Hollande’s Successor

Samuel Earle

The French presidential election has seen countless ‘firsts’: an incumbent president not standing for a second term; his party’s candidate getting only 6 per cent of the vote; a final round that includes neither of the two main parties; a likely winner with no party at all; a losing candidate who delivered speeches via hologram.

François Hollande’s decision not to stand for re-election and his unprecedentedly low popularity ratings aren’t the only records he set as president. He provoked the most-signed petition in France’s history, with more than 1.3 million signatures against his pro-market Labour Act in 2016, and was responsible for deporting a record number of undocumented immigrants. If nothing else, he will hope to be remembered favourably for his brave move to legalise gay marriage. But even this led to the largest demonstrations the Fifth Republic has ever seen, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets across the country, accompanied by a steep increase in homophobic incidents.

Hollande’s presidency was never meant to be like this. He was elected in 2012 on a message of change, hope and inclusion. He promised to confront ‘my real enemy … the world of finance’ with a 75 per cent tax rate on earnings over a million euros. He swore to be ‘exemplary’ in his actions. The new ‘Mr Normal’, he called himself, the anti-Sarkozy.

His fall began after only a few months. Jérôme Cahuzac, his finance minister, was leading the fight against tax evasion when he was accused of holding a secret Swiss bank account to avoid paying taxes. Cahuzac vehemently denied the allegations; Hollande defended him all the way. The scandal stretched on for months until Cahuzac finally made a teary confession: he had had a secret foreign bank for twenty years. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Not long afterwards, it emerged that Hollande was having an affair with an actress, igniting a bitter and public fallout with his ex-partner. Suddenly it all seemed a bit Sarkozy. ‘Mr Normal’ meant plus ça change.

The unemployment rate hit a 13-year high in Hollande’s first year and stayed above the European Union’s average for his entire term. In 2014, having already abandoned the promised 75 per cent tax rate, the government granted €41 billion in tax breaks for companies over three years, in the name of job creation. Several left-wing members of the government resigned. Benoît Hamon, then education minister, now the Socialists’ defeated candidate for the presidency, was among them.

One of Hollande’s more striking new appointments was of a 36-year-old political novice as economic minister. The surprise was not so much Emmanuel Macron’s background in banking, or his lack of left-wing credentials, or even his lack of experience. It was more that so few people had heard of him. He had been deputy secretary-general at the Elysée Palace since 2012, when Hollande plucked him from Rothschild. His advisory role in a multibillion dollar Nestlé acquisition had earned him the nickname ‘The Mozart of Finance’.

Macron was a key figure in Hollande’s government between 2014 and 2016, and was even partly responsible for his unpopularity. The Loi Macron made working hours and pay more flexible and let shops open on Sundays. The prime minister, Manuel Valls, had to force the bill through Parliament amid public protest and accusations from the Socialist deputy Yann Galut that Macron was ‘disowning all the values of the left’.

Hollande and Macron share a political outlook. They are both fundamentally pro-business, pro-EU pragmatists, in favour of ‘moving beyond the right-left divide’. Hollande wrote these words in a book published under a pseudonym in 1985, La Gauche bouge; Macron made them the centre of his presidential campaign. ‘I am neither left nor right,’ he says.

François Fillon, the conservative candidate, sought to exploit their similarities. He called Macron ‘Emmanuel Hollande’. The slur didn’t stick – the most surprising thing of all about this election so far is that the economic minister of the most unpopular president on record should be the most popular candidate to replace him – but Le Pen will try it again in the final round. Of all the candidates, Macron was the one predicted to defeat her the most convincingly, but he is also the one she is most comfortable confronting. He epitomises the ‘elite establishment’ that, despite her own millionaire roots, she loves to rail against.

‘In one year,’ Macron declared in his first-round victory speech, ‘we have changed the face of French political life.’ If he wins, he will indeed change the face of French politics. There’ll be a new pin-up boy. But it isn’t clear how much will change beyond that, as Mr Normal is replaced by Mr Business as Usual.


