AMERICANS have just witnessed and Australians are about to get a taste of Emmanuel Macron’s big-vision thinking, not to say the galvanising effect of it, when he arrives in Australia today.
Galvanising by dint of what it is — multilateral, pro-European, inclusive — and by what it is not: acutely divisive, Donald Trump-type rough-talking.
China’s role in the Pacific, defence ties, climate change, economic issues — and cuisine — will be high on the agenda when Macron meets with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Officials said the French president would also discuss security in the South Pacific on his first bilateral visit to Australia. Australia has a $50 billion deal to purchase 12 next-generation submarines from the French. Cuisine will be discussed at a lunch on Wednesday with Australian and French chefs.
In international diplomacy, Macron has shown that flattering morally tainted hands doesn’t mean entering into a Faustian pact with their owners.
He combines a certain pride in the office of president — receiving Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the Palace of Versailles, President Trump at the Eiffel Tower, while lending the Bayeux Tapestry to the Brits — with a cool kind of sleeves-up communicability.
Check out the laid-back style, what a young French colleague of mine calls the “coolitude”, of Macron’s Twitter videos.
The key concept chez the French president, though, has been coherence based on principles. He was elected on a program to shake up France and is implementing it.
In the workplace, he’s introducing enterprise bargaining (moving away from branch-based negotiations) and making the French industrial appeals court faster and cheaper, and so more proemployment.
Elsewhere too, reform is on the cards. Reform of education and training at the state-owned railway company — 50 billion euros ($80 billion) in debt with train drivers retiring at 50; a law to “moralise” politics; tax reform for pensioners (they will pay more), and the wealthy (dead capital stuck in highend real estate will be more heavily taxed). These changes have dizzied the electorate.
But the bottom line is that France has to be fixed. Those who are working should be taxed less and those who are no longer working must contribute a bit more.
The IFI (formerly ISF) wealth tax in fact brings in little revenue for the government, but it’s a symbol. Again then, there’s coherence.
The result is that by the usual indicators, the French economy is improving. The key will be whether the positive impact of reforms flows through to ordinary people by the next elections in 2022 (hence the speed of their implementation).
Unless sustained, the current barely 2 per cent annual growth rate won’t be enough to boost wages or create jobs, or help the middle class into housing when city prices are elevated.
But the stakes are high. Macron’s election torpedoed the traditional parties. Since then, the mainstream right has moved further to the right as Macron siphons off its traditional base.
Macron himself rose from nothing to the presidency in a year. So there’s every reason to believe someone else could do the same, if Monsieur Macron does not deliver.
Those newcomers, even if mutton dressed as lamb, might very well come from the populist space.