The Brief — Macron forgets how to count
The first rule of politics, said US President Lyndon Johnson, is ‘to be able to count’.
Johnson earned a reputation as a ruthlessly efficient majority-builder in the US Senate, and his ability to count the votes enabled his administration and the Kennedy government to pass the landmark civil rights and welfare laws that, almost 60 years on, are still largely intact.
Emmanuel Macron has always been good at counting votes. How else to explain the apparently effortless rise to the French presidency of a politician who started without a political party but, in about seven years, destroyed the parties of the left and right who have dominated politics in the Fifth Republic?
This week’s decision to use the presidential decree powers in the constitution to force through an unpopular but economically logical pension reform is probably Macron’s biggest political miscalculation.
Without an overall majority in the National Assembly, he would always rely on opposition MPs, primarily from the centre-right, to back reforms that lifted the retirement age in France from 62 to 64.
It appears that it was only at the eleventh hour that Macron realised the numbers were too tight, deciding that the ‘financial and economic risks [of losing] are too great’ to take the proposals to a parliamentary vote.
Ramming the reforms through by presidential decree underscores the scale of the power vested in the French presidency. But it is also a clear sign of weakness.
Macron’s critics, including Communist lawmaker Fabien Roussel, say that the move amounts to a “denial of democracy”. While that is not strictly true, since pension reform was at the heart of Macron’s successful re-election campaign last May, it is rhetoric that will likely play well on the streets where the battle over pension reform will now be pitched.
In this, there is a lesson from history.
Johnson’s presidency and legacy were derailed not at the ballot box or in Congress but by the scale of public opposition to the Vietnam War.
The president may be less than a year into his second term, but there are no question marks about his job security, though it could be different for his Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne.
Less certain is the legacy of the Macron presidency. If the public protests and nationwide strikes seen in recent weeks escalate, potentially to a general strike, that will further embolden the left and far-right ranks in parliament and threaten what remains of the Borne government’s capacity to pass legislation.
If Macron is to carve out a legacy over the next four years, he will have to learn how to count again.
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And finally, don’t forget to check out our Agrifood Brief: Schrödinger’s food security, and our Tech Brief: GPAI obligations, CRA’s lifetime extended.
Look out for…
- Commissioner Vĕra Jourová speaks at conference ‘The Future is Digital: Getting up to Speed for the Digital World’ on Saturday.
- Commission Vice-President Dubravka Suica on official visit to New York, Monday-Wednesday.