  • 26 April 2017 at 4:51pm
    martyn94 says:
    Come on. M Macron is not Business as Usual: he gave us the "cars Macron". The fact that this was about all he could do says more about France than it does about him. But at least he wanted to do something, however trivial.

  • 26 April 2017 at 6:39pm
    EHB says:
    He got 24% of the votes on a 78% turnout. That means less than 19% of the electorate turned out and voted for him. I don't know how many people are not registered in France, but they might also dilute his support significantly.

    He will, hopefully, win in the next round because he is facing a fascist. I expect his support to be trumpeted loudlyand his real result in the first round to be forgotten. The process of exadurating his popular support has already begun. Remember, it had to be less than 19% of adults in France.

  • 27 April 2017 at 3:35am
    David Sharp says:
    Excellent post, thank you.
    There's just one element missing to make the rise of Macron comprehensible to English-speaking readers: the absolutely massive barrage of media promotion given to him for over a year up to the election.
    It's important in this context to know that most French media are owned by powerful industrialists, many of them exactly the same people who depend on orders from state, or quasi-state, entities for their profits. But even state-owned TV channels, which accept advertising, favour the dominant message of neo-liberalism and start-up evangelism.
    In a powerful blog post Aude Lancelin, the journalist who was fired by the nominally "left" magazine L'Obs in May last year, recalls how the pro-Macron campaign played out. It featured, for example, the country's top rolling news channel, BFM-TV, providing breathless coverage of the trip Macron took along the Seine, in an official launch, to hand in his resignation as Finance Minister to President François Hollande on August 30. BFM-TV is owned by one of the industrialists who have provided wall-to-wall coverage of Macron's every move for over a year now.
    Unfortunately, I do not know of an English-language equivalent to Lancelin's article, which is entitled "Emmanuel Macron, a putsch by the CAC40 stock market leaders" and can be read in French at .
    But I can confirm the intensity of the propaganda in his favour, which was also churned out by the state-owned TV channels, such as France 2. They had done the same in 2006, for Nicolas Sarkozy, and also in 2005, for the EU constitution referendum, to which the only possible answer was "Yes".
    The latter campaign didn't turn out too well, but those in favour of Sarkozy, and now of Macron, have been highly successful.

    • 1 May 2017 at 3:16pm
      martyn94 says: @ David Sharp
      It would be nice to find a version of Mme Lancelin's article written in French, let alone English.

  • 27 April 2017 at 11:18am
    farthington says:
    Macron has done a great deal more than his 'Macron cars', as embodied in his Loi Macron and his (though under another name) Loi Travail.
    Macron's inter-urban bus policy has not been well-considered, driven by Macron's gut attachment to 'competition' at a high level of abstraction.
    Earle has managed to summarise very neatly, in a taut 1170 word package, the state of play.
    The telling Lancelin article, written by a journalistic insider, referred to above, is readily complemented by a 4000 word broadside by Frédéric Lordon (one of those economists marginalised by the MSM), on the Le Monder Diplo site,, a devastating demolition of Macron and his juxtaposition of the presentational void and his under the table agenda as a pure front man for Capital writ large.
    France is in for a bumpy ride. Subsequent elections at the national level (almost immediately) and the sub-national level will no doubt highlight that Macron's fall from grace will be at least as fast that Hollande's. It couldn't happen to a more deserving person.

    • 1 May 2017 at 4:26pm
      martyn94 says: @ farthington
      One thing I will say about the French: they do know how to marginalise their intellectuals. M Lordon did the usual long march through the elite institutions: Ponts et Chaussées (and presumably a prépa to start) followed by ISA (now part of HEC). He is now in outer darkness at EHESS and CNRS. And is marginalised by the MSM by only getting a very long (and turgid) piece in Le Monde Diplomatique. Not that I don't agree with much of it: if only there were a candidate who was less dire. The fact that there isn't (and wasn't) is not something you can blame on M Macron.

