View profile

French Politics #4

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
This week: Is Macron turning into the Sun King or the Sleep King? And will his loyal lemmings decide to jump off a cliff in order to please their leader?

In his second month as President, Emmanuel Macron is slowly turning into a monarch. More and more people are criticising his authoritarian behaviour. The President  does not seem particularly bothered by it, and Monday he chose the Versailles Palace as the location for his first ‘King’s Speech’. The Lower and the Upper House gathered in a united assembly, the Congrès. It was only the third time that a French president had used the right to address both Houses.
Macron spoke for 90 minutes, in a monotonous tone. Some moments of the speech were outright boring, and the new Roi Soleil, the Sun King became the Roi Sommeil, the Sleep King. Most of what he said was a repeat of what was in his election programme. In spite of his impressive and oftentimes spectacular performance on the international stage (see Newsletter 2), the ‘Jupiterian President’ could not prevent a rise in unemployment (+ 0.6% in May) and government debt (+62.4 billion euros in 2016). Yesterday’s speech should, therefore, be interpreted as the real launch of his ambitious reform programme, or the “profound transformation” of France, as he called it.
Le Petit Prince
Le Petit Prince
Not all of the MP’s were present. Melenchon’s left wing party Les Insoumis boycotted the meeting, while others disapproved of the new President’s show of force. There was much debate surrounding the usefulness of his costly intervention. The afternoon gathering cost the French taxpayer an estimated 200.000 to 600.000 euros. Only one in four French was convinced by Macron’s discourse. But they had better get used to it: yesterday was just the beginning of a new tradition. Macron promised to return to Versailles every year to give his State of the Union, but then à la française, in a French way.
Want to hear more about Macron’s speech? I spoke on BBC Radio Monday Night.
One of the promises Macron reiterated yesterday was to reduce the number of Members of Parliament by a third. The Assemblée will shrink from 577  to around 300 in the future, the Senate  from 348 to around 220, while the lesser known CESE (Economic, Social and Environmental Council) will end up with around 150 members. 
Macron did not explain how he would achieve this goal. He may need a two-third majority, in which case the third that will lose their jobs will have to jump off the cliff voluntarily. To speed things up, Macron has a significant advantage though: the MP’s of his party LREM are not allowed to vote against anything (€ paywall) their Líder Máximo proposes.
Instead of discussing solutions to the country’s structural economic problems, the freshly sworn-in members of the Assemblée seemed more interested in the dress code of the dusty Palais Bourbon. Instead of talking about solutions to the country’s structural economic problems, the freshly sworn-in members of the Assemblée only seemed to be interested in the dusty Palais Bourbon’s dress code; or its lack thereof. The members of Mélenchons La France insoumise refused to wear ties. “Scandalous!” yelled the LREM and the Conservative MP’s. To be fair, the clothing requirements of the French Lower House are not particularly clear.
It seems that the tieless Rebels have won their first fight. But rarely, an American invention in France has been so passionately defended as it has been this week. The tie, in the way we now wear it, was created by New Yorker Jesse Langsdorf.
One debuting MP, the flamboyant mathematician Cédric Villani, is unfazed by the clothing regulations. Although he dresses like a dandy, his characteristic lavallière is, technically, still a tie.
The topic also kept Britain gripped last week. An MP dared to arrive at the House of Commons without a tie, but the Speaker concluded that although wearing a tie in Westminster may be a habit, it is certainly not an obligation.
Dress codes are so last century!
Dress codes are so last century!
Macron unveiled his official portrait last week, taken by court photographer Soazig de la Moissonnière. The kitschy picture, as German Bild called it, will ornate every town hall, court house and every other official Republic institution.
Shaken or stirred?
Shaken or stirred?
The media tried to decipher the real meaning behind all of the symbols and props that Macron had carefully, although not very subtly, placed in the photo. 
