Interview Elections Political groups

Emmanuel Macron’s France: a challenge for the Socialist Party

Olivier Faure, president of the parliamentary group Nouvelle Gauche, analyses the first steps of the new Parliament’s term

Parti Socialiste - Mathieu Delmestre / Solfé communication

A year after the creation of the “En marche !” movement, the wave of “walkers” lead by Emmanuel Macron conquered the Élysée Palace and the National Assembly. The LREM MPs are in favour of a social liberalism that goes beyond classical political divides. Olivier Faure, president of the parliamentary group Nouvelle Gauche, analyses their strategy and the recent transformations of the French political landscape.

Within a few months, LREM (La République en Marche) disrupted the French political landscape. What lessons did you learn from these transformations? Did the traditional right and left-wing parties outlive their usefulness? Should we be afraid of an outbreak of extremism, and especially of a new rise of the National Front?

A year ago, Emmanuel Macron had just left the government. The polls foresaw a clear victory for Alain Juppé, and then for François Fillon… Marine Le Pen was still considered as a credible challenger. Today, Emmanuel Macron is president; and yet, he is already the most unpopular president at this stage of the turn. Besides, he just got his first electoral slap in the face with the senatorial elections. Marine Le Pen and the National Front are undergoing a strong identity and project crisis. The right was pulverised and the left was fragmented. Only one thing is certain: everything is moving fast, everything is volatile, everything is unstable.

The socialist parliamentary group, which you are leading, went from 295 to 31 members in 2017. After 5 years as a governing party and a few months’ perspective, how do you explain this defeat? What should have been done differently? What would you recommend to those of your European socialist and social-democrat colleagues who may have to face a similar situation?

We disappointed. We have created new rights for the people of France: a mutual fund for all employees, best unemployment and schooling benefits, a better access to healthcare through the introduction of the third-party payment for all (Ed. note: This measure was intended to prevent patients from paying medical bills on the spot. Its application has recently been challenged by the new National Assembly), marriage equality, etc. We have also rebalanced the accounts of the Social Security and restored the margins of the companies while making the taxation more fair, by aligning capital incomes with the labor income scale.  In short, we started an economic policy that laid the foundations of the current recovery. But we lacked a global view in which the action could fit. When someone buys a house, he pays every month, but he understands the meaning of his efforts and knows that in the end, he will become the owner. We took money without explaining that in the end, there would be a house, and without saying what this house would look like. We reformed by small steps, without disclosing the final picture. There is now a whole collective representation to rebuild. If we want to make our fellow citizens follow us, we need to make them understand what society we want to build with them.

What are the perspectives of your parliamentary group today? What alliances are you considering? Does “Nouvelle Gauche” see itself as an opposition force?

We abstained in the Prime Minister’s general policy debate. The President of the Republic had announced a “new world” that we wanted to judge on its performance, without falling into a Pavlovian opposition. Since then, government announcements have clarified the situation, particularly in the economic, fiscal and social fields. Emmanuel Macron leads an unqualified liberal policy and we are clearly in opposition. But it is a creative and demanding opposition, because the best opponents are not necessarily the most radical ones; they will be the best “proposers”. We want to alternate, not just resist. We are only 31, but 31 who are determined not to be survivors, and rather to position themselves as the leaders of a new ascent. 31 who are realistic about the Socialist Party’s historical defeat in the presidential and legislative elections, but 31 who are convinced that the so-called “dégagisme” (Ed. note: the strategy to make established politicians “clear off”) can not take Jaurès away, i.e. a certain idea of ​​democracy and social justice. We have strengths, which we have already highlighted when the parliamentary activities resumed this summer: our experience, our expertise, our territorial anchorage, our history… On this basis, we can and we will rebuild a responsible and combative left.

Despite an outspoken willingness to strengthen the democratic process, some defenders of democracy take a dim view of the lack of a united opposition and of the apparent docility of the presidential majority. Should we fear the strengthening of a potential democratic deficit in the upcoming five years?

There is worse: the posh populism of the president, who points out the elected representatives as the cause of all our ills. His will is to bypass all intermediary bodies (unions, associations, NGOs…) in order to ensure a direct dialogue with the public opinion. Its institutional reform would sign a new weakening of the Parliament in favor of the executive. Emmanuel Macron pushes the logic of the Fifth Republic to the point of incandescence. He portrays himself as Jupiter – he is actually Janus, the two-faced god. On the one side, he claims to give the power to the civil society; on the other side, he stands for a form of technocratic authoritarianism.

The ideology of La République en Marche ! is above all the renewal of the political sphere : young people from civil society becoming members of parliament, a “neither left-wing nor right-wing” program, as well as a declared European progressivism. And yet, Emmanuel Macron’s opponents point out some sort of a populism of the center, which aims at reforming the established social rights in favor of a stronger economic liberalism. In your opinion, how is the new presidential majority going to change France and Europe?

Emmanuel Macron has always been good at speaking. His problem is to take action. His finance law is a return to the Middle Age of the tax system, with all the privileges that goes with it. He claims to be a protector of the Paris climate agreement, but endorses the CETA as it is. In the UN, he presents himself as a guarantor of the fight against inequalities, but digs them deeper as soon as he returns to Paris. On the future of Europe, let us hope that he will do better than his loud but inefficient management of the posted workers file.

Reform of the labour law, extension of the state of emergency, budget costs, increase of the social security contribution… The first parliamentary debates addressed a series of controversial issues. How would you describe the atmosphere in the chamber? Do the discussions meet your expectations?

This summer’s extraordinary session allows me to draw an answer. It was too easy to accuse the new LREM MPs of being amateurs. The problem lies deeper and is quite different: we sat alongside MPs who were transformed into disciplined robots, into simple voting machines. Directed by their leaders, the LREM MPs voted for example against their own campaign commitments during the debate on the law that was to make public life more ethical! They are devoid of any common history and the only thing they have in common for now is their admiration for their leader. This argument is a bit weak to claim to renovate the French political life…

Olivier Faure has been a MP of the Socialist Party in the French National Assembly since 2012. He is president of the parliamentary group Nouvelle Gauche and spokesman of the Socialist Party.