May 08, 2018
Macron and the technocratic republic
Since the British political TV series Yes Minister we know what it is like for a minister to be in the hands of his cabinet secretary, epitomised by the fictional Sir Humphrey Appleby, and of a technocratic administration. The prime minister was not more powerful either, as we learned in the follow-up series Yes Prime Minister. The series ran in the 1980s but they never lost their relevance in today's world. Nor are they confined to the UK.
We see parallels in France. The editorialist Nathalie Segaunes writes that Emmanuel Macron's power relies on the technocratic administration more than on his political party LREM, or on the civil platforms with which he promised to engage the citizens. It is the practical consequence of an ambitious president who came to power with an untested party, and with mistrust against the political class as it was. When Macron came to power, he reduced the number of political advisers per ministry to ten. Macron's rhythm of reforms and workload, with sometimes 2000 amendments to work through over a single weekend, means that those advisers rely on the administration.
The president's office seems to know the importance of the senior civil servants too: some communication passes directly from the Élysée to them directly rather than through the ministers. The reliance on the higher administration is the result of Macron's rejection of the existing political system, and makes his top-down authoritarian approach quite efficient. But it also means that the reforms are no longer the result of a political choice, but determined by an unelected elite of senior civil servants. A republic run by technocrats means a weak democracy under Macron, argues Thierry Chopin from the Schuman foundation, writing on Telos. Chopin sees several risks for Macron. First, relying on a technocratic apparatus shows once more that France is a society of mistrust. There is also a real risk that Macron's promised transformation of the country and the society won't ever happen. This reliance is also a form of conservatism, which can re-inforce the gap between the people and the oligarchic elites. It gives power to those who passed through Ena, the elite administration school, rather than giving a voice to people who had not been part of the system. If Macron still stands for a disruptive renewal, he needs to address this reliance, otherwise this would be another lesson in how everything has to change so nothing changes.