  • 1 May 2017 at 3:30pm
    martyn94 says:
    The "cars Macron" are apparently not "well considered" (by who?) though increasingly well patronised. The policy is "driven by [his] gut attachment to competition at a high level of abstraction". God knows what that means, but the fact is that there was nobody at all providing long-distance coach services, competitive or monopolistic, state or private. That was the problem. Coach services are not obviously a natural monopoly and competition seems the obvious way of letting the offer and the demand align. As seems to be happening (with the SNCF's offering well to the fore).

    • 1 May 2017 at 3:46pm
      martyn94 says: @ martyn94
      Or is it simply that is impermissible to have an alternative to the SNCF? In which event Blablacar should have been banned years ago: it's probably too late now.

    • 3 May 2017 at 4:04pm
      David Sharp says: @ martyn94
      The SNCF to which the "Macron coaches" provide an alternative is not the public-service railway that I knew in the 1970s and 80s. It has become semi-privatised, notably via its ticket sales service, which now functions like those of the airlines. It's almost impossible to get a transparent price, and some trips which take twice as long as others actually cost more, for the sole reason that they include legs on the sacrosanct high-speed network.
      Most of the struggling young people I know (and I know quite a few) can no longer afford to take the railways, and are reduced to either the privatised coach services or risky car-sharing for long trips.
      Meanwhile, as the article below shows, the combination of privatised coach services and an increasingly élitist rail service is creating a situation in which it's practically impossible for anybody to run at a profit. The only way to hope to do so being to cut labour costs, notably via outsourcing. Sound familiar?
      On this, as on other issues, Macron has a lot to answer for.

  • 2 May 2017 at 6:55pm
    kessler says:
    I've been listening to a lot of Macron... The force, in his speaking-voice, very oddly comes across well, actually appealing: it was missing in all of the other candidates, and Marine's comes across like a dull painful thud, Macron oratory is uplifting. He needs to work on that lisp or whatever it is: in French it makes him sound as though he is age-7 -- which for Bayrou or Juppé might be OK but for someone only-39 is a rude-reminder -- simple elocution lessons would work there...

    I am inspired by Macron's bravery in sparing France from the Front: the idea of the FN acceding to the throne of De Gaulle's 1958 Strong-President-Constitution is a nightmare. Macron's lack of gravitas, however, troubles me greatly: this slight, boyish, figure, up against that grizzled old cynical lot at the Assemblée and elsewhere in the French political establishment -- his brave words won't count for much, there, they don't "impress" easily, even once-elected to that auguste chair he will have to "deal", and for that he will, as they say, "need to know where every skeleton is buried", à la Clemenceau or LBJ... Macron doesn't strike me as being that type, however he sounds, and without gravitas he may be able to lead but not be able to rule -- France will need both skills in that position.

  • 3 May 2017 at 12:27am
    fbkun says:
    Sorry, but Hollande was elected in 2012 not primarily "on a message of change, hope and inclusion" but because his election meant kicking Sarkozy in the butt and getting rid of him. I don't recall any enthusiasm the day after his election --- only a jubilation to see Sarkozy thus humiliated.

    • 3 May 2017 at 4:13pm
      David Sharp says: @ fbkun
      That's absolutely right; Hollande was mainly elected on the grounds that he wasn't Sarkozy. The latter having been the closest that France has had so far to a Donald Trump-like figure.
      As for the notion that Macron's oratory is "uplifting", I don't think Kessler and I can have been listening to the same person.
      Macron is a totally dull, expressionless orator, and his lack of passion comes out the most when he attempts to sound passionate. Which he is, perforce, doing a lot at the moment.
      Of course, that's purely subjective, but (to translate a popular French joke) it's my opinion, and I agree with it.

Read more