Napoleon is said to have preferred lucky generals to clever ones.
If true, Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate in this year’s French presidential election, would have found an eminent position in the great man’s army. For what else could have propelled this political ingenue who has never held elected office, who lacks a party hinterland, and whose political experience amounts to a few troubled years as an appointed economy minister under failed President Hollande to the forefront of this campaign but luck?
More seriously, those cheering his rise in the polls against both divisive Marine Le Pen and compromised conservative Francois Fillon should examine whether his policy platform is in any way sufficient to reboot France’s troubled economy.
Many of the policies set out in his manifesto yesterday are superficially appealing, much like the man. He wants to sell down government stakes in French companies (but only in those firms where the French state does not hold a majority). He will cut corporation tax from 33.3 per cent to 25 per cent (in the UK it’s coming down to just 17 per cent). He intends to smooth out the vast differences between hugely generous public sector pensions and private sector ones (while keeping the pension age at a logic-defying 62). He will cut some state spending, and lay off some bureaucrats, while retaining the ridiculous 35 hour week.
All of the above would be a reasonable programme for a country in good health, looking to marginally increase its competitiveness. France is not that. For all its politicians’ hatred of “Anglo-Saxon capitalism”, the country has struggled to grow by more than 1 per cent a year since the financial crisis. Unemployment is hovering around 10 per cent. Report after report predicts that France will sink down the list of the world’s top economies, the victim of savage relative underperformance versus its peers.
Le Pen’s hard left economic policies would obviously be even worse, but the real risk is that a President Macron (with what leading French liberal Gaspard Koenig describes as “a timid set of proposals”) would be yet another terrible disappointment for France, which increasingly looks unreformable. If Macron, with his interventionism, and his aversion to free market “shock therapy” and “British-style reforms from the eighties”, is unable to deliver on his promise to transform his country, in the next elections in 2022 Le Pen will be less an outside chance and more a sure bet for the presidency.