FRANCE’S youngest president, Emanuel Macron has been much derided since taking office in May, for likening himself to Jupiter, with make-up for the cameras, and expensive haircuts. His labour reforms, which roll back decades of workers’ gains, provoked massive opposition.
Knowing his neo-liberal credentials, I was disappointed when he won, even though, during the campaign, I had perceived a level of energy unusual among French politicians. When, shortly after his victory, he received Vladimir Putin at Versailles, I wrote:
‘While Macron can be gently chided for believing that he will succeed where others gave up before trying (one can almost hear a Trumpian “I alone can fix this” when he convenes Mediterranean leaders to hammer out a policy on immigrants instead of criticising the Schengen Agreement’s open borders), I applaud his efforts with Angela Merkel to give the European Union a finance minister and budget. (The failure of the Euro is ascribed, among other things, to the fact that each country has its own economic rules.)
‘Scarcely noticed by the French press, Macron initiated his tenure by inviting the leaders of the two nuclear powers that have a say over Europe on state visits. He showed his acumen by welcoming the Russian president to Versailles, on the occasion of the 300th year anniversary of Peter the Great’s visit to the Sun King’s palace, and by displaying to the American President the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides, where he was given full military honors. I believe the French should also applaud Macron’s “Jupiterian” efforts to tackle problems that threaten the future, not only of France, but of Europe.’
Europe’s foremost problem, thanks to US wars that decimated parts of the Middle East and Africa, has been the seemingly uncontrollable surge of Muslim migrants. NATO’s 2011 bombing campaign, which took out Lybia’s relatively successful leader, Muammar Ghaddafi, created a chaotic situation which enabled traffickers to sell young Africans fleeing conflict, drought, famine and wars, passage to Europe, knowing that thousands would perish crossing the Mediterranean in makeshift embarkations. When confronted with European sea patrols out to prevent these departures, the traffickers turned to trading those hoping to leave on an open market as slaves.
In what were derided as colonial attitudes, the new president at first suggested that France could set up immigration processing centres in Africa, while also suggesting that African women were having too many babies. Undeterred, he called on the UN Security Council to take action against ‘crimes against humanity’, and prodded Europe to offer African countries more development aid in return for tightening their borders. Then he planned a trip to coincide with the European and African Unions’ Summit, whose theme was Youth, at which he proposed a joint focus on innovation and locally created jobs, so that Africans would no longer need to emigrate.
He toured West Africa’s largest solar power park, emphasising his twin commitment to preserve the planet and encourage Africa to become part of the high tech world. Visiting schools and addressing university students, he wisely anticipated popular opposition to the long-standing presence of France’s military on the continent by referring to terrorism and presenting it as cooperation with local forces against terrorism, in a ‘we can do this together’ tone. But it may have been his mastery of English that served him best. From the end of the nineteenth century well into the twentieth, France and Great Britain competed for African lands. At present, the number of French and English-speaking African nations is about even, however, the British are widely known to be clumsy French speakers, while the French have long refused to accept the fact that their language was superseded by English as the world’s foremost means of communication.
In Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, Macron encouraged young people to speak French, claiming the language of Voltaire would eventually be spoken across Africa and the world. Then, in English-speaking Ghana, one of the African countries farthest along in terms of democracy and development, he demonstrated his flawless English. As seen on France 24, the crowds’ enthusiasm at hearing a French President speak to them in a language they all understood was palpable. Add to that Macron’s usual wide-armed gestures (which he may have copied from De Gaulle, especially when he raises his arms in a sort of ‘v’) together with his upbeat delivery, and the title of ‘Jupiterian’ may not be far fetched after all — at least for now.
New Eastern Outlook, December 4. Deena Stryker, an international expert, author and journalist who has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, writes exclusively for the online journal New Eastern Outlook.
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