If life is to finance, its moments are to a budget, and the goal of the greatest zen masters on the planet would be a balanced budget. Not all financiers would strictly agree with this assessment, but Emmanuel Macron, French president and former French minister of finance has made it his goal to achieve balance in his budget. This budget has affects many parties and in some ways, signals some of the differences in foreign policy that Macron is trying to usher in during his stay at the Élysée.
In a somewhat ironic twist, balancing the budget comes at an immediate cost. Cutting spending hits home. The first loser from this policy would appear to be Macron, who has seen nothing but losses since his arrival at l’Élysée, even before the implementation of his first budget. Although historically French presidents may not be characterized as popular in the early stages of their own presidencies, Macron’s poll numbers fare worse than the historical average approval of presidencies. Macron’s popularity has descended continuously since his election, and has only recently stabilized at 40%. For reference from across the Atlantic, Nate Silver’s group FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls places Donald Trump’s popularity at 38.1%. Even though, in elite circles, Americans may not necessarily place Macron and Trump nearly on the same level, this is nominally the truth based upon the conclusions of polling. The two may not be equals, but their constituencies would appear to be equally critical of them both.
The inquiry as to why these two presidents have such similar polling becomes even more interesting. The first point of comparison to examine would be the policymaking success/failure rate. On Macron’s end, much progress has been made towards a revamped France. With his sweeping majority in the Assemblée Nationale, he has voted in a series of sweeping reforms. The main issue that Macron has faced with these reforms has been the nature in which they were done: behind closed doors. When he reformed la code du travail, the French work law which is thousands of pages long, thousands protested, though this number is diminishing bit by bit as unions turn to other points of focus. Meanwhile, Trump’s house majority has only begun to diminish the healthcare plan it sought to replace, and is founded on a party which has already begun to “split at the seams”. Clearly, there must be a striking reversal in policy that supports this handicap on Macron’s popularity, and this is what brings me to Macron’s budget.
Though the priorities and principles of the French voter and those of the American voter may be subject to entirely different standards which could lead to a different weighing of values into desired political outcomes, the French and American voter actually share a remarkably similar set of priorities when it comes to their government’s policy-making. In reports by the PEW Research Center, an American research and analysis and research firm, and a poll done this July by the Baromètre Ifop-JDD, a French polling partnership, American and French citizens each rank the fight against terrorism and the rollback of Islamist radicalism as their first policy priority. The old aphorism that Americans are from Mars and that the French are from Venus apparently hardly applies to their current opinions on foreign intervention policy. This aphorism, at least within the boundaries of a relatively peaceful Europe also misconstrues the role of France as a foreign policy actor.
If anything, were all the European states to be casted the roles of Latin gods who represent each state’s foreign policy-making? It would only be appropriate for the French, from a European perspective to be donned, “Mars, god of war”. Ever since Nicolas Sarkozy’s era France has been quite active in terms of intervention, despite a miniscule budget compared to America’s budget. From a presidential ousting on the Ivory Coast to operation Serval, the French have had a very active military presence to Europe’s strategic southern partner in Africa. From the 2012 ousting of Gaddafi up until the present, the French have maintained an on-and-off Special Forces presence in Libya as well. This rapport has changed as Macron has committed himself to the new budget. After a proposed 980 million dollars in cuts, and a public dispute with the President French General Pierre de Villiers resigned early into Macron’s presidency. Meanwhile, Macron has begun to face the effects of the reduction in intervention capacity that accompanies a lower defense budget in Libya and in the Central African Republic, where tensions have resurfaced as the French reduce their number of troops on the ground. In light of these changes in policy by Macron, and in the case of the Central African Republic, a very unpopular Francois Hollande, coupled with the priorities that the French people see in policymaking, it should be unsurprising that Macron’s popularity has sunk.
The question remains: what is Macron sacrificing himself for? Perhaps the return he sees for his investment of political capital into reform, will be brought back to the French in euros…
~~To be continued~~