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November 08, 2018

Macron under heavy fire

EmmanuelEmmanuel Macron's series of troubles is not ending. The latest uproar is about him paying tribute to marshal Philippe Pétain for his role in France's victory in WWI. Pétain later became the leader of the antisemitic French Vichy regime, legitimising France's collaboration with Nazi Germany. This included collaborating in the deportation of Jews. Pétain spent the end of his life in prison. Only the far right demands his rehabilitation.

This latest controversy was triggered by a WWI remembrance ceremony next Saturday in honour of eight marshals, including Pétain. The army had been demanding it for a long time. With the Elysee palace well aware of how divisive the issue is, reports Le Journal du Dimanche, the decision was made to hold the ceremony, but without  Macron. Macron defended his position with comments to the effect that he does not forgive anything but does not erase anything from France's history either, and that the press is creating gratuitous controversies. This is when the trouble started, and big time. Macron's comments drew fierce criticism from politicians and Jewish leaders, and the reactions went viral on social media. François Mitterrand had provoked similar outrage when it came out that he had been placing flowers on Petain's tomb on the anniversary of the armistice for years, a habit Jacques Chirac was quick to end when he came to power.  

Is there a political motive behind this? It is hard to gauge, but either way it could have political consequences. Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National (RN) is currently the only party mentioning Pétain in any positive way. Macron's statement could be seen as an opening to RN voters. It has certainly angered supporters on the left. On social media there are some who proclaim they will never vote for him again. Jean-Luc Mélenchon predictably tweeted that this time Macron went too far. 

There is mounting outrage against Macron. Angry drivers as well as pensioners have confronted him during his public appearances on his tour of the WWI battlefields. Thousands of drivers are expected to block roads across the country on November 17, a grassroots protest organised via social media. Expect the grievances to continue gaining momentum. Macron may have won the battles with the trade unions over labour law reforms, but the outcome of this new angry wave is far less predictable. 

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November 08, 2018

Don’t underestimate AKK

We liked Berthold Kohler’s description in FAZ of Friedrich Merz as a time traveller. Merz is to the CDU today what Martin Schulz was to the SPD in early 2017. Schulz entered the political fray not through a wormhole of time, as Merz does now, but one of space, having descended on Berlin from the distant Brussels galaxy, light years away. Merz' spaceship came straight from the 1990s and early 2000s.

But the Schulz episode is also a cautionary tale. At its heart, the CDU is not a radical party. It stands for a solid and risk-averse Germany, and among the three serious candidates Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer embodies that part of the CDU more than any of the others. For those in the CDU who are reasonably content with Angela Merkel, but are looking for a younger version and a more determined policy on internal security, AKK seems the perfect candidate. What also speaks in her favour is her dominance of the party machine. We recall that strong internal networks were the foundation of the long reigns of Merkel and Helmut Kohl before her. Merz has some powerful support, but AKK is going to be a hard candidate to beat.

Yesterday she presented her agenda. She listed three priorities: to preserve Germany’s economic success in times of digitalisation; to give people a greater sense of security; and to stop the people's growing sense of alienation inside their own country. As lists go there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it, except that she like Jens Spahn did not feel sufficiently bothered by the state of Europe, which remained unmentioned. Coping with a digital world is indeed Germany’s main technical and economic challenge. The German economic model is essentially fit for the analogue world, one in which everybody has a diesel car, people work in factories, and it is normal for young people to want to become mechanical engineers. Her other two priorities relate directly and indirectly to the refugee influx, a subject on which she has supported Merkel in the past.

We note this is an obvious list of priorities. But she is not telling us how she wants to go about them. We note that this is exactly what Merkel used to do: narrow down the number of subjects, let others find the solutions and then lead from behind.

Merz is still considered the favourite. By all means, bet against Jens Spahn. But don’t rule out AKK.

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