Macron, Old World President

Emmanuel Macron is a remarkable individual: no-one could scale so rapidly the pyramid of power if he was not endowed with exceptional qualities. And even if chance has played its part – the failure of François Fillon, the faster than expected decay of the Parti Socialiste – the capacity to sweep up the opportunities is a talent not available to all. There is no doubt that this upthrusting energy will continue to be deployed in the first months of the new Presidency.

However, Mr Macron has not climbed the mountain on his own bat. Massively supported by all the mainstream media (is it necessary to highlight that the ‘media’ is today the instrument of Arnault, Bolloré, Bouygues, Dassault, Drahi, Lagardère, Niel, Pigasse, Pinault … ?), he has not reached this pinnacle with clean hands.

Rather than a second round duel between Macron and Le Pen, one could have been witness to a more instructive duel between Macron and Mélenchon if the oligarchic media had not mercilessly pounded the candidate of France insoumise leading up to the election. But the oligarchy had of course chosen its camp. It could be Fillon or Macron. Fillon falls, so it has to be Macron.

A remarkable man, using all the entrepreneurial gestures in vogue – En Marche has utilized all the marketing tools and has operated in ‘start up’ mode, as Mediapart has pointed out.1 Nevertheless Mr Macron is not less a bearer of old world ideas. The old world? The one where one believes that economic growth remains the motor of social stability, that ecological concerns are secondary, and that societies are able to carry on with strong inequalities without generating breakdown.

To succeed so fast, Mr Macron has adopted the agenda of his sponsors. Or perhaps they are his own. No matter. Two men in particular have propelled him towards the top.

Henry Hermand, millionaire having made his fortune in commercial centre construction, devouring agricultural land and propagating urban sprawl, and Jacques Attaili, who recruited him in 2007 in his Commission pour la libération de la croissance [Commission for deregulation and growth, otherwise known as the Attali Report]. The name of this Commission created by Mr Sarkozy says it all. Among the prescriptions that expose the relevance of its analyses, there was that of further deregulation of Parisian financial markets, one year before the Global Financial Crisis burst. But the oligarchy has not taken stock of its errors, and Mr Attali continues to strut about the place whereas his protégés run wild over the prairies of power. And then there’s the power of money, since Mr Macron has passed through Rothschild bank.

Concrete, growth and finance – here is the breeding ground on which Mr Macron has flourished. The new President already has four years of governmental experience under his belt, at the Elysée as counsellor to François Hollande in his neoliberal orientation, then as the Economy Minister.

Macron’s list of acts or intentions speak for itself: Sunday work, deregulation of restrictions on advertising signage, coal seam gas exploration, support for the nuclear energy plant at Hinkley Point [UK], authorization of shell sand extraction at Lannion, an even more favorable accord with autoroute lessees, encouragement of mining in French Guiana, and fast-tracking the depositing of nuclear waste at Bure. Ecology is the least of the concerns of the new President.

The signals that he throws out are not very positive. Regarding agriculture, he wants to continue the battle of his ‘friend’ Xavier Beulin2, eulogist of industrialized agriculture and of competitiveness. Macron’s program of investment for ecological transition peaks at a modest €15 billion over five years – less, notes [economist] Thomas Porcher at our Alter soirée election forum, than the cost of the nuclear project at Hinkley Point in England.3

As for Macron’s entourage, it emerges from the world of concrete of his sponsor Henry Hermand. Before joining En Marche as spokesperson, Benjamin Griveaux was employed at Unibail Rodamco, giant commercial property developer – which is involved, for example, in the mega-shopping centre project (Val Tolosa) outside of Toulouse.4 The site La Lettre A has titled a post ‘Le programme Macron fait saliver les promoteurs’ [property developers salivate over Macron’s program], foreshadowing restrictions on opposition to developer building applications.

On domains other than environmental concern, don’t look for progress. The word inegalité [inequality] makes no appearance in Mr Macron’s program; neither does the phrase évasion fiscale [tax evasion]. A new loi Travail [workplace law] will be imposed by edict (a variant of 49.3, forcing the hand of parliament on legislation).5 And for greater ‘security’, Macron promises an additional 10,000 police officers and gendarmes with prison capacity expanded by 15,000 places.

All that is hardly encouraging. Neoliberalism will continue in new guise, ecology is marginalized, the old world endures.

But it creaks. The astonishing level of blank or null votes in the second round of the Presidential election [8.52% blank, 3.00% null, 25.44% abstention] shows that more and more people no longer support the blackmail which imposes on us the ‘choice’ between fascism and neoliberalism.

Mr Macron’s hold is not solid. And another ground for hope from this Presidential campaign, the camp of the left has strongly integrated ecological concerns in its vision and in its policies. It remains however for this camp to unite itself. Otherwise, the old ideas of Mr Macron will continue to wreck the world.

Hervé Kempf is a journalist and multi-volume author. He covered environmental issues at Le Monde 1998-2013, experienced first-hand the editorial crisis of that newspaper during the mid-2000s, and resigned in 2013 over a claimed lack of independence in his writing. Pertinent was Kempf’s coverage of the conflict over the construction of a new airport at Notre-Dames-des-Landes near Nantes and its adverse ecological impact. That conflict is ongoing. Kempf was subsequently co-creator of Reporterre, and is currently its editor-in-chief.

This article appeared on Reporterre on 9 May, and was reproduced on Les Crises.

Translated by Evan Jones.

