The French president has long been like an economic liberal. Now he pays tribute to the poor as a "fighter on all fronts" with some pathos. But his actions remain rather small format.
Comment by Nadia Pantel, Paris
When Marine Le Pen reached the run-off election for the French presidency last year, the shocked Germans searched frantically for answers. Are the French all right-wing? If so – why and since when? In these weeks of neighborly insecurity, the French sociologist Didier Eribon took the Germans by the hands.
In his biographical analysis "Return to Reims", he explained the contempt the French elite has for poor people. In Germany, the book became a customer, for many readers the world-explanatory work. Reduced to the daily politics was Eribon's thesis: who is poor, chooses right. Under the liberal liberal president Emmanuel Macron, the number of poor will increase. As a result, Marine Le Pen will automatically win at the next presidential election in 2022.
Only three months ago Macron ranted about social benefits
Eribon has significantly fewer fans in France than in Germany. But a majority of the population agrees that Macron has a policy that benefits the better-off. Macron's promise to unite left and right positions turned into a reform marathon in his first year in office, which above all knew two ideals: efficiency and flexibility. It was as if hundreds of thousands of left-wing voters had helped a French version of the FDP to the Élysée Palace.
For the first time Macron countered this impression for the first time on Thursday. And it sounded as if he had previously studied Eribon's work. "It's not you who are the problem, we're the problem," Macron said, looking at the former homeless man, the single mother, and the social worker he invited as a key witness to his anti-poverty initiative. The same President, who three months ago had ranted that France was putting a lot of money into pointless social benefits, suddenly bowed to the poor in a one-hour speech. He praised her as a "fighter on all fronts". Who says that the state is investing too much money in supporting the poor, "poisoning the cohesion of the nation".
Big words, little deeds
The current social policy thrust comes just as European parties begin to sort themselves out for the May 2019 election. Macron has twice used the dissuasive example of Brexit in his speech. On the other side of the English Channel, those against Europe would have decided that the political system was "no longer for them". Macron owes his election victory to French people who earn above-average profits and are well-educated. In order to prevent a defeat in the European elections, it is high time for Macron to convince even the layers of the population whose CVs do not tell cosmopolitan-European success stories.
Compared to Macron's big words, his actions are rather small. The president wants to provide eight billion euros for the nine million Frenchmen who are among the poorest in the country, after all. Only in the spring, however, had he shortened an ambitious plan to upgrade the run-down suburbs to a savings option – which would have cost a total of 38 billion euros.
The European elections become the political character test of the continent
Half a year before the vote, a political hurricane is brewing: right-wing populists, the British exit drama, and household chores soon challenge the community. The Union is facing a serious test of democratic maturity.
Comment by Stefan Kornelius