Emmanuel Macron was not quite his cock-a-doodle-do self in his New Year’s Eve broadcast to the French people. This, the fourth presidential broadcast of the plague year, saw Macron, in black suit and black tie, resembling a small-town funeral director attempting to conjure optimism.
Macron promised a France on the comeback by the spring, with new economy jobs and a European recovery fostered by an ever more ambitious European Union. The reality is that much of the country is under a 6 p.m. curfew. Everywhere, bars, restaurants and ski resorts are shut. Pension reform has gone. Unemployment, deficit and debt are massively up. There’s been close to a 10 percent decline in GDP in France in 2020, nearly twice that of Germany. France has lost five soldiers in a week in the Sahel. And politically most catastrophic of all, as of January 3, France’s EU-centric vaccination Emmanuel Macron’s desperate New Year wishes program had only inoculated 516 people. It’s ranked second last in Bloomberg’s global vaccination tracker. It is taxing the ingenuity of the mostly pro-Macron media to put a positive spin on this.
In Britain, Macron’s speech was noted mostly for his brief reference to Brexit. This appears to have infuriated the usual Francophobes, though it was hardly that incendiary. In a nod to his friend Boris Johnson, he emphasized primarily that post-Brexit, the United Kingdom remains ‘our friend and our ally.’ He explained that ‘this choice to leave Europe, this Brexit, was the child of European unease and of many lies and false promises.’ It’s not a fresh line from him. It’s mainly a shame that Macron still can’t begin to understand those who don’t share his European dream.
But Brexit was a sideshow. The ‘voeux’ (wishes) for the new year are geared to the French, and this is where Macron looks weak, as we enter the countdown to next year’s two-round presidential election. As a candidate, frankly, he’s not looking great. Dynamism, inspiration and confidence will not have been communicated to voters on New Year’s Eve. From entering office as the bold reformer, he’s been reduced to offering increasingly incredible explanations for his vaccination failure.
Those of us who watch French presidential television broadcasts (so you don’t have to) have this year seen the president pivot from the martial, in March, when he declared France to be at war with the coronavirus, through to the trying-hard-not-to-panic, when he postponed the second round of municipal elections and imposed lockdown on the population, complete with a Procrustean administrative bureaucracy in which it was necessary to fill out a form to walk the dog. After what appears to have been a premature summer easing, by the fall we were locked down again and we saw a glimmer of a contrite Macron, in which he felt our pain, admitted mistakes had been made, and reimposed compulsory declarations when taking the children to school. We seem now to have traversed the most absurd elements of the second lockdown when alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets were deemed essential, and children’s winter clothes were not. This was the chapter deemed by his numerous critics to be ‘absurdistan’.
So, is this the beginning of a new chapter? Macron seems as weird and narcissistic as ever. The bizarre feud with his family has just exploded again. This began with a strange interview in L’Express given by Macron and his wife Brigitte, in which he seemed to compare the inability of France to understand his political project with the inability of his family to understand his elopement with his married schoolteacher, 24 years his senior. Just as this relationship has finally been accepted by his family, he claimed, so would France understand he is doing what is best for the country. His father, Jean-Michel Macron, breaking a long silence, promptly gave an interview to Le Monde in which the retired neurologist described his son as, ‘a great actor, a seducer’.
Macron’s New Year wishes for France were vague and almost desperate. He is improbably promising an economic revival by the spring. And not just any jobs, but jobs in a reimagined economy. He spoke of the vaccine, which might have been reassuring except so far it’s invisible and polls show half the country is reluctant to have it. The media have tried to shield him with complicated explanations but it’s unlikely this line will hold. After pledging to work with the EU, which has predictably delivered squat, Macron’s government has been completely overwhelmed. Sanofi, the national pharmaceutical champion, now admits it will not have a vaccine until the end of this year, at the earliest.
In addition to a possible third phase of hospitalizations, there will now be a wave of business failures and layoffs, unemployment and poverty. Expect tense debates in the National Assembly during the examination of a ‘law consolidating republican principles’ which will arrive before Parliament in February. Emmanuel Macron has yet to address the deadline for regional elections which promise to be difficult for his majority, and he will have a hard time winning even one of the thirteen regions.
Even as he claims confidence in the future, Macron is at risk of being consumed by it. If Germany, or, heaven forbid, the UK, emerges from the crisis much faster than France, Macron will have been humiliated.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.