“People who are nothing” – A French lesson.

On June 29, 2017, the newly-elected French President, Emmanuel Macron, inaugurated a 34,000 square-meter facility named Station F, a former railway depot, on the banks of the Seine river in the XIIIe district in Paris designed to become the biggest tech start-up incubator. During his speech, Macron who compared his rise to victory to that of a start-up creator also pondered on the metaphor of a train station and said: “A station is a place where we meet people who succeed and people who are nothing.”

If finance and business are Macron’s criteria for success, I, and many other French people like me, are “nothing.”  As a university professor and civil servant, I have seen a steady decrease in my salary and an increase in my taxes.  Neither is a recipe or a formula for success.  And yet, I voted for Macron.  Which leads me to ask, are the “nothings” in Macron’s speech the majority of French citizens?  Ironically, this rhetoric, regarding those who succeed and those who are nothing, mirrors the recent election results where only one third of the French voters actually backed Macron’s program and the other two thirds either abstained or voted by default.  Will the French people end up with “nothing”?  Macron’s post-election rhetoric is reminiscent of language used by Sarkozy’s “sale con” (‘dirty bastard”), Hollande’s “sans dents” (“without teeth”) both one-term presidents who fueled discontent and frustration among French citizens.  More troubling, Macron’s comments leave many in France wondering and unsure of exactly who we have just elected or what we can expect from him in the next five years.

Before France elected Emmanuel Macron as its new president and gave him a decisive majority at the National Assembly, the lower and more powerful house of Parliament, there was concern about his personality, his background and his policies. If we look closely, both victories were distinguished by the record-low turnout of voters, about 43% in parliamentary elections and 73% for the presidential election. Those rates are higher in the French overseas departments and territories, about respectively 25% and 54%. Though Macron and his party, The Republic on the Move, or Onward (La République en Marche), won big, they were elected by only a small percentage of French people.

Macron’s May presidential election owes much to the fact that Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front party’s candidate, reached the second round of that process. Even though she doubled the number of votes her father won in 2002, Le Pen received 34% of the popular vote while Macron won 66%. France was not ready to cast its vote for the far-right party’s candidate despite Marine Le Pen’s efforts at distancing herself from her father’s combative, divisive, nationalist and racist National Front. Many citizens voted against Le Pen and not so much for Macron and his political program as we can infer from the first-round election results: Marine Le Pen: 21,30%; Emmanuel Macron : 24%; Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unbowed Party) : 19,58%; Francois Fillon (The Republicans, the right-wing party) : 20%; Benoit Hamon (Socialist Party) 6,36%. In the French overseas departments and territories, Macron came fourth behind respectively Le Pen, Mélenchon and Fillon. Fillon had been expected to win until his campaign was marred by scandals, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon who embodied change did very well in working class areas, in some of the « banlieues » and in overseas departments and territories.

Between the two rounds, many people united around ideas such as freedom, globalization and diversity to counter the leftward, anticapitalist, protectionist and nationalist agenda of Le Pen. Newspapers, such as Libération, went as far as to promote Macron on the front page of its week-end edition after the formal conclusion of the political campaign with the following headline: “Do what you want but vote Macron” and a photograph of Macron. In the end, France clung to its republican values of freedom, equality and fraternity and elected Macron, a 39-year-old “successful” investment banker and economic minister under François Hollande’s presidency, a move that brought many messages of congratulations from some people all over the world. Yet, though he was considered to be the candidate of the media, the newly-elected President Macron has moved away from traditional news outlets in an attempt to control his message and the image that he advertises on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. During its national assembly in July, 2017, Macron’s party went so far as to announce its plans to create its own media in order to develop the production of news relating to its messages and actions.  The move, coupled with his recent comments, has alarmed many and raised concerns about exactly what he is planning for France.

During the campaign, Macron symbolized youth, newness and change. In parliamentary elections, Macron and his allies won 350 seats in the 577-member National Assembly. Voters swept in many first-time candidates and elected more than two-hundred women, a record in French politics. The strict parity between men and women and the attraction of a newly-constituted party made those changes possible. All of these were positive signs of change – real change – in France.  Yet critics have been quick at pointing out that gender diversity is more quantitative than qualitative given that major ministries and positions have been given to men. For Macron and his Prime Minister, the new diversity in the National Assembly revolves around age, gender and political affiliation.  Macron argues that other forms of diversity such as ethnic diversity will evolve from gender parity and achievement. When it comes to social representation, very few members of the working class are represented at the National Assembly level. Experts have noted that the new members of the National Assembly and Macron’s voters are younger, highly-educated, upper middle-class members of the entrepreneurial, managerial civil society. Success, globalization and innovation describe the socio-economic philosophy of Macron and his followers.

It is summer in France and nothing of importance will happen before September. But the newly-elected National Assembly has begun to examine the first bill on Macron’s legislative agenda which will loosen existing labor regulations.  Macron has concentrated his attention on international meetings and symbols repositioning France at the center of foreign affairs. He has also instituted a new style that celebrates a strong republic and a strong vertical management of power with a boss at its head. During the campaign, Macron promised to change the face of France by renewing the faces of its actors. What can be seen as an attempt at diversifying in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and class still needs to be implemented.

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