Sixth time lucky? Vive la République, Arise Macron

Sixth time lucky? Vive la République, Arise Macron

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Monday 8, May, 2017

SO, IT WAS AS WE THOUGHT. This weekend the Brexit candidate won the French presidential election and the other one wanders without party nor reason for another five years. Emmanuel Macron is the first president of the Sixth French republic. So be it.

France has a curious habit of constitutionally regenerating itself whenever there is constitutional crisis, rather like Dr. Who if he were a nation state. We were until this week chugging alongside the Fifth Republic that replaced the Fourth a few decades back.

In the 50s France was in turmoil. Post colonial stress disorder ravished the psyche and the Cold War had sidelined France into the role of portier, smiling greeting and negotiating with everyone in a contorted piggy-in-the-middle role that was unsustainable. 

The Fourth republic was essentially like Italy today, without the nukes. Coalitions made for weak and unstable government (the current PM would not be impressed) that was democratic but utterly useless for such a centralised state. Exiting Algeria was the blue-touch paper. So along had come de Gaulle, after famously walking away from power in 1946, and the Fifth republic was born, going full tilt into a centralised presidency. One king to rule them all, change the age of retirement, declare war, sign treaties, and kick the squabblers out of the way.

There are three reasons this supercharged Presidency cannot work anymore.

The first is that democracy is wakening up in Europe, as a consequence of the bureaucratic, Germanic EU. Across Europe populism is growing but it is against more authority, not for it. This cut down Le Pen more than anything else. Le Pen with all the powers of the French presidency? Emergency rule through Article 16, where the President has unlimited power for 30 days? No thanks, there was no way the French would ever trust the Front National that much.

The second is that within a collegiate, collective European Union this powerful figurehead simply isn't. There are too many ways to control its power and therefore to mute France within EU discussions. That is not acceptable, even in theory, to a country like France for obvious and historical reasons. Too much of France's power has been gifted away to make a centralised, powerful presidency effective or even desired. 

Finally, Europe is for now sufficiently stable and powerful to be a global power. France is not. Brexit was about how the UK could best be placed in the world for our own good and for global peace and prosperity. We could, just about, believe in ourselves to do it. Our leaders couldn't, by the way. Not one major Westminster party leader did, and the Holyrood party leaders were amoung the most fervent disbelievers in Brexit. 

So if France doesn't believe it can best go it alone, then it must double down and fight like Greeks, though hopefully more successfully, in controlling the German dominance of the EU. By being the strongest of the weaker Eurozone countries, and without admitting that in public, the extreme austerity of the EU can be challenged and much needed debt relief has a chance of coming out of Berlin. A chance.

There will be no Farronite second election. North East France is not being dragged further into the EU against its will. The French have spoken and that is democratically acceptable. The French right is totally rotten and if the best it can offer is Sarkozy and Fillon then they need their heads lavaged. The right has to recover as a movement, for the degree of corruption and decadent decline is frightening. Yes, they've always been this way but they've never had social media tearing them to pieces like this before. 

For now France has decided on a collective, collegiate government where the executive is constrained by the people directly and indirectly and the nation has a vehicle to project its worldly ambitions. 

It has, at least for ten years, a new sixth republic and that is the European Union. Brussels is worth the mass, but Paris? I'm not sure the French are convinced.

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