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France En Marche: New Belle Époque for Responsible Middle Powers?

Denis Bright invites discussion on the ascendency of President Emanuel Macron as the final round in the 2017 election cycle approaches with half-senate election on 24 September 2017. Do the political events in France have implications for other responsible middle powers like Canada and Australia? Is the youthful President Macron now carrying a baton for a return to political consensus-building in Europe and beyond?

French Election Brief

The forthcoming half-senate elections in France complete the final pieces in the complex French political jigsaw of the 2017 election season. The senate counts will be complicated by differing tallying processes in those departments of France and its overseas territories which are up for complete renewal in 2017. There is also a senate by-election in one department. The senatorial electoral processes destined to fill over 170 vacancies are unlikely to be an obstacle to the momentum of the new Macron administration.

Emanuel Macron’s Republique en Marche Group (REM) has already secured control of the Presidency and a clear majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Before the 2017 senate election, 30 senators have defected to the REM Group. Early polling projections suggest that REM will share power in the Senate with the centre-right Republican bloc (LR) of lackluster Presidential Candidate Francois Fillon in 2017 (Le Monde Online 24 July 2017).

Gains by REM candidates may contribute to a combined loss of about twenty senate spots by the socialists (PS) and other left parties. Left supporters may also wish to support a more viable bloc of progressive senators.

With Brexit on the horizon for Britain and the magic of Angela Merkel beginning to falter as national elections also approach on 24 September 2017, President Macron is inheriting a major leadership role on behalf of responsible middle powers in Europe and beyond.

Welcome to France as a new third force in global diplomacy which will be very different in style to the role once played by President de Gaulle (1958-69).

With the French economy less than twice the size of the Australian economy, these changes have great implications for other potentially progressive middle powers like Australia and Canada.

Here are some helpful if tentative signs for political renewal in France by the REM Administration.

Bastille Day Diplomacy 2017

The invitation by President Macron to President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania to this year’s Bastille Celebrations in Paris is probably the tip of a new series of French foreign policy initiatives.

Over sixty years ago, President de Gaulle had faced a daunting range of challenges associated with the foundation of the Fifth French Republic in 1958. Memories of military defeat for France in Indochina at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the debacle of the Anglo-French offensive against Egypt in 1956 and the ongoing civil war in Algeria were haunting social realities. Like Menzies in Australia, de Gaulle would keep the left under control by implementing many Keynesian interventionist economic policies. Both leaders were still lovers of old empires. In Britain and France these empires were being dismantled but not entirely discarded.

Enlarged British and French Empires in 1919 (image from Automatic Ballpoint )

 

Both Britain and France made the pragmatic decision to turn the baggage of old empires into economic, strategic and cultural assets.

Britain used Australia and territories in Micronesia for nuclear weapons testing. France acted similarly in Algeria and French Polynesia. There were at least 210 French nuclear tests between 1960 and 1996.

France also cultivated strong strategic relationships with two dozen predominantly French-speaking (francophone) countries and French territories across Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Africa. Scattered outposts remained in the Caribbean as well as the Indian and South Pacific Oceans.

With the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, France still had a stock-pile of 500 nuclear missiles. The final outrageous rounds of nuclear weapons testing in French Polynesia would continue until 1996.

President Macron is already insisting on rationalizing these old strategic commitments.

Containing France’s Global Strategic Involvement

The surprising extent of France’s military involvement in Africa pre-dates the election of President Macron (Business Insider Online Australia 23 January 2015).

Active French Military Bases

The curtailment of French military spending by President Macron challenges conventional strategic wisdom from the French military command and NATO.

A now reduced nuclear force de frappe is combined with conventional military commitments to trouble spots in the Middle East and Africa which serve both French and NATO strategic objectives.

President Macron is already rationalizing France’s strategic outreach which still carries some of the expansionist ghosts of long deceased President de Gaulle who opposed too much collective commitment to NATO.

The military chief of staff General Pierre de Villiers resigned in mid-July for equivocating about a political order to cut the defence budget by $US 1 billion as an overall major budget deficit reduction strategy (The Telegraph Online 19 July 2017).

Expanding France’s Global Economics Outreach

To someone with the mind-set of President Macron, a canny application of the investment multiplier at home and abroad can have positive strategic implications. This approach offers the hope of reduced mass migration from war-torn underdeveloped countries in Africa and the Middle East. It also eases the political polarization from the growing income and cultural divide in Metropolitan France which fueled the unsuccessful rise of the National Front in 2017.

