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by John Lichfield
Thursday, 14
July 2022

Emmanuel Macron: no longer Jupiter, but Vulcan

The President now sees himself as a different kind of Roman God
by John Lichfield
Vulcan for prez. Credit: Getty

Since his re-election almost three months ago, President Macron has been strangely quiet, almost invisible at times. There have been rumours that he was physically and emotionally exhausted after back-to-back domestic and global crises and a difficult election campaign.

He took a month to choose a new Prime Minister and government and then was all but absent during the even tougher parliamentary elections last month. Result: a poor performance which robbed his centrist alliance of its absolute majority in the National Assembly.

A comparatively bouncy and combative Macron re-appeared on French television screens yesterday. He gave an hour-long interview for France’s National Day — a traditional exercise which he scorned on several occasions during his first five year term.

Suggestions that he had plunged into a post-electoral blues — a period of “flottement” or wandering indecision — were put to him by one of the two interviewers. Macron brushed away the rumours with a grin (but did not formally deny them). “I’m always very touched when people are concerned for my well-being,” he said.

The French president denied that his lack of a parliamentary majority has left him as a 44-year-old lame duck, with almost five years of his mandate to run.

He was confident, he said, that a “spirit of responsibility” and “compromise” would prevail in the new National Assembly. He said he hoped that his government would be able to push through his election pledges to increase the French retirement age and stiffen the conditions for unemployment pay.  

How likely is that? Not very. The first couple of weeks of the new Assembly, with large blocs of far-Right and hard-Left deputies, have been rude, noisy and bad-tempered. 

The government lost a routine vote on continuing anti-Covid measures, on Tuesday. That was probably a one-off.

It should be possible for Macron’s Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, to assemble majorities for day-to-day business, like a 20bn package of anti-inflation measures which will go before the assembly next week. 

All the same, it is difficult to imagine this jaggedly divided Assembly will agree to radical reform of anything — let alone something so explosive as pension reform.

Macron admitted in another part of yesterday’s TV interview that his second term will be different from his first. He was asked if he still regarded himself as an all-commanding “Jupiter”. He denied that he had ever made such a claim but said that he now saw himself as more like Vulcan, labouring over his forge to deal with the interlocked Ukraine and cost-of-living crises.

A question therefore arises. How weakened is Macron? After his re-election in April, it seemed that he was the natural heir to Angela Merkel, not as Europe’s “leader” but as its dominant figure.

His position has now apparently been undermined in two ways: first, by his lack of a parliamentary majority; second, by the eastern European anger at his repeated assertion that the West should not seek to “humiliate” Russia (not Vladimir Putin, but Russia). 

Macron’s use of that word (against French foreign service advice) is regarded by some in Paris as part of his period of “flottemment”, or stubborn indecision, in May and June. He has recently taken care to state more clearly that France is on the side of Ukraine “until victory”. 

Neither domestic political weakness nor a cautious view on western war aims will necessarily curb Macron’s ambitions to play a leadership role in the European Union in the next five years. 

The bigger question is whether Macron still has the mental energy and determination to impose himself in Brussels.

His performance yesterday suggests that, whether Jupiter or Vulcan, he shouldn’t be counted out yet. 

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Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

France is on the side of Ukraine “until victory”.
Did he say whose victory?

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
1 year ago

Linda, let s be fair ….we will see the level of resolve of each country once temperatures get below 19 in homes.
Have a look at last UnHerd interview…….down to the money, pragmatic and brillant. None of this emotional nonsense going on right now …….that the weather is warm.

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
1 year ago

The author gives no importance to the fact that the anti covid bill was blocked. Macron has put some of tge most draconian and segregationist measures in Europe. The fact that both the right and the left blick his attemot to give himself ectra powers is a huge deal.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
1 year ago

Macron is now hailing the word compromise as the key word of his tenure.
The last 5 years were just the opposite and the level of arrogance of Macron MP s was staggering.
Then , all of a sudden, they get spanked in parliament being on the minority on a covid bill. Too bad it is not reported here cuz these guys are still stunned by what hit them.
It is a good thing for democracy in this’country to have a hung parliament.
Journo s are lamenting that France will be ungovernable…….but was it ever ?………totally tosh.Republicans will play umpire and like it or not, Marine Lepen too.
What’s the fuss ? The French are sooooop fixed on their nostril that they don’t even see the kind of bill that is being discussed in Sweden with new police powers. They would be electrified if the same was introduced in the country……even like it is the case, it makes good sense.
As to Melenchon clowns, they do scare a hell of a lot more than Lepen.