Fascinating, no? Given the fast approach of the federal election in Australia. Considering the impact French President Emmanuel Macron, standing for re-election himself in three weeks, has had on Australian politics in the past six months.
Seldom does foreign affairs have much bearing on domestic politics. Unless there’s been some kind of major embarrassment or breakdown. When Macron said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison lied to him over the dumped $90 billion contract to build submarines with the French — which the PM denied — Australian politics shifted in a stroke, from the argy-bargy of the parliamentary bear pit, to deeper issues of ethics, reputation and character.
But there was further Australian resonance watching Macron, 44, roll out his policy program last week. Like Morrison, Macron must convince voters to re-elect him — why? To do what? Like Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, Macron is of the party political left originally and needs to attract the conservative electorate to win. (Macron was a Socialist Party Finance Minister before setting up his centrist En Marche party in 2016.)
Macron’s policy launch went for almost four hours, the President using very few notes or talking points in front of 320 media. Some 90 minutes of exposé was followed by two-and-a-half hours of rigorous Q&A with reporters. “There must be substance,” he said at one point, the room beginning to flag. “We’re talking about the next five years.”
According to opinion-polling, a second five-year term is highly likely. Macron’s de facto European leadership since Russia invaded Ukraine, at the head of the only real European nuclear and military power, has made him a clear favourite to win after two rounds of voting on April 10 and 24. At 30% of voting intentions currently, he’s 12-15% ahead of his nearest rival, Far Right stalwart, Marine Le Pen.
Macron won in 2017 pitching himself as “Neither of the Left or Right”, turning on the rhetorical line: “At the same time”. It’s still essentially his pitch in 2022. To fight inequality “at the root”, at the same time as embracing economic liberalism. To raise the retirement age to 65, alongside a 50% hike in child support for single mothers. To combat discrimination in companies via a system of “testing” for firms with 5000 employees or more. To strengthen France’s independence, notably in defence and in energy, by rebooting France’s reliance on nuclear power. At the same time as boosting renewables.
For critics, Macron’s would-be to-ing and fro-ing makes him an illegible knit of contradictions. And a soulless, globalist polyglot, to boot. He was born and raised until the age of 16 in Amiens, the principal city of ‘Australian France’, about a half-hour’s drive from Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme. But he’s not considered anchored there, has no established political base there or made any real attempt to ‘localise’ his image.
Of the policy launch, right-wing Le Figaro newspaper was impressed by the minutiae, by Macron’s phenomenal grasp of detail. But his method in fact reflected the kind of advice often given to foreign negotiators when they work with the French: make the big picture your emphasis.
“In France, preparation means, above all, having command of a coherent argument founded on faultless logic,” according to German management consultant, Sergey Frank. “Avoid the hard-sell and any marketing gimmicks. Instead, your presentation should be sober, well-founded and rigorous”.
One wonders at the rigour of Macron’s nuclear program, however, based on the construction of six nuclear reactors with a further eight under study, even though the first of the EPR next generation concrete cathedrals, is ten years over schedule and a staggering 10 billion euros over budget.
One wonders, too, at the twists and turns that led Macron to say Morrison lied to him over the subs, and the suitability of the Prime Minister’s subsequent approach: “I’m not going to cop sledging,” the PM retorted.
But the French president may not, in fact, have been much offended. Beyond the idea that Morrison was not happy, Macron may well have asked himself — or advisers — about the meaning of such a vernacular Australian phrase as, ‘copping a sledging’. One translation motor suggests, “not to go sledding”. Perplexing for Macron, perhaps, given that he’s known to enjoy winter holiday skiing on the slopes.