In Central Africa, the francophone cultural assets include both the former Belgian Territories of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the former the Central African Republic (CAR) which gained its token independence from France in 1960.

The economic assets of these territories in Central Africa are combined with a chilling history of political instability and even genocide in the case of Burundi and Rwanda.

It is almost unnoticed in Australia that the resource-rich DRC is 30 per cent the size of Australia with an estimated population of 82.24 million in 2017, compared with 66 million in Metropolitan France. The riverside capitals of Kinshasa in the DRC and Brazzaville across the Congo River in the CAR have a combined population that is much larger than Paris. By 2050, this conurbation could have a population of over 30 million.

The high levels of poverty offer a push factor for unsustainable economic migration to Europe.

Further north in Sub-Saharan Africa, the predominantly Moslem states of Niger, Mali and Chad are also on the refugee route to Europe via Libya. France is a popular destination for refugees from these francophone countries as immigrants are easily assimilated in French cities like Paris, Marseille and Toulouse which have large African enclaves.

Had they made it into government in 2017, old ideologues in the French Right (LR) under President Francois Fillon would be tearing up the fabric of France’s mixed economy through a misinterpretation of data for comparative government spending 2007-15. This latest OECD data shows that public sector spending in France accounted for 56.64 per cent of the French GDP in 2015.

As a former specialist in banking and Socialist Minister for Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, Emmanuel Macron would be aware that high levels of deficit budget spending are associated with a longer-term break-down of net private capital into the French economy. Both France and the US experienced huge private capital flow deficits in 2015 (OECD 2017).

It is logical for France and other francophone economies to look to new sources of capital investment from China as well as other Asian and Middle Eastern Countries. A more balanced and sustainable investment mix is needed to support investment for the delivery of new investment capital, infrastructure and services. A selective focus on new investment in resources leaves whole sections of the African populations in underdevelopment and poverty despite high nominal levels of economic growth.

The less than radical US Brookings Institution welcomes the emergence of these new tiers for globalized investment from Euro-Asia to complement the contribution of the New York-London financial axis. (Brookings Online 12 July 2017).

La Republique En Marche

With its absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies and consensus-building across the aisles in the new senate, President Macron has the youth and political resources to go beyond such problems of over-commitment to military deployment to tackle the economic problems which have held France back during the recent globalization era since 1989.

President Macron is offering France a new progressive matrix to move the electorate from malaise towards workable solutions:

The Matrix of Pragmatic Progressivism

President Macron’s popularity ratings have dipped. Future windows of opportunity available to a newly elected leader are likely to be more limited (Reuters Online 3 August 2017).

Hopefully, leaders in other responsible middle powers will welcome the new commitment in France to economic recovery, counter-terrorism as well as alternatives to unsustainable defence spending and arms sales to global trouble spots.

In the progressive traditions of President John Kennedy, President Macron is a potential standard bearer for democratic and economic renewal within France and beyond.

After months of nifty political footwork, the ball is about to be passed to recipients in France, Francophone Africa and responsible middle powers in all continents. Becoming more independent might attract some negative tweets from President Trump. For the future welfare of Australians, this risk is worth taking as it takes us into the Diplomatic A Team by avoiding involvement in strategic military charades off the Korean Peninsula.

Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to evaluate pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

 

 

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15 comments

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  1. townsvilleblog

    France was lulled into a false sense of security with Macron telling the French electorate that he was neither Left or Right but as soon as he got in he unleashed anti-union and other conservative policies on to the French people, that Turnbull’s LNP would be proud of. This must bring further cynicism of politicians surely!

  2. Pat

    While President Macron’s policies are not all the way to with USA – let’s encourage peace and poverty reduction at home and abroad in those countries on the refugee route to Europe.

  3. Marcus

    Thank you for introducing the new hero for progressive middle powers worldwide. Meanwhile Australian naval ships go off to rattle North Korea with more gunboat diplomacy.

  4. Mia

    President Macron might not be as popular now as when he won the election but he is definitely more moderate than the alternatives.
    Time will tell how things will evolve in the rapidly changing world scene of 2017 / 2018.

  5. townsvilleblog

    Macron is a tory, just as Turnbull is, as Trump is, as May is.

