Macron’s “extreme centre”: bringing far-right policies right in the centre

French President Emmanuel Macron won his first term (2017-22) on the idea that he was young and progressive, but those 5 years were a clear demonstration that there was nothing new or progressive in his politics. Thus, his second term (2022-27) was only possible thanks to his rhetoric that he is the only one who can block Marine Le Pen and the far-right from reaching the presidential seat.

While his first 6 years in power were marked by clearly neoliberal policies (e.g. the pension reform, the welfare reform, public rail reform, the healthcare reform, etc.), in his second term he added more and more far-right policies, which he pretends to fight against.

The immigration law – an ideological victory of the far right

Macron’s strides into the far-right territory have become even more apparent with the latest legislation that was passed: an immigration law that contains several demands made by the far-right party Rassemblement National (RN – formerly the National Front, or FN).

Indeed, the “Law of January 26, 2024 to control immigration and improve integration” was initiated by the minister of the interior, Gerald Darmanin (himself of Algerian and Maltese descent) in February 2023, and is one of the most restrictive and xenophobic immigration laws in the past 40 years.

The 30th immigration law since 1980 (and Macron’s second), initially included provisions that would make it harder for people to bring their family members to France, to access welfare benefits, and children born in France to foreign parents would no longer become automatic French citizens under its jus soli – or “right of the soil”. Those were all the demands of the far-right party RN, which has even created a doctrine called “national preference” which states that “native” French people should have a priority in accessing public services and welfare benefits. (How “native” French people are defined can be clearly deduced that it means “white” French people).

Even though the Constitutional Council (populated by former presidents and conservative politicians) removed some of the most xenophobic provisions, it did so not on the grounds that these were unconstitutional, but simply because these were deemed too far from the object of the law, which is, supposedly, to “control immigration and improve integration”. That means that those xenophobic amendments could come back anytime, in a different law, and they are not seen as unconstitutional, even though they clearly violate human rights. 

However, the government seems focused on the idea of ending the jus soli by whatever means necessary, and has announced on February 11th that it is preparing a new law for one of its overseas departments which would end the “right of the soil” for that department. Mayotte is an island located in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the coast of Mozambique, currently facing a “migration crisis”, and although it is a department of France, it has a special regime and some unconstitutional laws are allowed to be implemented there. It is to be noted that the right of the soil has been a feature in France’s legislation since 1515 – yet the Macron government has chosen to disregard this long-held tradition, in the name of “fighting against illegal immigration”. 

Several activist groups have mobilised and went out on the streets to protest against the law since December 2023. Initially, only around a thousand people went protesting in December, but on January 21st, the trade unions and other activist groups had mobilised 75,000 to 150,000 people across the country. Another protest took place on February 3rd but only a few hundred people had mobilised, and the most recent one is from February 12th. Even the international NGO Human Rights Watch, as well as UNICEF, have criticised it as violating human rights.

The controversy around this law, and the subsequent debates and media attention it has garnered should be contrasted with the fact that Macron’s government sees the adoption of this law as a political victory, and most importantly that the far right sees this as its most important ideological victory.

Following the adoption of the law in the Parliament, Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the former president of the far-right French National Front-FN), declared: “One can rejoice in an ideological victory … national preference is now inscribed in law, meaning the French will have an advantage over foreigners in accessing certain social benefits”. 

The doctrine of the “extreme centre” – a further shift to the far-right?

Creating an electoral barrier to the far-right by adopting its ideology seems to be the strategy adopted by Macron and his government.

Nobody really knows what ideology Macron abides by, and even less what his new Prime Minister, the young Gabriel Attal, thinks. Macron is famous for having said in 2017 he is neither rightwing nor leftwing, but recently the term “extreme centre” has been used in the media to qualify his approach to politics. But this concept is very dangerous, in that it hides the material reality behind Macron’s policies, which is that of a conservative and even far-right kind.

