Why have the French turned so solidly and violently against their democratically elected President, Emmanuel Macron, in such a short period of time?
Macron’s political strategy was to personify the young French investment banker that knows how to make money. That is how he wanted to be perceived by the European and global investing world, so he could direct more money to come to France and boost the economy. His communication plan of making France a “Startup Nation” [1 ] actually worked very well during the first two years.
The problem is, that was not exactly what many French people wanted to see from their president, especially at a time where the struggle to make ends meet is very real at so many level of the society. The persona Macron created for himself attracted a lot of hate inside France. The announcement of a new fuel tax makes things break loose [2 ].
Looking back, we can see three main political reasons that have made the situation so explosive for Macron.
First. Macron’s election was the results of the self-destruction of the two main traditional parties in recent years. Sarkozy and Hollande have destroyed each of their parties for different reasons, leaving a window of opportunity for some 3rd part to get in. Once in a while, this happens in French politics and centrists like Macron will get a chance. Giscard was elected the same way in 1974. This is usually quite an easy shot as French people are not so encline to vote for far-right or far-left — at least in the past. Macron got a political boulevard towards victory but for electors, Macron was really not a first choice. Most people chose him by default or against the others parties, which gave him a very weak mandate to start with.
Second. Despite not having a real plebiscite, Macron decided to make his presidency all about himself - to contrast with Hollande who was almost invisible. He surrounded himself with lots of communication consultants to work out the image of a strongman. Problem is most consultants apparently understood better the international audience than the French. They designed a figure that pleased foreign media a lot but was totally unfit to what French people needed. Between public apparitions abroad, Macron appears repeatedly lecturing poor people about money management, education and even job search [3 ]. Actually he even lectured foreign presidents [4 ]. When you are weak, behaving like an a * *hole is not a very clever option.
Third. Problems of poverty in France are real, and have been getting worst for a long time. Politicians have avoided to look at them because there is no media gratification here — also poor people usually vote less and not for them. Now some people are very angry and need someone to blame. In the actual 5th Republic of France, the function of prime minister has been designed so, when problems arise, he can be sacrificed without affecting the stability of the state. Problem is Macron decided to shortcut this design to expose himself more, making his prime minister a second role. As a result, he is now the central target.
Of course, the violence of the protests can not be attributed to Macron himself. Lots of rage have been building up over the last decades all over Europe. Macron is the expression of the narrow view of European leaders that still think that securing investments is a sufficient political project. That is why the protests are also directed towards the EU and more generally a model of society that has become toxic in so many regards.
To me, one of the best slogan that emerged from recent demonstrations in France was : ” End of the month, end of the planet : it’s the same battle !” . As this protests prove explicitly, discussions about poverty (fuel) can not be separated from discussions about natural resources (oil). Ultimately we will have to figure out what sort of capital we want to fight for. Nation-states and their presidents will then appear for what they are : a construction from the past, unfit for the needs of our world today.
This text was originally published in quora.