By Camille Bedock (Centre for the Study of Politics-CEVIPOL at Free University of Brussels-ULB)
Since the election of the new President Macron on the 7th of May, the French media seems quite unanimous: France is experiencing a soft revolution, with a young president breaking the lines, atomizing old parties and old cleavages, and sending home old politicians. This narrative may seem appetizing, in a context in which many political observers are keen on praising this election as the “stop to populism”, the expression of a new appetite for change of French citizens, the new start of the EU, or the end of old French political parties.
But is it so? Is the election of Emmanuel Macron really a revolution (to quote again the title of the eponymous book)? Or is this rhetoric hiding the continuity with past public policies and political practices embedded in the French political system? Time will tell us whether the revolutionary narrative that has dominated the media in the past few weeks was more than a mere formula. The legislative elections taking place in a couple of weeks will clearly influence the leverage of the new President to implement his policies. As such, the government of Edouard Philippe appointed last week should be read as a series of subtle signals in view of the legislative elections, in order to give a hint of what the “macronist” political project may look like.
Composed by 18 ministers and 4 secrétaires d’Etat, strictly respecting parity as it had been the case under Hollande and appointing several members of the civil society, the new governments seems at first sight to represent quite a breach compared to previous governments for two reasons. First, the fact that political actors coming from several political families are reunited at once. Secondly, the room given to individuals who have not been previously elected. When taking a closer look, it is quite safe to say that the breach is actually quite relative: the government is full of very experienced politicians who have been elected sometimes for decades, and its civil society members hold for the very vast majority the nobility titles usually favoured by the French political sphere: diplomas in the grandes écoles and ENA, senior civil service, involvement in political cabinets or in large French corporations, etc. As a result, the government looks like a shrewd mix of politicians coming from the left, the centre and the right; and members of the civil society unknown to the general public but who have in some cases been very intimately linked with the political power before.
Edouard Philippe, the new Prime Minister, now expelled of the party “Les Républicains” as a couple of other ministers from the right, was one of the closest lieutenants of Alain Juppé. He was the mayor of Le Havre, known as an absentee in the Parliament, has also been an activist in the Socialist Party when he was a student, and has some experience in the most important nuclear French corporation, Areva. Just as Macron, he has followed the usual cursus honorum of the French political career: lycée Janson de Sailly, Sciences Po, ENA. In other words, a centre-right Prime minister, young, not very well known, who has already admitted not to have been able to choose his directeur de cabinet and who will in all likelihood work under the very tight control of the Elysée.
Quite strikingly, almost all of the ministries that are generally considered as the most important are held by experienced politicians, mostly men. The Finance minister is Bruno Le Maire while the Treasury is now in the hands of Gérald Darmanin (ex-LR). The latter, in particular, was considered as very close to Sarkozy and as a rising star of the Party. The centre has also obtained important ministries: François Bayrou (Modem) is the new minister of Justice, whereas Marielle de Sarnez is the new minister of European affairs. Members of (what is left of) the Socialist Party have obtained two major ministers: the Home Department for Gérard Collomb, and the ministry of Europe and foreign affairs for Jean-Yves Le Drian, former minister of defense in the latest legislature. The ministry of defense has been given to Sylvie Goulard, current LREM and ex Modem, MEP for years and known for her pro-Europe positions, whereas the small PRG is also well served with two ministers: the ministry of Agriculture for Jacques Mézard, Cantal senator since 2008 and considered as very close to the FNSEA, the main farmer’s union in France known for its production-driven stances; and the minister of the Overseas territories for Annick Girardin who already held the same ministry in the former government.
One of the main catches of the new government is Nicolas Hulot, major figure of the environmental battles for decades in the Ushuaïa foundation and former reporter and TV anchor. In 2012, he lost again Eva Joly in order to run for the Greens for the presidency. Appointed as State minister for the “Transition écologiste et solidaire”, he is the main figure representing the left and the civil society in the new government. He will have to face burning issues in the next few months regarding the Notre Dame des Landes airport project or the budget for the Environment in a government in which the PM is deemed as relatively hostile to green issues, and the budget is in the hand of right-wing figures. The new minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, is on the other hand another figure of the civil society who has been very closely associated with former right governments on the issues of education: deputy director in the cabinet of Gilles de Robien (2006-2007), former education officer in the Academy of Versailles (2007-2009), former deputy director of the educational teaching (2009-2012, the second most important job in the minister), former director of the ESSEC, a prestigious business school, he often claims that he has never been involved in a party but has been intimately linked with the elaboration of education policies in the last decade.
The remaining ministers are, as promised by Macron, (women) members of the civil society, either well-entrenched figures in their fields, high civil servants or members of the associative world. Françoise Nyssen, the new minister of Culture is a renowned publisher, founder of Actes Sud. Muriel Pénicaud, the new minister of Labour has been involved in various major French business groups such as Dassault, SNCF, Danone, Orange, or Aéroports de Paris, but also with several major French universities and several ministerial cabinets. Frédérique Vidal, minister of Research, Innovation and higher education was the former rector of the Nice-Sophia Antiapolis University and is therefore a strong partisan of the autonomy of universities. Laura Flessel, minister of Sports, is an Olympic champion of fencing. Elisabeth Borne, minister of transports, is an experienced senior public servant who has worked in various fields of the French administration including the ministry of Education and environment under left-wing governments. Sophie Cluzel (secretary of State for handicapped persons) and Marlène Schiappa (secretary of state for the equality of men and women) come from the associative world, with former political engagements for the latter in Le Mans.
Finally, the new government has rewarded several close lieutenants of Macron, including Christophe Castaner, secretary of state for the relationships with the parliament and spokesperson of the government or Mounir Mahjoubi, secretary of state for digital media.
In conclusion, if there is a “revolution” in the new Philippe government, it is to be found in the fact that individuals coming from usually opposed political families will have to work together. For the rest, the cursus honorum of the newly appointed minister suggests a strong continuity in the sociological profiles of the new ministers. Similarly, the past public engagement of these ministers and the composition of their political cabinets clearly suggest that there may be a strong continuity in the public policies conducted by right-wing and left-wing governments in the past years in France. More than a future revolution, the Philippe government looks very much like a synthesis of the past.
Photo source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/17/emmanuel-macron-finally-names-left-right-cabinet-gender-parity/