Macron’s twin goals are incompatible but he shows no sign of choosing

Tone of Macron’s second term could be determined by his choice of prime minister

Emmanuel Macron will be inaugurated for his second term as French president at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Saturday morning. To draw a line between Macron's crisis-plagued first term and the unknown territory of his second mandate, an aide to the French leader stressed that "this is not a re-inauguration but a new inauguration".

Precedent set by François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac dictates that a re-elected president tone down his second inauguration. In 2017 Macron rode up the Champs-Élysées in the back of a command car and sat on a gilt throne at the Hotel de Ville to chat to the mayor of Paris. On Saturday he will not leave the Élysée.

A chamber orchestra will play Handel as 450 guests arrive. Laurent Fabius, the president of the Constitutional Council, will proclaim the results of the April 24th run-off. The heavy gold chain of the grand master of the Legion of Honour will be presented to Macron on a cushion, for the second time.

The president will make a speech, then go into the garden to review 165 military representing all branches of the armed services, including the nuclear force de frappe. The artillery positioned around Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides will fire a 21-gun salute.

Macron promised "a new era that will not be the continuation of the term that is ending". The French want to know what this "new era" will be like

Hopes that Macron’s speech might clearly indicate his direction are likely to be dashed. Asked about the message of the speech, the aide said: “It is traditional for the president-elect to weigh up the meaning of his election in the eye of history, why he was elected and what he plans to do in function of that.”

On the night of April 24th, Macron promised “a new era that will not be the continuation of the term that is ending”. The French want to know what this “new era” will be like. As noted by Chloé Morin of the Fondation Jean Jaurès, Macron’s twin goals of dramatic reform and calming a fractured country are incompatible. He shows no sign of choosing.

Twilight zone

In the meantime, France is in a kind of twilight zone, awaiting a new prime minister, a new government and the June 12th and 19th legislative elections.

Macron has said he will not reappoint prime minister Jean Castex. Initial reports said the identity of the new prime minister would be known on May 2nd. On May 4th, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the outgoing government would serve at least until May 13th, when Macron's first term officially ends.

Macron defined his criteria for his next prime minister as “someone who cares about social and environmental questions and productivity”.

Two little-known, left-leaning female politicians claim to have refused the job. Attal said no offers had been made. Macron would reportedly prefer to appoint a woman. The head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde; and the minister of labour and employment, Élisabeth Borne, are high on the list of possibilities.

The tone of Macron’s second term could be determined by his choice. If he opts for a strong prime minister with clear political ideology, it will mean that Macron is changing his top-down approach to ruling France. If he chooses an unknown technocrat to execute orders, Macron 2 is likely to resemble Macron 1.

Le Monde compared France’s present limbo to Waiting for Godot. On a trip to the Pyrenees, Macron said the country needs a calm moment, and that he himself needed “decantation”, like a bottle of wine that has been opened.

Macron’s propensity to keep everyone waiting is part of his Jupiterian aura. Cabinet ministers who fear for their positions and potential candidates for the National Assembly fidget anxiously.

Macron’s camp chose new names for itself on Thursday. A coalition of Macron’s party, La République en Marche, and five small left- and right-leaning parties who will present joint lists with LREM in the elections, was christened “Ensemble”. LREM was renamed Renaissance, after Macron’s centrist group in the European Parliament.

LREM and its allies won an absolute majority of 350 of 577 seats in the National Assembly in 2017. They dream of repeating the achievement.

But striking electoral deals among French political parties is like herding cats. Jean-Luc Mélenchon this week nominally united Greens, Communists and Socialists under the domination of his far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, in a group known as Nupes, for New Popular Ecological and Social Union.

‘No vision’

The Socialist Party has been torn apart by its alliance with Mélenchon. Socialist and Communist dissidents say they will violate their parties’ instructions and oppose Mélenchon’s candidates in several constituencies.

Macron faces similar disorder within his Ensemble coalition and in dealing with the conservative party Les Républicains. More LR members voted for Macron than for their own candidate, Valérie Pécresse, in the presidential race. But LR's leaders have ignored an appeal from former president Nicolas Sarkozy to unite with Macron's party.

"He is incapable of having a line on anything. He has no vision about anything"

LR has 100 of 577 deputies in the outgoing National Assembly. The party's leader, Christian Jacob, told France Inter radio he regards Macron as "incapable of carrying out any reform at all because of his "en même temps" philosophy [being left and right at the same time]. As an example, Jacob cited Macron's back-sliding on raising the retirement age. "He is incapable of having a line on anything. He has no vision about anything."

Relations with Édouard Philippe, who left LR to serve as Macron’s first prime minister, are also reportedly tense. Philippe’s small political movement, Horizons, is assumed to be a vehicle for his 2027 presidential ambitions.

The last thing Macron wants is to have Philippe waiting in the wings to succeed him. Philippe reportedly demanded slots for Horizons candidacies in 140 constituencies. "Not a single district for Horizons! They're idiots!" Macron said, according to Europe 1 radio, quoting a member of the president's entourage. "[Philippe] owes me everything and he thinks we are equals. What has he been smoking?" The Élysée denied the quote.

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