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Emmanuel Macron will survive his election drubbing

Macron has played an archaic system to maximum effect. Credit: Getty

June 17, 2024 - 1:00pm

The house always wins is a gambling mantra that can easily be adapted to the chaotic state of the French Republic right now.

As extremists on both Right and Left lay claim to a rare chance to govern following upcoming parliamentary elections, President Emmanuel Macron has a croupier’s confidence about him. Déluge hyperbole might be dominating debate — some are ludicrously claiming that the country is on the verge of civil war — but you should never bet against a French head of state emerging triumphant, whatever the odds against him.

Technically, Macron knows full well that his Rennaissance party faces huge losses in the snap poll to return 577 members of the National Assembly in Paris. As Macron saw in European elections earlier this month, Marine Le Pen’s revamped National Rally (RN) is enjoying record support. This could mean that Jordan Bardella — who is just 28 — becoming prime minister, while Le Pen prepares to become President in 2027, when Macron is forced to step down.

Except that Leftists — including plenty of extremists — also have enough support in France for a parliamentary majority. They have formed a so-called New Popular Front (NPF), to ensure single unity candidates in all constituencies. Everybody from the relatively moderate Socialists — recent president François Hollande is a Front candidate — to radical Communists and Greens will comply, in an attempt to stymie the RN, who are also desperately trying to form electoral pacts with other Right-wing parties, such as the Republicans.

The latest polls put the RN and NPF at neck-and-neck, and well short of the 289 seats needed for a majority in the National Assembly. Throw in inevitable schisms between various alliance factions, as well as their fantastically naïve spending programmes, and there is likely to be a standard French parliament: angry, divided, and unable to get anything done.

Macron — who has never been an MP — is ruthlessly aware that the 5th Republic was founded in 1958 to ensure rock solid executive leadership following a long period of dysfunctional parliamentary government.

There were 21 administrations in the 12-year history of the 4th Republic, and an incredibly powerful leader was needed to bypass the intransigence. Thus, an overwhelmingly presidential system was created, allowing WWII leader Charles de Gaulle to return from the wilderness and to lead his country through multiple crises, not least of all the Algerian War of Independence.

Macron follows in the De Gaulle tradition: he is highly individualistic, elegantly manipulative, and so aloof that people call him Jupiter, after the Roman king of the gods. Despite occasional melodramatic language paying tribute to a sacred French citizenry, Macron’s governance has always been based on his own will, rather than any truly democratic instinct.

Presidential decrees — allowed by the much despised article 49.3 of the constitution — are regularly used to bypass parliament, even for highly controversial legislation. Pushing up the French retirement age from 62 to 64 in such a manner caused widespread rioting last summer, for example.

Chronic civil unrest has been an abiding feature of Macron’s time in office — who can forget the Gilets-Jaunes rebellions — but he cares little. Renaissance has not had a parliamentary majority since 2022, but this has by no means reduced Macron’s profile as a dynamic leader, both domestically and internationally.

Even his most fervent enemies — and there are many — can see how well he has played an archaic system to maximum effect, not least of all by coming from nowhere to win two presidential elections in a row.

The latest parliamentary poll is unlikely to go his way, but, ultimately, Macron is not a candidate. Whatever the result, he will remain in one of the most powerful executive positions on earth, and thus the only leader that really counts in an increasingly divided nation.


Peter Allen is a journalist and author based in Paris.

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Josh Allan
Josh Allan
1 month ago

Poetically put, and probably true – I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

Rather too poetical for my tastes. Reads more like an encomium.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago

OFF TOPIC (apologies)
Following the recent news story about a Reform candidate having to apologise for things he wrote a couple of years ago in the comments section of UnHerd, I have written to the editors asking for them to put the comments section behind the paywall. I cannot see any benefit to having our comments visible to non-subscribers and it certainly makes me less keen to post (not that I am in, or plan to run for, a public office).
Do you agree?

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Who gave this a thumbs down? Does that mean you disagree? For what reason? I am genuinely interested in hearing the counter-argument.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

I agree with you.
My point would also be related to the financial dimension: in many (all?) online media outlets the comments are often the most interesting part. Therefore, having access to the comment section is a selling point.
This is my experience from other online publications to which I am subscribed for a fee. Being able to read the comments features prominently in their advertising for paid subscriptions.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago

I think I can guess who has downvoted you.
I have just conducted a small-scale experiment: looged out and went to one of the articles I had not read. I was able to upvote and downvote even when logged out.
So, someone who does not pay for subscription downvoted you (and me, by the way), because your suggestion would mean that they would have to pay for access to comments and for voting on them.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 month ago

