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France Election, 2017: Emmanuel Macron’s Reform Agenda

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By Shogofa Sahar-French election 2017 created many controversies among analysts due to its unexpected results and the election of Emmanuel Macron and the big achievement by his newly established party, La République en Marche!. This paper focuses on President Macron’s reform agenda and analyzes the extent to which his reform programme could be implemented. The first section will elaborate on the pre-election situation from economical perspective and continues by explaining the reform agenda which is expected to address France’s economic and social problems. Consequently, the feasibility of reform program will be tested against Keeler’s model within which reforms will become viable. Lastly, the paper takes a brief look at the economic impact of election and the reaction from stock market.

Introduction

The 2017 French election is commonly considered to have the most unexpected election outcome in France since the establishment of the Fifth Republic. The election of pro-reform and pro-EU, Emanuel Macron who is also a former investment banker and economy minister deviated itself from the traditional course of election in France’s election which is alternation of power between left and right. The outcome of election has created ambitious hopes for France’s future. This research analyzes the viability of Macron’s reform agenda and how it addresses French economic problems. The sluggish recovery of France from the 2008 financial crises makes President Macron’s reform agenda a decisive measure. But the big question remains ambiguous: Will Macron be able to make French economy competitive again or will he follow his predecessors?

Macron and Reform Government?

Election of Emmanuel Macron in the French election 2017 has created popular hopes for France to recover from economic downturn after the 2008 financial crises. For some, Macron’s presidency is a reminder of historic French president, Mitterrand who is largely considered more than just a president with achievement of an unusual landslide and successful accomplishment of his reform agenda. However, with high social unrest especially over Macron’s labor market reform strategies, will he be able to implement his policies? Will the opposition prevent him from realizing his ambitious reforms? If not, what would enable the newly elected government of France to propel its reform agenda in to action? To test the viability of Macron’s reform  agenda, it is necessary to look at the conditions that might turn his transformative schema in to reality. In a comparative political studies of reform governments, John T. S. Keeler (Keeler, 1993) hypothesized that the size of mandate joined by severity of crises will determine macro opening windows for reform. He tested his mandate-reform hypothesis through analyzing reform governments in Britain, France and the United States. Subsequently, he extended his hypothesis to eight other ‘reform governments’ to analyze ‘medium and small sized windows’ and to further demonstrate how mandates conjoined with crises led to reforms. Following  in this section, we  will attempt to consider Keeler’s ‘conjunctural factors’ for opening window in case of Macron’s reform agenda.

Keeler notes that reform governments are generally left outside of scientific studies due to their exceptional nature and ‘small-n’ problem. Thus, he tries to find patterns in pre-existing reform (exceptional) governments namely in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal government in 1933 (Keeler, 1993). However, here predictions for attainability of President Macron’s reform ambitions will slightly deviate itself from Keeler’s case studies. Due to recency of French election 2017, data and achievements cannot be tested as precisely as in Keeler’s samples, thus creates motives for further investigations in the future.

Size of Mandate

Newly established party by Emmanuel Macron, La République en Marche!, won a majority in the second round of legislative elections on 18 June 2017. The landslide victory of President Macron with 350 seats out of 577 authorizes and empower his government to rule with very little or no opposition. Over 49 percent of the polls were obtained jointly by En Marche! and the Democratic Movement (MoDem) in the second round of the legislative election. This correspond to over 60 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly (Electionguide.org, 2018). This is exactly what Keeler observes under political development that “achievement of an impressive size of mandate: a landslide victory that, through a large swing in votes and seats reflecting a shift in national mode makes a new government appear authorized and empowered by the public to implement its program (Keeler 1993, p. 437).”

Nevertheless, both French presidential and legislative election in 2017 indicated a drastic downturn in voter turnouts. For legislative elections in 2017, turnouts  dropped  to a record  low of 42.64% compared to 55.41% in 2012. Similarly, voter participation in presidential election 2017 declined 6% compared to one in 2012 (Electionguide.org, 2018). Pascal Périnneau, a political analyst and professor at Sciences Po Paris, stated that “We are in a major crisis of loyalties. The French no longer know where their political allegiances and loyalties lie; they are totally at sea.”1 Given to such decrease in overall voter turnout, one can say that the authorization mechanism from the public side is rather weak in case of president Macron’s reform government. Nonetheless, if we stay with legislative empowerment mechanism, the newly elected government seemingly has legal power unlike previous governments to maintain and implement its desired liberal atmosphere for businesses, its pro-EU policies and its labor market reforms.

