Macron’s game: can he still outplay Le Pen?

45 min listen

This week: Macron’s game. Our cover piece looks at the big news following the European elections at the weekend, President Macron’s decision to call early parliamentary elections in France. Madness or genius, either way the decision comes with huge risk. And can he still outplay Le Pen, asks writer Jonathan Miller. Jonathan joins the podcast to analyse Macron’s decision alongside Professor Alberto Alemanno, who explains how the decision is realigning French politics, and argues it must be seen in its wider European context. (01:58) Then: Will and Gus take us through some of their favourite pieces from the magazine, including Catriona Olding’s Life column and Sam McPhail’s notes on Madri. 

France has become Europe’s Wild West

New Caledonia must not become the ‘Wild West’ declared Emmanuel Macron last week during his flying visit to the Pacific Island. For two weeks the indigenous people, the Kanaks, have been in revolt against a voting reform they believe will marginalise them. The French President’s visit achieved little. Not long after Macron’s departure an insurgent was shot dead by police. Seven people have been killed in the unrest and the material damage is estimated at more than one billion euros. It is not only the Overseas French Territory that is in danger of resembling the Wild West. Mayhem has become a characteristic of Macron’s France, and rarely does a week

Must Paris reinvent itself?

In this odd book, the Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper narrates his experience as an expatriate ‘uptight northern European’ living in Paris with his family. His American wife, Pamela Duckerman, also a journalist, is the author of Bringing Up Bébé, a culture-shock memoir about having children in Paris and discovering French child-rearing ways, which are often radically at odds with American ideas and habits. Impossible City touches on some of the same territory (Kuper’s French acculturation through his children’s schooling and socialising), but it aims at a more comprehensive portrayal of rapidly evolving 21st-century Paris, warts and all; or, as he puts it, in a phrase that some may find

Germanophobia is growing in France

There was a time earlier this century when few politicians in France would dare criticise Germany. The country was the powerhouse of Europe and Angela Merkel was the de facto president of the continent. Today there is political mileage to be had in attacking Germany, and the assaults have increased this year as campaigning intensifies ahead of June’s European elections. Relations between the two countries are at their lowest ebb in decades In an interview last week Marion Maréchal, the European candidate for Eric Zemmour’s Reconquest party, said that as far as Germany is concerned, ‘France is looking more and more like a battered wife who can’t manage to leave

John Keiger

Even if he wins Macron could be facing disaster

Unaccustomed as political scientists are to florid language, they have nevertheless come up with the ‘theory of the dyke’, to explain the continuing success of the nationalist and identitarian Rassemblement National. A dyke can hold back the flood for so long, but once water has overflowed there is no getting it back. When in 2002 Marine Le Pen’s father, against all odds, beat the socialists to go through to the presidential run-off against Jacques Chirac, there was no reversing the flow. Marine Le Pen’s score of 23.1 per cent in the first round of the election this week is the highest in the nationalist right’s 50-year history. Now we are

The plot to bring down Emmanuel Macron

Last week Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the Olympic aquatic centre that will host the swimming and diving events at this summer’s Paris games. The President was delighted with what he saw, boasting to the press pack that the centre is ‘exemplary from an environmental point of view’. Macron’s party expect the Republicans to make their move in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, from a financial point of view, the centre is anything but exemplary. The initial estimate in 2017 was that the centre would cost €70 million to construct, a figure that was soon revised to €90 million. the final expenditure was €188 million. It is not just the Olympic aquatic centre

France wants Macron to send in the army

Nearly three quarters of French people think it’s time for President Macron to send in the army to restore order to the towns and cities that have been sacked in recent days. According to a poll published yesterday, 70 per cent of people said they wanted the military to be deployed to areas that have been looted, vandalised and firebombed since police shot dead a 17-year-old in western Paris on Tuesday morning. The teenager, Nahel, was laid to rest on Saturday afternoon but it remains to be seen whether the furious reaction to his death – for which a policeman has been charged with voluntary manslaughter – will abate in

France’s protestors are just getting started

There was another protest in Paris on Saturday. According to the organisers, Jean-Luc Melenchon’s La France Insoumise, 150,000 turned out on a crisp winter’s afternoon to opposeEmmanuel Macron’s pension reform. The French President wants to lower the retirement age from 64 to 62. But independent analysis put the numer at the protest at 14,045. It was the latter. I was there. I’m now something of a seasoned observer of the French street protest. From Yellow Vests to Covid Passports, and from the far right to the far left, I’ve rubbed shoulder with all manner of disgruntled French citizen. Yesterday’s protest was one of the jollier. I wouldn’t go so far as

The murder of Lola and the failure of Macronism

Last Friday, a beautiful 12-year-old Paris girl named Lola failed to come home from middle school. Later that evening, her raped, strangled and mutilated body was found near her home in a suitcase. The police quickly arrested a female suspect, ‘Dahbia B’, aged 24, whom they initially described as mentally ill. It then emerged that she was Algerian and was in an ‘irregular situation’ in France. And then that other Algerian migrants had also been arrested. As far as can be determined, on the day of the killing, ‘Dahbia B’ apparently waited for Lola to return home from school, seized her and took her to her sister’s apartment. The killing

Paris’s glittering new museums

How do you manage a dictatorship? By producing ‘a succession of miracles’, according to Louis-Napoléon, that ‘dazzle and astonish’. In 1852 he inaugurated his Second Empire regime with a strategy of soft power predicated on the assumption that the loyalty of politically volatile Paris was to be won not by violent repression but by visible magnificence and grand designs. This wasn’t an original idea: it followed the policies of le Roi Soleil and Bonaparte, not to mention the Roman emperors. It worked again for Louis-Napoléon because, as well as such jaw-dropping follies as Charles Garnier’s extravagant opera house, it extended to Haussmann’s lavish investment in socially useful boulevards, sewers, housing