That is a change from previous position.
You could only read comments but not post or vote as non subscriber till about 2 years ago.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Yes, I was rather unpleasantly surprised by this. I had thought that only subscribers can post and vote.
And if non-subscribers can flag comments, then really there is a huge potential for abuse, because flagging becomes more arbitrary.
And this all involves quite a lot of hassle, because the flagged comment is removed automatically and it takes a long time and sometimes correspondence with the support team to have the comment restored.
I have had some pretty innocuous comments of mine removed and was wondering why. So, there might be an explanation…

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

I haven’t voted either way, but imo a paywall to read Comments wouldn’t make much difference. Anyone with the intention of digging for “dirt” would hardly stop because of it. The breadth and depth of Comments might suffer if browsers to this site were unable to read Comments.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Well they would have to pay for a subscription in order to do the digging. I don’t know whether this “offence archaeology” is done by a single motivated person – in which case the sub might be off-putting or by a well funded group, in which case it probably wouldn’t be.
On your breadth and depth comment, I had always imagined commenters were subscribers and saw it as a kind of club of people with similar interests. I find it a bit rum that I could be conversing with someone who hasn’t even read the article above the line.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Why do you think that the quality of comments might suffer if there is a paywall? A genuine question.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago

If, as Matt M suggests, Comments went unseen without a subscription, the nature of the ensuing discussions would be missed. Since these debates are often as insightful and more entertaining than the article, a less-than-complete picture of what’s on offer to subscribers might reduce the impulse to sign up.
I think it’s fair to say that as broad a mix of opinions and experiences of the world as possible is to be welcomed.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Interestingly, I was listening to a podcast last night (The Current Thing) and the host was saying that Hope Not Hate had a paid subscription to his Substack. Given that the podcast is pretty right wing, it seems clear that the reason for HNH subscribing is to monitor his output, looking for things to complain about. That seems to answer my question above – is this done by a few one-man operations or is it a well funded organisation? HNH seems to have plenty of backers and probably has a subscription to UnHerd, the Spectator, the Telegraph etc and so your comments are under surveillance! Probably a moot point as to whether the comments are behind or in front of a paywall.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Thank you for replying. Now I can see your point. I had thought that only subscribers can comment, but now , from Carlos D.,’s post, I understand that non-subscribers can reply, i. e., participate in discussions.
In addition, they can also vote for comments (and maybe flag them, too?).
My position would rather be“No representation without taxation” 😉
Really, it will not break the bank to subscribe to Unherd and thus support a media outlet which one uses to, inter alia, read other people’s views and express one’s opinion.
In any case, I believe that both approaches are defensible and the fact that different online publications use one of the two confirms that neither should be discarded.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

I say, keep comments visible!
Non-subscribers already cannot read more than a few articles a month, and cannot comment (except for replies). Giving non-subscribers the ability to read comments seems a good freebie, and it expands the audience for those of us who take the time to write comments.
Like me. I sometimes spend a lot of time writing comments. For me, at least, I’d like as many people as possible to be able to read my brilliant comments (and all the rest of them, too). Letting only subscribers read them seems clubbish, cliquish, even churlish. Thumb down on that idea.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

The argument about having a broader audience for your brilliant comments completely swayed me 😉

And you forgot to add to the ‘clubbish, cliquish, and churlish’ list another component : ‘snobbish’. 😉 (And I must acknowledge that I am rather snobbish.)

Seriously now: I do enjoy your comments, even in the very rare cases when we are in disagreement.
I have already replied to Lancashire Lad, but would add the following: frankly, I am not very happy that people who have not paid the entirely affordable subscription have the right not only to comment (OK, to reply, but it is basically the same), but also to vote for comments and possibly to flag comments.
Maybe this is due to my overall aversion to free riders .
In any case, as I have said, both positions have the right to exist and both models are in use, depending on the policy of different online publications.

See soon you on Twitter, too (although I have reduced my presence there recently)

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 month ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

I am all for allowing read access to comments for non subscribers, but I am surprised they can reply and vote.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

I think anyone who believes in free speech should live by their comments or at least be able to explain them.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

A paywall to write comments makes more sense than a paywall to read them, I think (otherwise hardly anyone would be able to read them). But that doesn’t solve the problem.
Since the only identifiers on the comments are the names we use, Ian could have easily said that the comments weren’t him – that the poster simply had the same name, or even was impersonating him. I suspect the only reason he didn’t was because he stood by the comments and believed them to be relatively innocuous. And even though I disagree with them, I would say he’s correct.
Ian’s mistake here was in assuming that the window for acceptable things to say hadn’t contracted even further than we all thought it had.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
1 month ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

If you can’t vet your comments in a forum where people are willing to think about them you’re never going to have good comments.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Watch your lip, pal.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Forgive me for saying this in the midst of a spirited discussion, but I’d like to say thanks to Peter Allen for his elegant, precise writing.