Macron’s California revolution

Sylvain Cypel writes: Among the many ideas put forward by Emmanuel Macron, the new French president, was to institute an annual speech to the French parliament, a sort of State of the Union à la française. It seems that he couldn’t wait more than ten days after the legislative elections to give it a try. On Monday, in a major speech in the French Parliament, Macron compared his election to a “new start” for a country that is “regaining optimism and hope”; he also introduced a raft of bold proposals for streamlining government. But even bolder than his proposals was the speech itself, and the American-style executive it seemed to usher in.

Along with the speech, there has been Macron’s quasi-official investiture of his wife, Brigitte, as a highly visible First Lady. And then there are the market-driven economic policies he has endorsed. All this has seemed—from the French point of view—emblematic of Macron’s fascination with the United States. Or to be more exact, with the California version of the United States, where Silicon Valley libertarianism mixes with a general progressivism on social issues—access to education and health care, openness to immigration and minorities, support for gay marriage, efforts to control climate change, etc. Didn’t he declare, on June 15, visiting VivaTech, a technological fair, that he intends to transform France in “a nation of start-ups” able to “attract foreign talents”?

Among other proposals announced on Monday, Macron said he planned to reduce by one third the number of representatives and senators in parliament, while offering them bigger staffs to make their work more “fluid” and “efficient.” He wants to abolish parliamentary immunity, so that ministers of the government and members of parliament will remain “accountable for their acts” and can be judged just like normal citizens by regular courts during their mandate. He also wants to lift the current state of emergency by fall, following the passage of a new antiterrorist law. Last but not least, he announced that he will indeed come back once a year to address the Parliament.

It was stunning: a man with hardly any political past or party apparatus rising to win the presidency—and then a vast majority in the National Assembly. It was the French electoral system, a legacy of General de Gaulle, with its two-round voting system, that allowed Macron to pull this off. That system, which emphasizes stability over political fairness, strongly favors the leading party: with only 28.2 percent of the votes in the first round of the legislative elections, the macroniens managed to get 60 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. [Continue reading…]

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