gentlemen were quite happy with the Franco-Canadian tête-à-tête themselves, as both Trudeau and Macron tweeted. Judge for yourself by watching the romantic video of the Sicilian weekend of the two lovebirds.
On Monday, Macron shook the hand of another world leader: Trump’s tovarich Vladimir Putin. The Russian President received a royal reception at Versailles, the spectacular castle south of Paris. The visit’s official occasion was the opening of the exhibition celebrating the visit of Czar Peter to Versailles in May and June 1717, a three century anniversary. The faire-like decor did not prevent Macron to play the tough guy. Because the semi-official reason he invited Putin, was to inform Russia that, although the normalisation of the relation with the country is necessary, France will definitely not accept any meddling in national or European politics. Macron promised on Saturday that it was going to be a “demanding dialogue without any concessions.” At the end of Monday, that proved to be a euphemism. He confronted Putin with Syria, human rights, and other delicate topics. 
Macron is not a big fan of Putin. During the election campaign, the Kremlin officially supported Marine Le Pen. At the same time, Russian media tried to discredit Macron by distributing fake news. Russia Today and Sputnik are instruments of propaganda”, Macron said without blinking, while Putin was struggling to keep his bored face in order. RT responded to the allegations: “Disgusting hypocrisy”. According to the Russian journalists, Macron has a “psychological tick” when it comes to RT. Sputnik’s editor-in-chief said that “Macron sets a dangerous precedent that threatens both freedom of speech and journalism at large”, this coming from a media in a country ranking 148 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index…
Putin's Visit to Macron was not a walk in the park
Putin's Visit to Macron was not a walk in the park
Human rights organisations HRW and Amnesty International criticised the visit of the Russian Emperor to the Versailles Palace. Macron probably took their remarks into account: to add insult to injury, simultaneous with Putin’s visit, the first Chechen homosexual refugee arrived in France.
Reforming the labour market and Europe are not Macron’s only priorities. He wants to make French politics dirt free, or “moralising public life”, as he named the bill. However, this week it proved to be an onerous ambition.
Macron’s problem is called Richard Ferrand, his campaign director and now the Minister of Territorial Cohesion. The satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné published details of a lucrative real estate scheme, designed by Ferran and his wife in 2011. Ferrand denies any wrongdoing. Besides that, there was no public money involved, so to him, it is a “pseudo-affair”. Legally it looks like there’s nothing wrong indeed. However, morally it is another story. These days, every politician is under suspicion and perception can be fatal, as we have seen with François Fillon earlier this year.
Ferrand and Macron
Ferrand and Macron
The real estate deal was not the only thing. It became also known when he was an MP, Ferrand employed his son in Parliament. Again: not illegal, even though in Macron’s bill hiring relatives will be forbidden. The justification of Ferrand’s staff was a little naive: “It is not easy to find a young man who can read and write without error.”
Last night, the daily Le Monde published another article [€ paywall], accusing Ferrand of having mixed his private and the public interests a little bit too easily during at least twenty years.
For now, Richard Ferrand can stay a Minister, although the government “understand[s] the exasperation of the French”, PM Ferrand said last night on national tv. This morning, Ferrand said resigning was not an option: “I am an honest man. I have my conscience with me.” A conscious that already has a price for Macron. His groundbreaking law to clean France’s Augean stables was supposed to be made public next week, but Ferrand’s troubles delayed the presentation by a week.
Macron has not said anything about the matter yet. He was too busy jet setting around Europe (see above). He will certainly be embarrassed. Not only is Ferrand one of his closest confidants, but with the pompous word ‘moralization’, the new President seems to have taken a risk. It is a term that now returns in Macron’s face like a merciless boomerang.
And then there is MP Alain Tourret, a candidate for Emmanuel Macron’s party LREM in the Calvados region. He turned out to be a big spender after the website Mediapart delved into his receipts. In 2013, he bought a new television set for nearly five thousand euros, went to Club Med in Senegal and played some golf, all at the taxpayer’s expense [read here, € paywall]. As soon as he was informed about Mediapart’s investigation, the right honourable gentleman rushed to the Assemblée and repaid 16.000 euros in cash. And this was after Mediapart had only combed through eleven months of Tourret’s expenses out of his five-year term.
Ironically, Tourret is one of the MP’s who pushed most on a law for more political transparency. I guess he must have thought: Do as I say, not as I do.
This television set is brought to you by the Taxpayer
This television set is brought to you by the Taxpayer
The times when Chirac stormed out of a meeting in a rage because a French businessman dared to speak English to him, lie far behind us. The new president is proud to speak English and German pretty well. In his government, there are more polyglots than ever before. Prime Minister Philippe grew up in Bonn (Germany), Sylvie Goulard, the Minister of the Armies, not only speaks flawlessly English but is also fluent in German and Italian. Several other ministers speak German and English. Dutch and Scandinavian readers of this newsletter will probably find that completely normal. To a British professor, however, these language skills are all quite intimidating.
The Germans see the new French government as ‘Germanophiles’, but at the same time wonder whether all those German speakers will be useful to Berlin.
A typical Minister in Macron's Cabinet
A typical Minister in Macron's Cabinet
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Merci !
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Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

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