Charles de Gaulle’s great achievement, to paraphrase his British biographer, Julian Jackson, was that he reconciled the French left to patriotism and the French right to democracy.
The history of France since 1789 has been a constant struggle between a universalist left and the conservative right; between republic and monarchy; the Enlightenment and Catholicism; labor and capital; Paris and La France profonde.
History hasn’t ended. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen embody opposite visions of France today. But de Gaulle narrowed the divide and helped Frenchmen and -women think of each other as opponents rather than enemies.
That America could use a whiff of Gaullism isn’t my idea. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of The New York Times, called for an American de Gaulle two years ago.
The American left’s vilification of Emmanuel Macron continues.
Karen Attiah accuses the French president in The Washington Post of “pandering to Islamophobic sentiment” and flirting “with political authoritarianism.”
His crimes? “Pressuring” Islamic leaders to respect “republican values”. Putting restrictions on homeschooling, including canceling a program with teachers from Algeria, Morocco and Turkey. Somehow making “life miserable for innocent Muslims” — Attiah gives no detail.
You would think the murder of three Christian worshippers in Nice — a 60 year-old woman, the 55 year-old sexton and a 44 year-old Brazilian-born mother of three — coming on the heels of the beheading of a schoolteacher in a Parisian suburb, would convince American and British journalists and opinion writers that France really has an Islamic terrorism problem, and it’s not a figment of President Emmanuel Macron’s imagination.
Emmanuel Macron is the most liberal president France has had since the 1970s, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing legalized abortion and made contraceptives commercially available. Yet there has been a tendency on the left to blow every hint of Macronist illiberalism out of proportion.
Macron did not, on balance, cut public spending. He raised welfare benefits, extended unemployment insurance to the self-employed and penalized companies that made excessive use of short-term contracts. But he also liberalized labor law, to make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers, and abolished a wealth tax few millionaires paid, which earned him the moniker “president of the rich”.
Police largely tolerated the so-called Yellow Vests protests against Macron in 2018, but left-wing critics seized on a few instances of police violence to argue the president couldn’t stand criticism.
Now that Macron is taking a harder line against Islamic extremism, following the beheading of a French teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils, John Lichfield reports for Politico Europe that the same tendency is rearing its head on the (American) left.
The New York Times claims Macron has ordered a “broad government crackdown against Muslim individuals and groups.” The World Socialist Web Site, in a widely retweeted story, accuses Macron of “whipping up … anti-Muslim hysteria.” An American sociologist who researches white supremacists laments that French officials “respond to violent extremism with violent extremism.”
What is this “broad crackdown”? Macron’s government has closed a mosque, which was run by a radical imam. A number of arrests have been made. “Anti-Muslim hysteria”? 51 more Islamic organizations are being investigated for alleged extremist sympathies. What about “violent extremism”? There are plans to take away the French passports of 231 foreign-born criminals.
Some of this may be an overreaction. Expelling dual citizens will be difficult if their countries of origin refuse to take them back. The rhetoric of Macron’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has not been helpful. He believes France is fighting a “civil war” against Islamists.
France has unveiled a $100 billion stimulus program, worth 4 percent of GDP over two years, to help its economy recover from the effects of COVID-19.
The money is split almost equally between support for businesses, investments in the green economy, and health and social programs. It comes on top of the €460 billion France has spent on exemptions from social charges, furlough subsidies and soft loans to keep businesses afloat.
Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean show no sign of easing.
Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the EU of “modern-day colonialism” for supporting Greek claims in the region.
His government has accused the United States of violating the “spirit” of the NATO alliance by lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus.
Greece and Turkey are both in NATO, but they have a history of antagonism and overlapping maritime border claims. Those long-standing disputes have been rekindled by the discovery of national gas in waters around Cyprus, the northern half of which Turkey recognizes as an independent republic. Read more “Turkey Lashes Out at Allies in Mediterranean Border Dispute”
France is boosting its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean to reinforce Cypriot and Greek claims in the area and protect the activities of its energy giant Total.
The helicopter carrier Tonnerre, which is taking aid to Lebanon following the fertilizer explosion in Beirut, and the frigate La Fayette, which is training with the Greek navy, will remain in the area.
Two French Rafale warplanes will be based in Crete.
The deployments come after the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier patrolled the region earlier this year, and in response to the appearance of Turkish drill ships and frigates in disputed waters.
Seventeen left-wing lawmakers have quit President Emmanuel Macron’s party in France and started their own group, called Ecology, Democracy and Solidarity.
The defections have deprived Macron of his absolute majority in the National Assembly. His La République En Marche is down to 288 out of 577 seats, although it still has the support of the centrist Democratic Movement (46 seats) and the center-right Agir (9).
The defectors accuse Macron of shifting to the right and neglecting income inequality and climate change.
French metro and railway workers have been on strike for almost a month to preserve privileges from an era when the trains ran on coal.
The people who suffer the most are workers on modest incomes who don’t own a car and normally commute into Paris by train; small businesses and shops which are understaffed; families that couldn’t get together for Christmas.
The unions behind the strikes claim they are fighting a “president of the rich” — Emmanuel Macron — on behalf of “the people”.