When we endorsed Emmanuel Macron in 2017, it was because he was the best candidate to make France competitive and confident again. He has. French voters should give him a second term.
Macron relaxed French labor laws, which had been among the strictest in the world. Unemployment fell to a thirteen-year low. He eased auditing requirements, streamlined bankruptcy procedures and lowered social charges and taxes for entrepreneurs. Business creation rose 60 percent.
Foreign investors were impressed. Before the pandemic, France even overtook Germany and the United Kingdom as the top destination of foreign investment in Europe.
Opponents have lampooned Macron as a “president of the rich” for putting the economy first. But he also enrolled freelancers in public unemployment insurance, extended welfare to one million more households, and made dental services, eyeglasses and hearing aids free.
France became a leader again in Europe. Macron didn’t win every argument in Brussels, but the EU looks and sounds more French than it did five years ago. Xi Jinping’s authoritarianism and Donald Trump’s isolationism have convinced the other member states to give France’s proposals for European “strategic autonomy” a chance. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has given European defense cooperation, long favored by the French, a new lease on life. With five more years, Macron could put those ideas into action.
Law and order
Macron’s law-and-order offensive has been portrayed as an attempt to take the wind out of the far right’s sails — in the case of the American press, even caricatured as “pandering to Islamophobia” and “flirting with political authoritarianism” — but it is justified.
French homicide rates remain low, but (sexual) assaults and frauds have increased in the last five years. The French haven’t forgotten the deadly terrorist attacks of 2015 and 2016, when 130 and 86 people were killed in Paris and Nice, respectively. 81 percent of French voters believe prison sentences are too short.
Macron hired 10,000 cops, closed mosques run by radical imams, conditioned state funding for religious institutions on their support of republican values and tightened laws against online hate speech.
Macron can be faulted for being heavy on repression and light on prevention. He (admirably) admitted France let down its ethnic minorities by confining them to suburban ghettos, where the quality of education is usually low and jobs are scarce. He promised new policies for the banlieues. He will need to deliver on that promise in a second term.
Two of the biggest challenges France faces in the next five years are energy and pensions, and Macron has the best ideas for both.
He has walked back his earlier and misguided commitment to phase out nuclear power, proposing to build six new reactors instead. His plans for fifty offshore wind farms, doubling onshore wind energy production and raising solar energy output tenfold by 2050 are ambitious and come with a price tag to match: €50 billion.
The French pension age of 62 is low by European standards, but many public-sector workers are able to retire in their fifties while mothers often have to work into their late sixties to make up for the years they didn’t pay into a pension plan.
France has 42 public pension schemes, ten for the state railway alone. Macron would merge them into a single, points-based system, which would also make it easier for workers to switch jobs or interrupt their careers to raise children. (Private, supplemental insurance plans would not be affected.)
Of the competition, the Republican, Valérie Pécresse, is the only candidate who agrees. Others would either keep the pension system as is or, in the case of the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, even lower the retirement age to 60.
The only area in which Macron has disappointed us is trade. He vetoed an EU trade deal with beef-exporting nations in South America, arguing they must do more to stop the deforestation of the Amazon. Trade negotiations with Chile and New Zealand have been put on hold.
Luckily the European Commission, with crucial support from smaller member states like the Netherlands, blocked Macron’s proposal to relax EU competition rules that prohibited the merger of Alstom and Siemens. If European “strategic autonomy” becomes a new word for old-fashioned French dirigisme, it doesn’t need Macron. From Mélenchon on the far left to Marine Le Pen on the far right, there are plenty of candidates who want a bigger state. Macron is the best, and only, hope for liberals.