How do you fix an economy like the one of France? The once-powerful nation now exerts little more than a symbolic influence over world affairs, and domestically it is in even worse condition. The country still owns the world’s fifth-largest GDP, but nearly 90% of that gross is public debt yet to be repaid.
France’s unemployment hovers at around 11 percent, the highest in the country’s history. Its growth has been static for years, and the country’s proud manufacturing history has disintegrated in the face of heavy taxation, non-competitive wages and an uncertain economic outlook.
President Francois Hollande’s approval rating, 13 percent as of the latest polling, barely tops the country’s unemployment rate. Hollande’s clumsy approach to avoiding total insolvency has fluctuated wildly in his 28 months in charge. When he took office, he declared, incomprehensibly, that the finance sector was the “enemy” of government, only to betray his Socialist stumping this past year with a plan to empower the financial sector.
In August, Hollande relieved his popular yet mutinous economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, quite likely thinking that he couldn’t get any less popular with the French public and desperate to make a positive impact before his term ends. In Montebourg’s place, he appointed Emmanuel Macron, a 36-year-old free-market thinker and financier. The rank-and-file Socialists decried the switch as blatantly pro-market, essentially a betrayal of his party and more evidence of his conservative leanings.
In a recent editorial for Les Echos, Christophe Mazurier, who, like Macron, is a renowned financier as well as chief of the board of directors at CM-CIC Private Banking, said that Macron was the right — and maybe only — man for an increasingly toxic cabinet position.
First, Mazurier noted that despite coming to the position over two years after Hollande took office, Macron is actually a long-time behind-the-scenes influencer. Even during the run-up to the election, Macron spearheaded Hollande’s platform promising to eliminate the budget deficit. In fact, Mazurier called Macron the “synthesis” of Hollande’s economic thought. Mazurier says the president should benefit from transparency, and can now discharge his economy minister to carry out his long-term plans without the stops and starts characteristic of Montebourg’s two years in the cabinet positions.
Macron is also young, one of the youngest cabinet members in the history of France. This allows him to be forward-thinking and decidedly modern, as opposed to the majority of French politicians who can’t see the world has changed since the social revolution of 1968. Whereas Montebourg often compared himself with 17th-century finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Macron makes no effort to emulate or recall such long-departed historical figures.
Finally, Macron is pro-finance, yes, but he is also a social liberal. Where hard-liners like Montebourg were not content with progressive social reforms and wanted them to bleed into the fiscal sphere, Macron realizes that progressive notions only go so far in the modern economic environment. As a nation, Mazurier says France would be wise to take a similar view of things.