France 2018: Macron On Full Display

The next piece in our series focusing on key leaders and and nations in 2018 focuses on France and their new President, Emmanuel Macron.

  1. Who is Macron?

Macron, elected to replace struggling President Francois Hollande in May of 2017, brings a fresh platform to both France and Europe. Macron comes in not only as the youngest President in French history but also the first of a newly formed, centrist, and insurgent party, En Marche! Macron served as an investment banker before entering government, and in 2014 he was appointed Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs under Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Upon having several reforms rejected by Hollande and Valls, Macron resigned from his post and launched his new party and bid for the Presidency.

Macron’s bid for the French Presidency, even though it was against an incumbent he once served under, was not one to take lightly or that was necessarily a surprise. By the time candidates started to enter the race, Hollande’s popularity had sunk to historic lows. France was under frequent threat from Islamic State terrorists, with attacks on Paris and Nice killing over 200 people within an 8 month span. The attacks in Paris in November of 2015 caused Hollande to declare a State of Emergency, which lasted until after the May 2017 elections.

A drop in confidence in the Hollande government and ruling Socialist Party drove many to look for new leadership, propelling Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen into the runoff for the Presidency. Macron won handily, despite continued fears of terrorism in France.

2. Macron’s First Challenges

Macron’s biggest challenge in his first few months was to stabilize France, and in turn, avoid being Hollande and Le Pen. Macron needed to show the nation their President was confident and knew his role, but also needed to run the nation throw leadership not through fear mongering. At the same time, Macron also needed to balance that with facing numerous continued threats from Islamic State terrorists and sympathizers who potentially numbered thousands across France.

However, it was labor and economic reforms that Macron insisted on starting with. Some of Macron’s first moves were to follow up on campaign promises, including reducing regulation on companies and reducing taxes for the citizenry in order to help stimulate the economy. Towards the end of 2017, Macron had announced that French unemployment dropped 1.8% during 2017.

During October of 2017, Macron pushed new security measures and a reform package through the French government. The new provisions lifted France’s State of Emergency, which had been in place since November of 2015. These new measures were met with some concern over how much power they gave the police and the military in placing people and places of worship under surveillance, and lessened the restrictions on detaining those suspected of plotting a terrorist attack. Human rights activists have also claimed this will unfairly target protests and social movements.

Between 2015 and 2017, France had a major problem with terrorism, suffering several large scale attacks that resulted in the deaths of over 200 people, including at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in January of 2015, across Paris in November of 2015 and the Bastille Day attack in Nice in July of 2016. These attacks, plus numerous small scale attacks on citizens, soldiers and even places of worship, caused increased security in the French state. In a move unthought of in the United States, the French military has had a regular presence across Paris, working to provide a presence to stop attempted attacks.

Official numbers put the number of thwarted attacks in 2016 at 16 and through October of 2017 at 16 as well, but there are likely many more that have gone under reported.

Since Macron has taken office, there have been no major attacks on the French mainland. Though the French government knows to remain vigilant.

3. Macron’s World Vision

Macron has also made it quite clear during his first few months in office that he has a broad vision for France on the world stage. Within his first month as President, Macron had attended at NATO summit in Brussels and met with US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Macron did not hold back in telling Russia that France will use military force in Syria if chemical weapons were used again.

Macron has also continued France’s anti terror operations in African nations such as Mali and Burkina Faso.

In Europe, Macron has made headlines showing he wants to be a part of key European leadership, while also calling for key reforms to the European Union. However, Macron has also faced criticism over his support of open immigration policies similar to those of Angela Merkel of Germany, policies that have caused an influx of immigrants from the Middle East.

Macron has made it clear that he also intends to be a major player in the United Nations as well, continuing to promote the principles pushed forward in the Paris Climate Agreement along with pushing for France to have a seat at the table with talks between the United States and North Korea, something Hollande had backed off from previously.

4.  Moving Forward

Emmanuel Macron and France’s biggest challenge moving forward continues to be their handling of Islamic State terrorism. While the new counter terrorism laws may be effective now, the question remains whether France will continue to live in a constant state of fear or if they will be able to put that behind them.

Despite the fact that France hasn’t suffered a major attack under Macron’s tenure, France remains a major target for jihadists. Estimates at the end of 2017 from the French government stated there were around 700 French citizens fighting in Iraq and Syria for the Islamic State, many of whom would seek to return if the Islamic State lost ground. That also does not count the thousands of radicalized individuals or those at risk of being radicalized in France.

In order to fight their biggest enemy, France must be bold, but they also must preserve their culture and their way of life. I fear a refugee policy by Macron, similar to that of Merkel’s in Germany, could harm that goal.

Only time will tell whether or not France can succeed, but one thing is certain, 2018, Macron’s first full year in office, will be make or break for this historic nation.

 

(Image By Pablo Tupin-Noriega – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41407618)

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