One year on, Macron’s party boasts European successes
President’s nascent party holds its line on core principle of being ‘viscerally pro-European’
French Government’s spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images
Emmanuel Macron’s party, La République En Marche, marked the first anniversary of the French president’s landmark speech on Europe at the Sorbonne with a thousand-strong rally where it presented the results of its “grand march for Europe”.
The march was in the party’s DNA, said government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux. Back in 2016, Macron’s then nascent movement knocked on 100,000 doors across France to assess the concerns of the electorate. In April and May of this year, they took their questionnaire on Europe to 230,000 French homes.
Before the rally, “marchers,” as Macron’s supporters call themselves, handed out French and European flags. “I deliberately took only the European flag,” said the retired scientist seated next to me at the rally, “because Europe is our future and it’s threatened by nationalism. The EU could fall apart”.
“You’ll recall that EU flags were often more visible than tricolours at our rallies,” said Griveaux. “We are viscerally pro-European.”
Emmanuel Macron cedes nothing to cynics, much less to nationalists
“This is the flag the Front National removed from all the town halls it controls,” said Christophe Castaner, the head of La République En Marche (LREM), touching the blue and gold EU emblem. “This is the one [the far left leader] Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants removed from the National Assembly. I promise you it will be present at all our rallies.”
Griveaux cited the September 14th cover of Newsweek, which called Macron “The Last Man Standing” against populist nationalism in Europe.
“Emmanuel Macron cedes nothing to cynics, much less to nationalists,” he continued. “We can be proud of a president who gives Europe a place among nations . . . The winds of nationalism are blowing in Hungary, Italy, Great Britain. In France, [the far left] France Unbowed wants to lock us within national borders. [The conservative party] Les Républicains want to accommodate [the Hungarian nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban, and the FN [Front National] is making eyes at [the far right Italian leader Matteo] Salvini.”
Hungary and Italy were the only EU countries who refused to participate in the “citizens’ consultations” proposed by Macron, noted Griveaux. “Isn’t it strange that two leaders who claim to represent ‘the people’ are afraid to talk to them? . . . This is a battle to reconquer the hearts of Europeans.”
Four “marchers” from the provinces used anecdotes and statistics to recount the findings of the “grand march”. The French were very positive about the euro, freedom of movement and the Erasmus programme. More than 80 per cent agreed that “it’s worth fighting to improve Europe” and the same percentage said France “needs Europe to face global challenges”.
Those challenges were most acute regarding ecology, the economy, security and defence and migration, respondents said in the 80,000 questionnaires they returned.
But 85 per cent of respondents lacked confidence in EU institutions. “They are fed up with bureaucracy and they think the system is opaque and manipulated by lobbies,” said a marcher.
Macron proposed 49 concrete steps in his Sorbonne speech, recalled the European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau. She and labour minister Muriel Pénicaud had travelled throughout the EU to change the directive on posted workers. “We could not accept that there were first class workers and low cost worker in the same workplace,” said Loiseau. “Today, there is equal pay for equal work.”
They told us it was impossible because it wasn’t in the treaties
In security and defence, the EU “advanced more [under Macron] than in the past six decades,” Loiseau continued. “EU money will be spent to develop a common defence strategy. They told us it was impossible because it wasn’t in the treaties. Suddenly, it became possible.”
Loiseau blamed climate change for forest fires in Greece, Portugal and Sweden this summer. “Emmanuel Macron had proposed a European civil protection force. They said it wasn’t a priority. The French sent Canadair planes to fight the fires, and now the civil protection force will be in place by the end of this year.”
The protection of copyright on the internet, a future ban on the pesticide glyphosate and the establishment of European universities next year were other achievements of the Macron administration. Castaner echoed Macron’s demand for “fair taxation of internet giants, of Google, Apple and Facebook”.
“This is the first time a US president has described Europe as his adversary,” said Loiseau. “Donald Trump pays us a compliment. We didn’t realise how important Europe was.”
Only 242 days remained until the May 26th, 2019 European parliamentary election, said Castaner. As a result of the priority accorded by LREM to women and non-professional politicians in last year’s legislative elections, “48 per cent of the LREM group in the National Assembly are women. And 93 per cent of our deputies had never been elected before.”
Macron wants to replicate the success of LREM in the European parliament, where his party has refused to join established groups. Castaner appealed for would-be candidates. A forest of hands holding smartphones rose up in the auditorium, to photograph the address for online applications.