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Macron warns France of ‘a new era of sacrifices and the end of abundance’

French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Wednesday that France faced "sacrifices" in a new era marked by the climate crisis and instability caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine that signalled "the end of abundance".

Macron warns France of 'a new era of sacrifices and the end of abundance'
Emmanuel Macron, second from left, addresses his ministers at the first cabinet meeting since the summer break. Photo by MOHAMMED BADRA / POOL / AFP

After a summer marked by drought, massive wildfires and continuing loss of life in Ukraine, the 44-year-old leader delivered a stark speech at the start of the first cabinet meeting after the country’s traditional August holiday break.

“I believe that we are in the process of living through a tipping point or great upheaval.

“Firstly because we are living through… the end of what could seem like the end of abundance.”

Referring to the war in Ukraine, he added: “Our system based on freedom in which we have become used to living, sometimes when we need to defend it, it can entail making sacrifices.”

The speech appeared designed to prepare the country for what promises to be a difficult winter ahead, with energy prices rising sharply and many families struggling with inflation.

It also echoed remarks he made last week during a World War II commemoration event, when he described the tough winter ahead as “the price we pay for freedom”.

The severe drought over the summer, leading to water restrictions across most of the country, has also caused many French people to express fears about the increasingly obvious impact of climate change.

“This overview that I’m giving  — the end of abundance, the end of insouciance, the end of assumptions — it’s ultimately a tipping point that we are going through that can lead our citizens to feel a lot of anxiety,” Macron continued.

“Faced with this, we have duties, the first of which is to speak frankly and very clearly without doom-mongering,” he said.

Macron was re-elected in April to a second term but lost his parliamentary majority in elections in June, meaning Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne heads a minority government that depends on opposition parties to pass legislation.

French inflation was clocked at 6.1 percent last month, one of the lowest rates in Europe thanks to government price caps on electricity and gas, as well as tax cuts on petrol and diesel.

But trade unions are pushing for major wage increases and have called for a day of strikes and rallies on September 29th.

The head of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, told BFM television that the president’s speech was “inappropriate”, adding that the poorest were already paying the price of the war and that further sacrifices could not be expected.

“He’ll ask for them (sacrifices) and we will oppose them,” Martinez said.

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JOHN LICHFIELD

OPINION: Which side would Le Pen be on in World War III? French history gives a clue

When I interviewed Marine Le Pen a decade or so ago - writes John Lichfield - I asked her a would-be clever question: 'If you had been alive in June 1940, who would you have supported, Charles de Gaulle or Marshall Pétain?'

OPINION: Which side would Le Pen be on in World War III? French history gives a clue

She hesitated (considering all sides of the trap) but then said: “My instinct would have been to be with De Gaulle and the Resistance”.

Le Pen rapidly changed the subject. She didn’t want to dwell on the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. Instead, she made a spurious comparison with the alleged 21st century “occupation” of a handful of French streets for Friday Muslim prayers.

All the same, it was telling reply. She had repudiated her father, Jean-Marie, and other founders of the Front National who detested De Gaulle and sympathised with the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime.

To relaunch and expand the family business, Marine Le Pen realised that she must abandon her father’s implied but never-quite-stated belief that “The Wrong Side” had triumphed in 1945.

Le Pen has since gone much further in de-toxifying the Front National, including changing the party’s name to the Rassemblement National and ditching her papa completely

In France, however, history is buried in shallow graves. World War Two caught up with Marine Le Pen last week.

President Emmanuel Macron had suggested that she should, in all decency, stay away from the state ceremony for the transfer of the remains of a foreign-born, Communist, Resistance leader to the Panthéon, the resting place of France’s official heroes and heroines.

Missak Manouchian, arrested and executed in February 1944, was a one-man affront to the founding genes of the RN, ex-FN. He was a Communist who led a resistance-cell largely composed of Jews. He was an immigrant who gave his life for his adopted country while the ideological ancestors of the ultra-nationalist Le Pen collaborated with the invaders.

READ ALSO Who was Missak Manouchian and why is he important to foreigners in France?

Like the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty, Marine Le Pen insisted on going to the Panthéon all the same. She had, she said, the same duty as any other party leader to attend a ceremony for a national hero (even if he was a lefty immigrant).

By a quirk of events, the murder in prison of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny simultaneously confronted Le Pen with another question. On whose side would she be on in World War Three?

Marine Le Pen is a long-standing admirer of Vladimir Putin. Her party was until recently his client for a €6 million loan.

During the 2017 French election, a young Russian artist presented her with a triple portrait of startlingly vulgar post-Soviet kitsch. It showed three blonde, Aryan heroes gazing portentously into the distance – Putin, herself and Donald Trump.

The RN made a great fuss of the painting at the time. Little has been seen of it recently.

Since the second Russian invasion of Ukraine two years ago, Le Pen has distanced herself from Putin. The RN paid off its loan last year (and took out another one with a bank linked to the pro-Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban).

Like Donald Trump, however, Le Pen remains unwilling to break with the Kremlin completely. There was something sickeningly limp about Marine Le Pen’s statement on the murder of Navalny last week.

“I learn of the death of Alexei Navalny, a political activist engaged in the defence of democracy,” she wrote. “My condolences to his loved ones and his political family.”

No outrage. No mention that he died in a punishment camp in Siberia. He might have been an obscure old man who had died at home.

Contrast the statement by her young party president and de facto Number Two, Jordan Bardella.

“Alexei Navalny died in an Arctic prison where he was serving 19 year sentence for opposing the regime. This is tragic news for all defenders of human rights and fundamental liberties”.

That statement also stinks of hypocrisy. RN members in the European Parliament, including Bardella, have consistently failed to support motions condemning Navalny’s persecution. The Rassemblement National is keen to dismantle human rights in France and the EU.

But at least Bardella was prepared temporarily to put aside the latent Putinolatory of much of French far and hard-right and speak of an act of authoritarian wickedness.

At the time of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion last year, Bardella had already tried to toughen the party’s weaselly words on Putin’s responsibility. He was slapped down by Le Pen.

Despite his vacant boy band good looks, he is a clever young man. He no doubt sees Marine’s reluctance to break completely with the Kremlin in the same way that she once saw her father’s refusal to repudiate Vichy – an irritating PR obstacle in the march to power.

France and Europe may not face World War Three in the near future but we do face a long and painful struggle to continue support for Ukraine. The quislings and the Vichy-sympathisers are already amongst us. Not all the pro-Putin readers’ comments in Le Figaro come from Russian troll factories.

On whose side will Le Pen and Bardella be when difficult choices are needed in the months ahead?

In World War Two those who had brayed most about love of patrie and the ‘foreign menace’ proved to be those most willing to collaborate with and exploit foreign occupation.

Le Pen has stolen a march on them. She has shown herself willing to collaborate with Putinism in advance.

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