  6. Paul

    Thanks for the article Denis!

    Macron has good momentum now – it’s time to use it to promote world peace and the new way!

    It was great to see the French military band play daft punk on Bastille day – is worth a listen.

  7. Leila Smith

    Interesting article, giving us a great view of politics in Europe & the impact of the Congo, China & Australias future in the coming years. Macron seems like a breath of fresh air &’gives us hope for the future . He will come across difficult times ahead to bring his countrymen with him but hopefully he can manage to do this.

  8. Patrick for Peace in Our Times

    Sometimes ideology does not provide all the answers. All political leaders make errors of judgment.

    Socialist President Mitterrand (1981-95) presided over the more active participation of France in NATO. Socialist France also persuaded Spain to become a formal member of NATO despite initial opposition of the Socialist Party in Spain when it won government in 1982.

    During the Franco Era, Spain was a had opened up Spain to less formal arrangements with NATO relating to flight paths and movement of nuclear weapons on B-52 bomber patrols against the USSR. Lethal nuclear weapons were always in the air

    During refuelling operations over Palomares near Almeria in 1966, a B-52 Bomber crashed. The pay load included four hydrogen bombs which fortunately did not explode. Radioactive material was ejected and the US is still paying for the environmental costs (See numerous Facebook videos).

    Members of the Left should work for disarmament within their political networks to avoid a repeat of such disasters. Some members of the left in Australia are all to comfortable with an All the Way with the USA Mantra out of loyalty to Labor leaders.

    As the Left did not win the elections in France during 2017, it is surely better to have Macron in charge instead of Mrs Le Pen of the National Front who received the second largest number of votes in the two presidential elections.

  9. Maria

    I am all for taking the baton for peace and sustainable development by Australia using the example of Macron’s leadership.

  10. helvityni

    I’m with Patrick:

    As the Left did not win the elections in France during 2017, it is surely better to have Macron in charge instead of Mrs Le Pen of the National Front who received the second largest number of votes in the two presidential elections.

    Long live Macron, be gone, you racist Le Pen…

  11. Tessa

    A welcome appeal for greater sovereignty for middle powers like France and Australia in military commitments on behalf of the USA and investment choices. President Macron is a great example of a youthful leader with an independent outlook on such issues. Prime Minister Turnbull takes personal insults from President Trump and then sends ships off for sabre-rattling off the coast of North Korea. Thanks for pointing out such inconsistencies, Denis.

  12. Andreas Bimba

    Emmanuel Macron may be young, energetic and have some liberal values but politically he is centre right and is a firm believer in the neoliberal, austerity, monetarist economic agenda that has caused so much wealth inequity, poverty, unemployment and underemployment in nearly all of the ‘democratic’ world over the last 30 to 40 years. If you like John Howard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull but want more charisma then Macron is for you. Macron may be better than the hard right candidate Marine LePen or the hardline pro business candidate François Fillon but don’t expect too much good to come from him.

    Unemployment in France is very high at about 10% and Macron’s austerity agenda is the worst possible policy at the moment and WILL increase unemployment and underemployment and will reduce important government social support expenditure. He is under pressure from the neoliberal business establishment and the domineering Germans to cut the current national government deficit to 3% of GDP. To achieve this he is demanding that local governments slash spending by 13 billion euros by 2022.

    This article by economics Professor Bill Mitchell details why austerity and Macron is the wrong choice for France under current circumstances:

    Austerity will not work for France right now

    We can expect more of the neoliberal disaster for Africa under Macron’s leadership. Africa is generally in deep poverty due to their resources being stolen from them by rapacious foreign corporations, corrupt local leaders and the regressive neoliberal policies that have been imposed by the IMF and the World Bank.

    These two articles again by Professor Mitchell based on sound economics and a strong concern for human welfare and justice reveal why Africa is poor and how the European neoliberals are making things worse:

    If Africa is rich – why is it so poor?

    EU clones itself in West Africa and then tries to ransack the region

  13. Boris

    No wonder France has a problem with jobs at home. The military are taking too many resources for war games and nuclear deterrents.

  14. Kate

    Let’s hope the new President explores new ways of helping the refugees and unites the country!

  15. Mia

    With this week’s events in the U.S. and Spain it is important for France as for other countries like Australia to have a stable government that endeavors to bring people together and not divide based on race or religion.

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