The anger of provincial France makes Macron vulnerable


The writer is a professor at Queen Mary University of London and author of ‘What Ails France?

Voters from all over France will go to the polls to vote this month elections to regional councils. The results will be examined for clues as to the outcome of next year’s presidential and legislative elections elections. Still, this national political approach, however fascinating, may miss some broader important lessons.

This is not intended to rule out the value of the “general rehearsals” of these regional elections. For many voters, candidates nominated by political parties will serve as representatives of President Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, which seems once again willing to be his main opponent – or by “none of the above”.

In municipal mayoral contests, the political affiliation of candidates (if any) often counts less than their stance on burning local issues. But the opposite applies to those who want to exercise the responsibilities of transportation, business development and public health assigned to the 13 regions.

In a typical prolix interview published on May 27 in Zadig, a high-profile quarterly magazine, Macron spoke of widespread fear and anger in French society. In a defiant vision of the future, he saw this feeling propelling (French) civilization towards a new Renaissance. He described, without any appetite, to hostile terrain in 2018-19 yellow vests protest movement as a reactivation of “one of the founding ideas of our country”: the violent Jacquerie or the peasant revolt.

These whimsical skirts of “heritage” revolve around this central event of Macron’s presidency: the huge mobilization of working poor, mostly economically and socially marginalized peoples and villages. The geographer Christophe Guilluy nailed this problem from the left “periphery” to an influential book published seven years before the yellow vests he burst onto the scene.

The last political headlines in France have been dominated by renewed breakdowns of Law and order in and around suburbs with concentrated populations of predominantly Muslim immigrants. The controversy erupted in April after an open letter from a group of retired generals civil war warning. Although they received a sympathetic mention in this letter, the yellow vests the movement is not nativist: its fundamental grievances are social and economic.

The roots of the situation on the periphery lie in deindustrialization, which now dates back half a century. But as they scratch a meager life, the current one yellow vests blame their difficulties not on economic history, but on government, by rising taxes and deteriorating public services.

Critics of the Guilluy thesis counteract this the poorest areas receive a per capita state expenditure higher than a third higher than the national average. I see no real contradiction in it. A reorganization of regional governance in 2015 consolidated local public services into a smaller number of population centers that supposedly serve a hinterland of cities and rural towns. Instead of feeling that the effects of spending are recorded in their own way, those are more sticky sparsely populated areas see only the closure of schools and post offices, as well as small shops and cafes that often play a socializing role.

Undertake a pre-election tour of the provinces in early June, Macron seemed eager to demonstrate the extent to which he identifies with the strength of difficult areas, rather than sharing what the writer Christian Bobin he defines the arrogantly insecure view of the Parisian oligarchy of the periphery as a “dark background of grievances and approaching revolt.”

A cold-blooded political advocate could override what the historian Pierre Vermeren he calls the abandoned territories an irretrievable “Le Pen country,” with the seemingly certain assumption that the inhabitants of the periphery are a numerically smaller group than the metropolitan populations. However, these assumptions do not seem to be safe enough as a convenience. In contrast to the last presidential election of 2017, when it was Macron’s second round against Le Pen a two to one landslide, the last Harris survey shows that the future winning margin of the president has been reduced to 54-46%. This finding certainly points to widespread fear and anger, but perhaps not so much to a new French Renaissance.

Macron told Zadig that France’s fundamental problem is not centralizing bureaucracy, but corporate interests. I have the opposite view: breaking the French impasse must begin with much more radical decentralization. While it’s just the beginning, any such election result this month would lead to a liberating explosion of accountability and competition.


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