Last but not least, according to Keeler not only authorization and empowerment mechanisms shall be taken into account when observing macro-window opening process, but also the party pressure from inside ruling party must be taken into consideration as a catalyzer that forces the elected government in to action. For instance, Keeler quoted French president, Mitterrand, who publicly recalled his gratitude for winning a striking majority in 1981 (Keeler, 1993). As for President Macron, few months after his presidency, his associates boldly criticized the way he managed migrant issues in an open letter which was published in Le Monde. “Mr. Macron, your politics contradict the humanism that you preach,” wrote his allies including the signature of Jean-Pisani Ferry, the president’s principal economic adviser during the campaign.2

Crises

Keeler, furthermore considers severity of crises as the second conjunctural factor which alongside size of mandate or alone may open macro window for reform. He describes crises as a widespread public concern over a serious problem that may constitute a macroeconomic crises

1 Kirk, A. and Samuel, H. (2018). How undecided voters and abstentions could swing the French presidential election. The Telegraph. [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].

2 McAuley, J. (2018). France’s Macron pushes back against angry allies to defend crackdowns on migrants. [online] Washington Post. [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018].

and/or threat to national security and/or social turmoil. Such circumstances create public demand and support for policy innovation by the ruling government.

Evans and Ivaldi points to François Hollande tenure of power as “une politique bloquée (blocked polity),” a situation when the public is dissatisfied with the governing party’s policies and performances leading another party from the opposite political spectrum to take over. Ivaldi states that public approval of Francois Hollande decreased to less than half and later to a fifth within a year of his election and his first year in office went without experiencing ‘honeymoon period’. Several incidents such as Hollande’s separation from his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, and his failed policies discredited his presidency. Furthermore, Hollande was never been able to accomplish his promise to decrease stubborn unemployment rate to three percent and to lower budget deficit and to effectively address the growing national debts (Evans and Ivaldi 2018, p.4). Although Keeler avoids to set limitation for what can be considered as crises, personal problems might not be classified as one. However, widespread public disapproval of his presidency and particularly his socio-economic policies constitutes a crises-mandate mechanism. Francois Hollande had been profoundly criticized as the president by the public alongside his ideas and policies that may provide an opportunity for President Macron to attract public support and demand for his reform agenda and new approaches.

Moreover, as Keeler (1993, p. 441) refers to the second mechanism under crises, the urgency mechanism that public is reluctant to accept gradualismand prefer reform over continuity. Public view the past policies as failure and as a consequence support new leader’s power change public policy for better. To a limited degree, this sense of urgency among public was created due to several economic problems as mentioned above, such as unemployment, lack of competitiveness and unskilled labor. Moreover, France had been the victim of several terrorist attacks in the past years before the election and the challenges imposed by the refugee crises might have created a situation that public took the streets demanding security and stability. However, such events might not constitute what Keeler defines as the fear mechanism. Both the urgency and the fear mechanism hardly comes in to play in case of Macron, thus seemingly discourages immediate action.

Conclusionand Key Findings

Lastly, the interplay among all six window opening  mechanisms  serves  to  open  an enormous window for reform as in case of Roosevelt administration in 1932 (Keeler 1993, p.  456). In Macron’s case, several of these mechanisms are in interplay like legislative empowerment mechanism, party pressure and crises-mandate mechanism which may serve to open a large window for reform. However, quality of Macron’s  leadership, public satisfaction  during  his honeymoon period, and the size of his agenda  are  additional  factors  which  will  determine  the window size.

Reference,

KEELER, J. (1993). Opening the Window for Reform. Comparative Political Studies, 25(4),

pp.433-486.

Electionguide.org. (2018). IFES Election Guide | Country Profile: France. [Online] Available at:

http://www.electionguide.org/countries/id/75/ [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].

Evans, J. and Ivaldi, G. (2018). The 2017 French Presidential Elections. Cham: Palgrave

Macmillan, pp.1-50.

The writer is Master’s student at Istanbul Aydin University, Political Science and International Relations Department