Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Macron Illusion

When Emmanuel Macron was elected in France, many hoped he would be a bulwark against the rise of right populism in Europe. Well, certainly he was--and is--way better than Marine Le Pen but the sad fact is he is doing virtually nothing to deal with the fundamental problems of the Eurozone today. And it is precisely these festering economic and political pathologies that are the breeding ground for right populism, as we see very clearly in the ongoing Italian crisis. .
Thomas Piketty for one is outraged and he has this to say about his country's leader:
"While the political crisis deepens in Italy and in Spain, France and Germany are still demonstrably incapable of formulating precise and ambitious proposals for reforming Europe. All that is required however is for these four countries, who alone account for three quarters of the GDP and the population of the Euro zone, to agree on a common approach and the way to reform would be open. How can we explain such extraordinary inertia and why is it so serious?
In France, there is a tendency to lay the blame on other people. The official view is that our young and dynamic president has made innovative proposals for the reform of the Euro zone, its budget and its Parliament. But the unfortunate thing is that our neighbours are incapable of taking these into account and responding with the same Gallic audacity!
The problem with this superficial theory is that these notorious French proposals are quite simply non-existent. Nobody is capable of writing three simple sentences explaining which common taxes will fund this budget, who will be the members of the Euro zone Assembly who will exercise this new fiscal sovereignty, etc. If you want to make sure, just ask your favourite pro-Macron friend, or, if you do not have any – nobody is perfect – write to your favourite newspapers !
It is almost as if the revolutionaries in 1789, instead of setting up a National Assembly enabling all privileges to be abolished immediately and a new fiscal system to be set up, had only announced that it would be a good idea to pause to reflect on the setting up of a commission to consider a long-term plan to save the Ancien RĂ©gime. It is the difference between doing something and empty rhetoric.
The truth is that the French proposals are so vague that they are open to almost any interpretation. This is precisely the problem: all the nationalist and anti-European discourses can easily oppose them by putting what they want in it. Today, it is easy to criticize the reluctance of Angela Merkel and the fact is that her reply to the ‘French proposals’ is more than hesitant. The latest version is that she would apparently agree to an investment budget for the Euro zone on condition, however, that it be ridiculously small (less that 1% of the GDP of the zone.)...
But it is too easy to criticise Merkel’s reluctance. It is time that the French media understand that she is only responding to Macron’s timidity. The fact is they share the same conservatism. Ultimately, these two leaders do not wish to make any fundamental changes in present-day Europe because they suffer from the same form of blindness. Both consider that their two countries are doing quite well and they are in no way responsible for the ups and downs of Southern Europe.
By so doing, they run the risk of undermining the whole endeavour. After having humiliated Greece in 2015, whose ‘extreme left’ government was perhaps not perfect, but did at least have the virtue of promoting values of solidarity towards the poorest and the migrants, France and Germany now find themselves in 2018 with the extreme right in power in Italy. The only thing that holds this government together is hostility to, and active pursuit of, foreigners, all of which has been enabled by the effect of European rulings.
The difficulty now is how to get out of this impasse? The dilemma is that a fair number of the German and North European leaders have for years explained to their voters that all the problems in Europe were caused by the lazy people in the South. These populations were said to be jealous of their money and all that was required was to get them to start working and exporting like the Germans or the Dutch and all would be well."
A dilemma indeed. And I'm not holding my breath for Golden Boy Macron to lead Europe out of it. Someone else will have to step forward....but who?
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