French President Emmanuel Macron often appeared to be channeling Charles de Gaulle’s tenor and tropes in a nationally televised address on Wednesday. “It has been a year of anguish and sacrifices, but also a year of heroic acts in which we have learned and resisted,” the president intoned. As it soon became clear, the invocation of de Gaulle’s spirit was an act of calculation born of despair. France, Macron announced, would be subject to a series of public health measures amid a new surge in coronavirus cases, including a month-long school closure and the closure of all non-essential businesses. It is the third national blockade of France since last March.
The decision marks a year riddled with mistakes made by Macron in his effort to dominate the pandemic. It could also mark a turning point in the fortunes of not just Macron’s presidency, but the French republic. If this latest blockade fails or fails, it is quite possible that, next year, the next resident of the Elysee Palace will be Madame la Présidente Marine Le Pen.
All blocks are unhappy, but every block is unhappy in its own way. Inspired by the measures that had already been taken in China, the objective of the first “closure” last March was “zéro COVID”. It spread everywhere, closing schools, offices, restaurants and, apart from those considered essential, shops and markets. Although the economic and social consequences were seismic, the vast majority of the French supported the measures. The rewards seemed to equal the sacrifices. When the blockade was partially lifted two months later, France’s case and death rates fell dramatically.
But the reopening was short-lived. In early fall, the incidence of positive cases, no doubt driven by traditional summer vacations and relaxation of basic health protocols, began to rise once again. Region by region, stores and restaurants that had reopened a few months earlier closed again. In late October, when this piecemeal approach failed to halt the surge in positive cases, Macron announced a second lockdown, a kind of light lockdown. Concerned that the economy could not recover from a second total lockdown, and his popularity could not recover if he imposed the same strict restrictions, Macron kept schools open this time and expanded the range of essential businesses. The idea, this time, was not to squash the virus, but to live with it.
The French managed this delicate coexistence with the virus for several weeks, prompting Macron to relax restrictions for the Christmas season. However, once a new and more virulent variant of the virus appeared in early January, the arrangement became unmanageable. Praised by his communications team for their mastery of scientific evidence, Macron chose to ignore his health advisers, who understood the dire consequences of the new variant and urged the president to impose a third blockade. Instead, he prescribed curfews and region-to-region restrictions, betting that this would keep the virus at bay until vaccines arrived.
Macron lost the bet. Your race to find unite troisième voie, or “third way,” between closing the hatches and slamming them open, was thwarted by poor government logistical planning. While the absence of masks for medical personnel was the measure of the government’s mess last March, the absence of vaccine freezers became the new standard for administrative incoherence.
Between the end of January, when Macron embarked on the third track, and the end of March, there were almost 20,000 more deaths related to COVID-19. With less than 5 percent of the French having received both doses of the vaccine, the president and epidemiologist gave in to reality. The man who once described himself as the “master of the clock” admitted that the virus was now the real timekeeper.
Much now depends on the rate of vaccines and the timing of the new blockade. If the former is too slow and the latter too late, the human cost will be incalculable. However, it is easier to calculate the political cost. In a year the first round of the presidential elections will take place. In recent months, almost all polls predict a sequel to the 2017 elections, in which the centrist Macron faced Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Rassemblement National, or National Rally, in the second round of elections. elections. (The French presidential elections go to a second round if no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first round). In 2017, the contest ended before it started. Although both the left and the right distrusted the unknown and untested Macron, he benefited from her shared fear and hatred for Le Pen, as well as her catastrophic performance in their only televised debate. With three-quarters of the voters, Macron won 66 percent and Le Pen 34 percent of the vote.