On the economics side, Macron’s policies have been clearly neoliberal – some critics have even pointed to his resemblance to Margaret Thatcher’s approach. His reforms (pension, healthcare, welfare, education, etc.) have all been towards privatisation and the dissolution of the public sector. On the societal front – immigration, reproductive rights, religious freedom, environmental protection – his policies also point in the direction of a conservative/far-right path. 

His appointment of the first openly gay PM in France was touted as the symbol of progressive values that Macron and his political movement stand for, but this is just another layer of pinkwashing. Meanwhile, French mainstream media which is mainly controlled by Vincent Bolloré, a French billionaire businessman and Catholic fanatic, criticises daily the “woke movement” and incites its viewers to fight back against progressive ideas using the classic scare tactics that the neocons in the US are known for. 

Women’s rights – once again victims

Since the pandemic, Macron’s language has been belligerent, using terms like “war economy” or “demographic rearmament”. The fact that during a recent press conference, he talked about the need to raise the birthrate in France, speaks loudly about his vision for French society, and particularly women’s rights to bodily autonomy. 

While an important victory was (partially) won recently, through the fact that the lower chamber (traditionally more progressive) voted for the inscription of the right to abortion into the Constitution, the battle is not over yet. The Senate, the upper chamber – traditionally more conservative – is yet to vote on it, and there is a high chance that it will reject it. Indeed, the President of the Senate, Gérard Larcher (74 years old, of the conservative party Les Républicains, LR) has said that “the Constitution is not a catalogue of social and societal rights”. This is already a bad omen for the right to abortion to be inscribed into the Constitution.

An open door to the far-right for 2027

Macron’s seat in power never was a “dam against the far-right” (“faire barrage à l’extrême droite” as the French like to say). If anything, it’s a ski slope towards a far-right government in 2027 – if the left doesn’t come up with a credible candidate and if it doesn’t manage to unite itself under a combative campaign and a radical programme.

Indeed, his slew of neoliberal reforms since 2017 have aggravated economic inequality in the country, by throwing into poverty millions of people. In 2017, when Macron was campaigning to become president, he declared he doesn’t want to see another homeless person living on the streets while he’s in power. Back then, there were 170.000 homeless people. 6 years later, there are 330.000, a two-fold increase. 15 million people face “housing poverty”, meaning that they live in squalid conditions or can’t afford to rent/buy decent accommodation. The National Statistics Institute, Insee, is clear: “France is emerging from the Covid episode in 2021 with a poverty rate higher than that it had when it entered it.” According to its data, 9.1 million French people live below the poverty line, i.e. 13.4%.

While poverty statistics are only available until 2021, one can assume the trend is still rising, owing to the ongoing wars and the global inflation crisis. While, after the peak of the pension reform strikes, protests against Macron’s neoliberal reforms have slowed down in the past months, the recent farmers’ protests testify that all the layers of society are hit hard by his policies.

The response to this should be a unified and radical left front, but instead the French left is divided once again. The imperfect left-wing alliance, Nupes, was officially dissolved in 2023 when the “Socialist” Party (PS) announced it would remove itself from it. In any case, the PS can no longer be considered a left-wing party. Instead, Melenchon should look to gain votes from the people who usually abstain rather than look for political alliances that would maybe help a bit, electorally, but in general put a stain on his policies.

Indeed, the French political spectrum has significantly moved to the right, having already three far right parties (RN, Reconquête, and France Standing Up), a right wing conservative party Les Républicains, two “extreme centre” parties, Renaissance (Macron’s party) and MoDem, plus a handful of small parties. These amount to 412 seats in the lower chamber, i.e. 71.4% of the Parliament! Moreover, the left doesn’t seem to have a credible candidate for the 2027 Presidential election…

The problem with the ideological victories of the far-right is that they “trickle down” into French society. Indeed, more and more overtly violent far-right groups have emerged in the past few years, and the effects can be seen in people’s day to day lives. 

The Left in France has a duty to stand up and fight against this far-right slip. In that struggle, it must have the solidarity of the Left internationally.

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