Translator’s Notes

1) The Mediapart article cited is ‘Dans les rouages de la « Macron Company »’ (In the wheels of Macron Inc.), 3 February 2017, by Mathieu Magnaudeix. Magnaudeix embedded himself with the operatives of Macron’s En Marche movement and summarizes his experience thus: “The recourse to entrepreneurial vocabulary and to anglicisms has bowled me over. Far from being anecdotal, the language captures the reality of this movement, conceived as a business in the political domain.”

2) Xavier Beulin was from 2010 the Director of France’s dominant agricultural association and lobby group, the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (FNSEA). He owned rural land, acquired from family, but was not a farmer, in spite of his claims to the contrary. This dissembling even ran foul of strict French laws regarding the designation of farmer status. Rather, Beulin was, since 2000, Board Chairman of cereals and financing group Sofiprotéol (now Avril). The corporation, now a giant via endless acquisitions, has enjoyed a regular profit earner in biofuels. Detractors claim that Beulin’s expertise was as lobbyist and networker, and not for farmer interests in general but for his corporate and personal interests. Beulin was an unstinting advocate for industrialised agriculture. He experienced a revolt from farmers (the true paysans) in 2015 during yet another crisis in French agriculture. Apparently Beulin was planning to push for his re-election as head of FNSEA in 2017, but he died unexpectedly in February.

3) In September 2016, the UK government gave the green light to EDF for the erection of two (latest technology) EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, with the expected cost at €15 billion. A very high price for electricity, agreed in 2013, had EDF management slavering, with the prospect of a good profit rate over 35 years. But EDF has agreed to the costs of handling waste and of ultimate dismantling, currently estimated at €10 billion. More, the penalties for late delivery are significant. Given the delays, construction failures and cost blowouts of EPR facilities being constructed at Flamanville in France and in Finland, and the quagmire of fabricator Areva’s failings in quality control of crucial components, Hinkley Point promises to be a guaranteed disaster for EDF and its shareholder, the French state.

4) Unibail Radamco’s Val Toloso project is on the south-west perimeter of Toulouse, on a mega scale (11.5 hectares, with 4,300 parking spaces). Toulouse and its environs are already saturated with commercial centres and supermarkets. Having faced large-scale opposition for years and several rejections of applications since 2007, a Bordeaux appeals court again annulled a construction permit in 2016 on the grounds of non-conformity with general social and environmental criteria. A revised application is pending. The developer’s spiel heralds the reconciliation of ‘nature, leisure and commerce’. It, and its local government and departmental support, promise jobs, jobs, jobs.

This ‘walmartization’ process is, of course, a global phenomenon and its false claims standard fare. There is no mention of the precarious status or oppressive character of such jobs. Instructive is the case of a 23-year old cashier at an Auchan store who had a miscarriage at work in November 2016. She claims neglect by management of appropriate medical attention, as required by law, denial of regular breaks and, at the eleventh hour, refusal of permission to go to the toilet. The Mulliez family, owners of Auchan, are amongst the wealthiest in Europe, with patriarch Gérard Mulliez and immediate family, credited with €23 billiion, the fourth family fortune in France in 2016.

There is also no mention of the destruction of small businesses and associated employment, indeed the destruction of viable communities in entirety. Apart from ruthless ‘loss leading’ price cutting (facilitated by exploiting suppliers), there is also an embedded illegality of actions. In 1989, Martine Donnette’s small franchised business at a Carrefour shopping centre at Vitrolles (south-west of Aix-en-Provence) was cynically destroyed by Carrefour. In 1995, Donnette and her husband Claude Diot started En toute franchise (‘In All Honesty’) to investigate the activities of hypermarket companies on French soil. The couple’s story appeared in a special issue of the weekly Marianne, 30 June 2012, under the masthead ‘La France est-elle corrumpue ?’ (Is France corrupt?). Donnette and Diot discovered that the hypermarket giants have consistently flouted laws and zoning regulations in their omnivorous devouring of the landscape, and have done so with impunity because of complicity or indifference of officialdom. En toute franchise is still kicking and the fight is ongoing.

The 2007 Attali Report, for which Macron was a senior author, promotes the desirability of giving complete freedom to hypermarket expansion (Ch.5), as part of its abstract comprehensive agenda of liberating the forces of competition. The report recommends repealing laws that support family-owned enterprises. Dominant emphasis is on lowering prices and job creation, yet the authors can’t confront that destroying all impediments to the market and political power of the hypermarket giants is entirely an anti-competitive and job-destroying process.

Included in Economy Minister Macron’s omnibus Macron Law was a proviso that legitimizes post hoc illegal constructions (!). The opponents of Val Tolosa fear that the company will proceed ahead with an already half-built edifice, given this backdrop, in contempt of the lack of approval.

Another dimension is pertinent. The retailing giants are an integral part of the agro-industrial complex. Their coalition with agribusiness and the food processing sector has greatly facilitated enhancing the French diet with unhealthy and poisonous ultra-processed food, contributing to the demands on an over-stretched and under-funded health sector. Forget appellation d’origine controlée. A dedicated column in the weekly Le Canard Enchaîné (‘Conflit de canard’) doggedly highlights that the coalition ferociously fights against any inhibition to its high chemical contribution to food toxicity and to accurate labelling.

5) Section 49.3 of the Constitution allows the government to override the will of parliament. Prime Minister Valls utilized it six times, all for measures devised under Macron as Economy Minister – three times on the omnibus deregulatory Macron Law from February 2015 to July 2016, and three times for deregulatory measures in the Labor Code from May to July 2016.