While Macron’s victory was decisive, it was not the explosion that seemed to outsiders. In 2002, the conservative Jacques Chirac won more than 82 percent of the vote in the second round against the other Le Pen, Jean-Marie, Marine’s street father and founder of anti-Semitic, anti-European and anti-Semitic organizations. Muslim Party of the National Front. When she replaced her father in 2011, young Le Pen began a process of dediabolization, or de-demonization of the party whose name did not dare to be spoken by respectable Republicans. He declared that the Holocaust, whose reality his father variously questioned or reduced to “historical detail,” was the “height of human barbarism,” and purged the party’s ranks of Holocaust deniers and revisionists. (His father, who refused to retract his earlier denial, was also ushered to the door.)
Renaming the party for a less contentious and more inclusive National Rally, Le Pen now emphasizes his party’s attachment to the republic, although, more importantly, not all of its laws, such as the “common rule.” . In short, Le Pen recognized the sanctity of the constitution, but reserved the right to modify it. Finding that the French were more attached to the euro than he expected, Le Pen stopped clamoring for a Frexit and now claims that his goal is to “reform” the European Union from within. But when it comes to Islam and immigration, the two terms are one in right-wing rhetoric, the more things change. chez Le Pen, more stay the same. Promising to introduce a referendum on immigration law reform should she become president, Le Pen also proposed a law prohibiting the wearing of the hijab in public, an article of clothing she says is “Islamist.”
At the moment, Le Pen’s proposals are just that: proposals. But will this be the case next year? According to a series of recent polls, a rematch between Macron and Le Pen in 2022 seems much closer than five years ago. In a poll conducted by the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique, or IFOP, Le Pen surpasses Macron in the first round (28 percent versus 24 percent) and ranks second in the final round, 53 percent versus 47 percent. hundred. The shrinking gap reflects what IFOP identifies as the “weakening” of the Republican front that first rallied around Chirac two decades ago. Le Pen’s efforts to de-demonize and the growing “normalization” in political discourse of his party’s once extreme positions are changing the country’s political landscape.
Perhaps more than any other prominent political figure, Le Pen has benefited from the pandemic. In a controversial book he published last summer titled The coronavirus black book: From fiasco to abyss, criticized the government’s hesitant response to the crisis. He claimed that the pandemic revealed the failure of the “elites of France” and their “hyper-liberal” ideology, themes dear to the “yellow vest” protest movement that paralyzed the Macron government in the months leading up to the pandemic. He called Macron’s third shutdown “Waterloo.” But Le Pen faces a delicate balancing act: retaining his disgruntled base while reaching out to mainstream voters.
It is telling that Macron has decided to help Le Pen. For months, parties across the political spectrum, from the leftist France Insoumise (“Defiant France”) to the right-wing Republicans, have criticized that Macron, too weakened to face his own candidates, has gone to great lengths to achieve a rematch. . with Le Pen a reality. These same parties, however, are largely responsible for your situation. The Socialist Party, humiliated in the 2017 elections, is now a shadow of what it once was, with no other movement capable of uniting the left. As for the right, the equally mortifying defeat of Les Républicains in 2017, followed by the series of scandals that entangled prominent figures such as Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillon, may have also mortally wounded it.
In a speech to members of his party, La République En Marche (“Forward the Republic”), Macron insisted that “they have only one opponent: the National Rally. We must reaffirm this opposition, made by the French themselves ”. Although Macron gave that speech before the pandemic, and the series of government blunders and mistakes, took center stage in France, he has tried to keep the public’s eyes on Le Pen. In mid-February, he agreed to a televised debate between Le Pen and his hardline Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
The debate not only raised the case that a rematch between Macron and Le Pen was inevitable, it also allowed Macron to appeal to the very voters who tend to support Le Pen. This led to a notable moment in which Darmanin criticized Le Pen, who was struggling to achieve a presidential and republican tone, for being too soft on radical Islamists.
With each passing day, Macron’s cynical strategy increasingly resembles Stanley Kubrick’s doomsday machine. Dr. Strangelove—A device that seeks to deter nuclear war by guaranteeing armageddon if someone starts one. By locking up as his opponent someone he thought the majority of the French would never support, Macron now risks an automatic and catastrophic electoral response next year.
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