The responses on social media were ruthless. Almost immediately the photo went viral and spawned a host of memes, some funnier than others. Nevertheless, the official photo got retweeted about 33,000 times, which seems a lot. Meanwhile, however, former presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, was tweeting a picture of his kebab he was eating. The rather distasteful looking pitta received over 85,000 retweets.
Fortunately, there was at least one person who appreciated the state portrait over fast food. Macron’s wife Brigitte said she loved the photo and that he is “the most handsome president” since 1958. Although Carla Bruni begs to differ.
To everyone’s surprise, Macron invited the American president to assist in the traditional military parade in Paris next week. Trump accepted the invitation; but he was not the only unexpected guest. On Saturday, the Police arrested a 23-year old extreme right wing nationalist. He had plans to kill Macron on July 14th, the national holiday. He also wanted to attack “Blacks, Arabs, Jews and Homosexuals.” 
Maybe the American President secretly hired the guy to seek revenge for the condescending treatment Macron gave him during the NATO and G7 meetings last May (see newsletter 2) and the subsequent trolling with the campaign ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’? But that’s just speculating. Or ‘FAKE NEWS!’, to quote America’s sophisticated leader.
The Minister of Labour, Muriel Pénicaud, is in trouble. Before she became a minister, she was the director of Business France, the agency promoting French business abroad, as its original name implies.
In January last year, the then Minister of Economy, a certain Emmanuel Macron, visited the CES Exhibit in Las Vegas, to promote French start-ups. Business France asked a communications agency, Havas, to organise the trip. Total cost: 381,000 euros. By law, contractors should be selected by an open invitation to tender. Which, in this particular case, didn’t happen. Pénicaud defended herself by saying that there was no time for a tender bid and that she had alerted the authorities of the illegal procedure. Daily Libération now reveals that she had sent in an altered report with regards to her actions and that she may be guilty of favouritism. The Minister yesterday refused to answer any questions on the matter. It is not clear as to whether her position is under threat.
Pénicaud is important to Macron because she is the one who will have to push through his ambitious labour reform. Pénicaud would be the fifth minister to resign in the eight weeks that Macron has been a president. 
Former German Chancellor and great European Helmut Kohl, who died on June 16, received a tribute in Strasbourg last Saturday. The location could not have been more appropriate. Over the last centuries, the Alsatian capital has been French or German by turns. The city is also the seat of the European capital, where Kohl’s coffin was on display, covered by a European Flag.
Helmut Kohl, a great European - YouTube
Helmut Kohl, a great European - YouTube
On the opposite bank of the Rhine, in the German town Kehl, the mood was less solemn. A bridge for pedestrians and trams, the Passerelle of the Two Riversconnects the two cities. The middle of the bridge signals the French-German border. The Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries decided to rename the crossing ‘Helmut Kohl Bridge’, much to the annoyance of the German neighbours. The town of Kehl only has 35,000 inhabitants, while the neighbouring Strasbourg has almost 300,000. The regional dominance of the latter and, above all, French arrogance has been a long a source of irritation between the two, and besides this, Kohl is far from undisputed in Germany. In Kehl, they think Strasburg’s decision to rename the bridge comes far too early. The name-change seems to be a fait accompli. ‘Franco-German friendship’, anyone?
The future Helmut Kohl Bridge aka the Crossing of Discontent
The future Helmut Kohl Bridge aka the Crossing of Discontent
Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you liked it, please share it with colleagues and/or friends who are also interested in France. I welcome your questions and comments on
Are you still hungry for information about France? Then please subscribe to So French!, the bi-weekly podcast I co-host, available in iTunes or Tunein Radio. Episode 32 is online now.
NEW: If you would like to receive news about French politics on your smartphone, subscribe to the Telegram channel French Politics.
If, for some weird reason, you prefer to read this newsletter in Dutch, please subscribe on
Merci !
Did you enjoy this issue? Yes No
Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

The ins and out of French politics brought to you by journalist Stefan de Vries. Irregularly delivered to your inbox.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Created with Revue by Twitter.
Amsterdam | Paris