The New York Times ran a piece today about the new French Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron. Praising the Minister for his youth and vitality, this piece underlined the differences between Macron and traditional socialists. Despite this apparent break, Macron still very much symbolizes what’s wrong with French politics.
Many people argue that his background, particularly his stint with Rothschild investment bank, make him different from other French politicians. In reality, Macron only joined the world of finance after failing to establish himself within the ranks of the socialist party. His unsuccessful attempt to be nominated as a parliamentary candidate turned Macron away from the role of a rank-and-file party worker. This is the only true element that distinguishes Macron from his socialist colleagues.
To be sure, I fully agree that his more centrist views, particularly on economics, are a good thing both for France and for the socialist party. Yet I would guard against blindly accepting the narrative that Macron represents a break from the traditional political mold. The Economy Minister frequented the same schools, achieved the same degrees, and worked as a functionary much like his colleagues in government.
The problem in France is indeed that administration is viewed as a more lucrative (and perhaps more noble) career path than business. All of France’s brightest minds are being sucked into an administrative vacuum and when they eventually grow to lead the country, the sum total of their experiences push them to fight to protect the government, not cut it.
Two of France’s biggest reformers (and granted, their success is qualified), Manuel Valls and Nicolas Sarkozy, are exceptions in French politics as they were not bred from the traditional Scienes-Po ENA (national school of administration) mold. Macron, for all his upsides, is hardly the “new face of French socialism.” In fact, the only major distinguishing feature is that he failed at entering the system earlier. His background in finance is certainly reassuring, but France needs more leaders who cut their chops in businesses; particularly entrepreneurs! Until then, Socialist, Conservative, Extremist, will all be the same product with different labels.