French President Emmanuel Macron has a ruthless streak of ambition that should make democracy-seeking people shudder.
On an official state visit this week to the United States, Macron was posing as the “polar opposite” to President Trump, and the “standard-bearer of liberal centrism in the West”, according to the Washington Post.
Ironically, too, he presented himself last week – yet again – as the “savior of Europe” with a major address Tuesday to the European Union parliament in Strasbourg.
The Strasbourg address was only four days after the French leader unleashed a joint bombing blitzkrieg on Syria along with the US and Britain.
As if to add further mockery to his virtuous pretensions, while Macron was regaling the EU parliamentarians with grandiose visions of democracy, his own country is crippled by nationwide industrial strikes fighting against his plans to demolish workers’ rights.
At age 40, Macron is the youngest elected French president and currently one of the youngest EU leaders, along with Austria’s Sebastian Kurz (31).
Kurz is among the European zeitgeist of populist politicians whom Macron would deprecate as “regressive” owing to the Austrian Chancellor’s independent nationalist policies.
The French leader’s youthful appearance and apparent zest for “democracy”, however, belie a very old and darker tendency towards authoritarianism and contempt for democracy.
Macron had the brass neck last week to lecture some 750 EU parliamentarians about “defending democracy”. His speech in the Strasbourg parliament was littered with empty platitudes, like challenging “authoritarianism with the authority of democracy”.
Admittedly, the French president did not get a free ride while in Strasbourg. As he spoke from the podium, several lawmakers held up placards reading “Hands of Syria”.
What Macron has lots of is appealing image and liberal-sounding soundbites. He is also deft at posing as some kind of progressive. But not far from the surface is a ruthless, anti-democratic authoritarian elitist.
Paradoxically, in his Strasbourg address, he theatrically conjured up a drama of existential crisis in Europe, claiming that the 28-nation bloc was facing a “civil war” between liberal democracy – of which he presumes to be a standard-bearer – and the rise of “populist authoritarianism”. The latter refers to nationalist political leaders like Austria’s Sebastian Kurz and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban who recently won his third re-election.
Macron would like to present people like Kurz and Orban and their anti-immigration policies as the bête noire of Europe who are destroying the social fabric and unity of the bloc.
As the New York Times reported: “Macron said the EU is in a battle between the liberal democracy that shaped the postwar vision and a new populist authoritarianism that stifles dissent and cares little about the rule of law.”
Hold on a minute. “Cares little about the rule of law”? This spiel was uttered by someone who had just bombed a sovereign country, Syria, on the back of baseless claims about a chemical-weapons incident that in all probability did not even take place.
Macron was also a minister in the government of his predecessor Francois Hollande, which began bombing of Syria in 2014 without a mandate from the UN Security Council.
Whatever about Austria’s Kurz or Hungary’s Orban and their brand of nationalist politics one thing to be said in their immense favor vis-à-vis Macron is that neither of those two leaders is bombing sovereign nations.
Later last week, the French president visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Again, he puffed up his peacock feathers as the “savior of Europe” by calling for the embrace of “liberal values” of “sovereignty, rule of law, democracy and peace”.
One suspects that Frau Merkel is growing weary of the wheedling French leader, whose ambitions of being the top European politician have seen him sidling alongside US President Trump in an attempt to sideline Germany as the strongest EU nation.
Macron is a charlatan. He is shameless in his mendacity.
His image-making of a reformist, progressive European visionary is a mirror of vanity and pretentious ideals. Macron deprecates populist politicians like Orban, Kurz and others by setting himself up as some kind of noble opposite in the same way as he uses Trump as a foil for his supposed “centrist liberalism” – whatever that means.
The truth is that Macron, in reality, is a much more dangerous authoritarian than Orban and his ilk could ever be.
As well as his shocking disregard for international law in the April 14 missile barrage of Syria, Macron has the temerity to lecture about authoritarians who “stifle dissent”.
Days after this utterance, hundreds of baton-wielding French police launched a dawn raid last Friday on a university in Paris to break up a peaceful student sit-in protest.
The students have joined millions of French workers and unemployed who have taken to the streets and college campuses to stop Macron ripping up employment rights.
Macron euphemistically calls his plans “reforms”. But the way millions of French citizens see it, the overhaul of the labour code is a full-frontal attack on democratic rights. Those rights have been won by workers over decades to help make capitalist economics relatively civilized. Now Macron, in the service of big business and international capital, wants to shred French workers’ rights.
How Macron got elected last year is a curious question. Prior to his election, the former Rothschild investment banker had never held an elected position in his life. He was drafted into the former Hollande government (2012-2017) as economics minister by way of political appointment, not through the ballot box.
Macron’s presidential mandate is dubious. Many French voters abstained from the election last April-May because they didn’t want to vote for Marine Le Pen of the Front National owing to her party’s fascistic history. Arguably, Macron got elected by default.
But it seems clear that within a year of having been in office, he has managed to unite French citizens in militant opposition to his anti-democratic “reforms”.
Macron’s florid rhetoric about European “renewal” is pretentious piffle.
The cardinal problem with Europe is the void in democratic representation of citizens. Governments and politicians are looked upon with contempt because democratic needs are chronically neglected. Public investment and services are waning, workers’ rights are being trampled on, pensioners are being neglected, wars are pursued by a few without any justice, because politicians are too often serving the agenda of big business, capital and militarism overseas.
There seems to be no democratic accountability to the majority of the 500 million citizens living across the EU. This dysfunction is due to self-serving elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron. He is the personification of bankrupt bourgeois Western politics. That is, pandering to capitalist and imperialist tendencies of the ruling class, while also having the brass neck to paint himself as a “savior”.
Macron is a saboteur of European democracy. The rise of populism across Europe is not some extraneous phenomenon, which people like Macron condescendingly disparage. It is a backlash to charlatans like Macron who have a far more dangerous streak of authoritarianism than the people whom he affects to deplore.
European democracy is endangered precisely because of politicians like Macron who cloaks himself with the rhetoric of being a savior.