Macron vs the deep state

French diplomats are on strike today. But will anyone notice? Not to be immodest, I am especially well qualified to comment on French diplomacy. Some time ago, between gigs in Washington DC, I was employed as a consultant by the French embassy there. The embassy is a modern building in Georgetown, conveniently near all the best restaurants, although the food at the embassy itself was both fabulous and cheaper than McDonalds. The wine list was, obviously, exceptional. I was not allowed to see deeply into the embassy’s most sensitive operations (there was a mysterious wing that seemed to be entirely occupied by spooks) but must admit that in the scientific

Crypto is dead

When Britain voted for Brexit, Macron boasted that Paris would eat the City of London’s lunch. It didn’t quite work out that way, with most league tables continuing to put London as the number one or two financial centre, with not a single EU city in the top ten. Emmanuel Macron’s government has now announced that it has invited Binance, a crypto exchange site, to set up a European HQ in Paris. You have to ask: has Macron leapt on a bandwagon which has already started to lose its wheels?  The warning sign for cryptocurrencies is not so much that they have crashed – Bitcoin is down 50 per cent from its peak last

Apres Macron, the radical left?

Bof! That useful French word – an older and slightly less irritating version of the American-English ‘meh’ – is how many people feel about the re-election of Emmanuel Macron. The centre holds even as things fall apart – in 21st century France, anyway. It was inevitable and in the end easy. Mainstream commentators, almost unanimously pro-Macron, have spent the last few days trying to inject a sense of drama into the vote by suggesting the threat Le Pen posed was great. But it was painfully obvious that Macron would win. At 44, he will almost certainly still be President in 2027, when the constitution (as currently composed) will compel him

Macron has taken this election for granted

Things are going from bad to worse for Emmanuel Macron, and for the first time political commentators in France are considering the possibility that he might not win a second term. The latest poll, carried out for Le Figaro, has him one point ahead of Marine Le Pen in the voting intentions of the people canvassed. Brexit and Trump have taught us not to put all our trust in polls but there’s no denying that Macron’s election campaign is in trouble. As I wrote yesterday, this time last month he was 18 points clear of Le Pen and a racing certainty for a second term. Where has it gone so

How democratic are the French elections?

There are just 59 days to go until voters turn out for the first round of the French presidential election and it is not even clear who will make the starting gate. For now, all the pundits and the bookies are predicting the re-election of President Emmanuel Macron. But the real story is about how French democracy operates. General de Gaulle designed the Fifth Republic to keep extremists out of the Elysée. So, to get into the presidential election, a candidate must present the Conseil Constitutionnelle with 500 sponsorships (parrainages) from geographically dispersed senior elected officials. The real story is about how French democracy operates Previously this was not a problem.

Has Macron shot France’s energy industry in the foot?

Gas prices are soaring. Europe could be about to witness electricity shortages. Power companies are collapsing by the day, and, on top of all that, the government is set to phase out traditional energy to meet its net zero target.  So might think that a cable to ship in cheap, greener electricity from the other side of the Channel is something of a knight in shining armour. Yet the government blocked the proposal today, and it was absolutely right to do so. Britain may need all the electricity it can get its hands on right now — but the last thing it should do is increase its dependence on Macron and Putin. Britain

The misery of Macron’s Covid clampdown

My daughter’s Christmas won’t quite be the same this year. She and I are in England but her French mother has been prevented from making the trip by her president. It’s a funny world when hundreds of people can quite easily cross illegally from France to England in small boats – 1,200 in four days last week – but a mother isn’t allowed to take a train to be with her daughter at Christmas. But that is France for you in what Macron’s opponents call his ‘Covid Dictatorship’. Even so his authoritarian measures are doing him and his country a fat lot of good. Yesterday France recorded 91,000 new cases

How will Boris respond to Macron’s insult?

French president Emmanuel Macron is reported in this week’s Canard Enchaîné – the French equivalent to Private Eye – to have called Boris Johnson a ‘gougnafier’. Gougnafier is an intriguing term with many linguistic roots. It is a nightmarish word to translate. Can you find one word in English to convey someone both rude and useless? That is what gougnafier means. A gougnafier is a boor. A cock-up artist. Someone vulgar. Someone lacking manners. This wasn’t merely a drive-by insult. It was a carefully judged expression of contempt. What does this presidential insult say about the degradation of the Anglo-French relationship to Cold War? Doubtless British and French journalists will

Is Britain heading for a full-blown fish war with France?

As the COP26 summit gets underway, a diplomatic Brexit row is escalating on the sidelines of the conference over fish. After France threatened to block British boats from its ports and increase checks on vessels over a disagreement on fishing licences, the UK warned it could retaliate if France goes through with it. Suggestions from the French over the weekend that a solution in the form of ‘practical operational measures’ had been found were quickly shot down by the UK side. With a French election looming, Macron can be expected to do more not less of this This morning, Liz Truss doubled down – using a morning media round to say the UK is

John Keiger

Macron is following in the failed footsteps of the wrong Napoleon

Is Emmanuel Macron turning into Emperor Napoleon III? Not the great Napoleon who conquered Europe and was eventually defeated by a British-led coalition at Waterloo and exiled to Saint Helena in the south Atlantic. But his lesser nephew, whose obsession with his uncle’s glory drove him to flatulent demagoguery at home, grandiose schemes abroad and humiliating defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1870.  Under the last monarch of France, the country descended into the revolutionary Commune, was amputated of Alsace-Lorraine and prostrated before a united and all-powerful Germany. The lesser Napoleon was eventually deposed, vilified and outlawed to Chislehurst, outside London. It was to Napoleon III that Karl Marx