Macron’s platform is nothing new, French economist says

Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP | French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron at a campaign event in central London on February 21, 2017.

Already criticised for being thin on policy, independent French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is facing fresh criticism after releasing details of his economic programme.


At least one economist says Macron’s “new” ideas, released Thursday, are passé.

The independent candidate, a former economy minister under Socialist President François Hollande, has sought to plant the flag for his upstart En Marche! (On the Move!) movement somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum – but without defining himself as a centrist. That balancing act has paid off so far, with several polls predicting that Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen will both make it to the May 7 second round but foreseeing an eventual victory for Macron.

His whirlwind candidacy has caught France’s more established parties flat-footed, despite the prevailing criticism that the 39-year-old electoral neophyte is campaigning without a programme. Macron went some way towards silencing that particular critique this week, detailing his economic plans in a long interview in the financial daily Les Echos.

Macron’s economic priorities so far include making new investments, battling unemployment and cutting spending. In a separate televised interview Friday morning, he suggested exempting 80 percent of households – the “modest and middle class” – from paying the French housing tax. Macron is expected to roll out his platform in full on March 2.

But Macron’s slew of new proposals now has him catching flak for their content. Pascal de Lima, a French economist, says the candidate’s pitches lack originality. De Lima, who heads the EcoCell consulting firm and teaches at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), discussed Macron’s proposals with FRANCE 24.

Is Macron’s economic programme more left-wing or right-wing?

His programme is largely in keeping with the policy François Hollande has conducted. On battling unemployment or reducing labour charges for firms, Macron seems to want to extend and perpetuate what he started when he was economy minister and what was undertaken throughout Hollande’s term.

His main innovation, opening up unemployment insurance benefits to everyone [including jobseekers who quit their previous jobs], is a rather left-wing idea. But he also borrows from the right in maintaining that consumer spending will get going again with cuts in payroll charges. In a nutshell, it’s a programme in the vein of former president Valéry Giscard-d’Estaing [a right-leaning centrist], with more of a focus on social issues.

Is Macron’s “new economy” truly new?

It’s hype. There is nothing truly new in this platform. For example, when he insists on the value of work to differentiate himself from [Socialist candidate] Benoît Hamon and his proposal for a universal wage, he implicitly takes up [former president] Nicolas Sarkozy’s rhetoric and his slogan, “Work more to earn more.”

There is nothing, for example, on the digital economy, which was something people expected him to address – he could have proposed something new.

Macron prioritises the battle against unemployment. What do you think of his solutions?

His main priorities are more flexibility, reducing labour costs and an emphasis on training. These are ideas that have already been tried to reduce unemployment for decades, with the success we’ve seen! As to the proposal that sets him apart the most – opening up unemployment benefits to all – that was probably inspired by the French Nobel laureate in Economics, Jean Tirole, who first proposed that idea.

What do you think about his five-year, €50 billion investment plan and his proposal for a €60 billion reduction in spending?

The main problem with that is where he expects to find the savings to finance his investment plan. Macron proposes €10 billion in savings from local government. But local governments are already in a catastrophic state; meanwhile, that is where the essential battle for public services is playing out. He also remains very vague on the €25 billion in savings that he wants to see at the national level. And finally, it’s difficult to imagine that the €10 billion in savings on unemployment benefits that he envisages won’t be detrimental to the unemployed.

You seem sceptical about the Macron programme.

I find his assessment of the economic situation to be good and coherent. Macron explains that the time for austerity has passed and that France today is paying the price for not having pursued a counter-cyclical policy like Germany did [i.e., spending during downturns and belt-tightening when the economy is stronger].

But when it comes to offering proposals, Macron is essentially relying on the same remedies administered by previous governments.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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